Gitmo commission move the latest in a long line of Obama shifts
A detainee walks through the recreation yard at the detention center for 'enemy combatants' on September 15, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
April 4th, 2011
01:54 PM ET
4 years ago

Gitmo commission move the latest in a long line of Obama shifts

Washington (CNN) - Those who have followed President Obama's stance on which court is appropriate to try accused terrorists can be forgiven for getting a severe case of whiplash.

After all, it was candidate Obama in 2008 who made clear he intended to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year of his presidency and put an end to military commissions there – the proceedings that extend only limited trial rights to accused terrorists. Then, it was President Obama who quickly signed an order calling for Guanatanomo's close while his Justice Department soon vowed that, in the interest of justice, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 terrorists will be tried in civilian courts.


But three years later – the same day Obama formally announced his reelection bid – Attorney General Eric Holder announced the alleged 9/11 terrorists will in fact not be tried in a civilian court but instead in a military trial at Guantanamo – the same court in the same facility Obama long ago promised would be shuttered.

The seeming about-face might, more than anything else, be a dramatic affirmation of the old axiom, "You campaign in poetry, but govern in prose."

It was a prediction none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney – an ardent defender of the use of military commissions – made shortly into Obama's presidency:

"I think the president will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come," he said during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in 2009.

So what exactly did candidate Obama say in 2008 when it came to trying accused terrorists?

First, he was going to close Guantanamo, calling it an ineffective "legal black hole:"

"By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been a failure. Over the course of nearly seven years, there has not been a single conviction for a terrorist act at Guantanamo. There has just been one conviction for material support of terrorism," he said in June of 2008. "Meanwhile, this legal black hole has substantially set back America's ability to lead the world against the threat of terrorism, and undermined our most basic values. But make no mistake: we are less safe because of the way George Bush has handled this issue."

Then, he was going to restore habeas corpus rights to alleged terrorists:

"Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy. We cannot afford to lose any more valuable time in the fight against terrorism to a dangerously flawed legal approach," he also said in June of 2008.

Promising to return America to the "moral high ground" in the war on terrorism, Obama issued a high profile executive order in his first official day as president that required the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within a year.

But last month, the president signed a very different executive order - one that resumed military trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Still, White House officials insisted nonetheless the president "remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."

Despite that order, civil liberty advocates took solace in the fact the president and his justice department at least appeared to stand behind their vow to try accused terrorists in civilian courts.

That was, until Holder's expected announcement Monday.

The president's primary concern is that the accused perpetrators "be brought to justice as swiftly as possible," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday in response to questions of the apparent about-face.


Filed under: Guantanamo Bay • President Obama
soundoff (124 Responses)
  1. gt

    yes and he said he would get us out of two wars too.... that is happening either...

    April 4, 2011 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  2. Kim

    Bad move. So they'll rot in gitmo forever.

    The military tribunals have been a long slow failure.

    April 4, 2011 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  3. Sgt Schultz

    What a big deal about nothing. Who cares where the trial is held or the intricate semantics on all the details. Just get it done and stop all the petty games and finger pointing by the fundamentalist Taliban Republicans. It is not very productive to play Partisan games with justice.

    April 4, 2011 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  4. Tim

    Wow, the bake sale coordinator is learning.

    April 4, 2011 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    There most important part is to conduct trials which will result in the Guantanomo detainees being sent to a prison, or released to the countries of origin. Either way, it means the population decreases until it is zero.

    Some may view this as a defeat. The very same who brought the "defeat" about. But, the ultimate goal has been delayed, postponed, rerouted, but still remains the same. Closing the facility that serves as a key recruiting tool.

    April 4, 2011 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  6. Tim

    Hope and change, fools, hope and change.

    April 4, 2011 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  7. tony

    Governing is sure a lot different than community organizing and campaigning.

    April 4, 2011 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  8. the real ib

    They knew it would cost Obama any chance of winning in 2012. He is finally realizing that Bush was right on a lot of things but don't tell the libs that they won't have anyone to blame for Obama's failures which are beginning to add up more than Bush's. Some change; with high gas prices and inflation out of controll we will be lucky if we have just change in our pockets. Even that is going to disappear if Obama keeps down the path he is going now.

    April 4, 2011 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  9. Captain Awesom

    Does this mean the French won't like us anymore? How many broken promises does this make, libs? Is CNN keeping count? So he increased troops in Afghanistan and now has gotten us in the middle of a civil war in Libya, OVER OIL! Gas is up. Food prices are up. Housing prices are still down and the unemployment rate has gone down by 1 percentage point in almost three years. Ah well, we still have free healthcare, right? Oh wait, it's NOT free??

    April 4, 2011 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  10. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    So, where and when doesn't make any difference as long as they won't be released.

    April 4, 2011 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  11. John

    Just another failed policy by the marxist in chief.......

    April 4, 2011 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  12. The Smart One

    Obama the clown is so ineffective, it is a wonder he can feed himself. This entire administration needs to be replaced, now. Not in 2012, which is a certainty, but now, before they do any more damage.

    April 4, 2011 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  13. Dutra

    The POTUS is a joke. I am rolling on the office floor, laughing at yet another Bush-ism.

    April 4, 2011 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  14. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    There are things that you plan on doing. The problem is that life is dynamic and changes what you can do. There goals of getting everyone out of Gitmo, but that ran into the problem of not fully know who was there and why. Reviews could have lasted more than a year to check each of the prisonors. That is the problem that everyone runs into when they are in office. As long as it gets done and the prison at Gitmo is closed, I don't mind a year or many wait.

    April 4, 2011 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  15. nukegm

    obama = " the waffle king. "

    what a disaster he is.

    April 4, 2011 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    I still support the President, but unlike Clinton, as we approach the 75% of his first term date, he has accomplished little he promised. Things are in place for some things like the repeal of Don't Ask don't Tell, but Clinton finshed 13 of 15 of this campigne promises before his re-election.

    April 4, 2011 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  17. Stephen Leonard

    It's good to see that Obama, if not Holder, is capable of accepting reality, and that there are limits to even his contempt for the wishes of the American people. It was insane to claim that mass-murdering, terrorist monsters like KSM were entitled to any of the rights and protections that our Constitution affirms for Americans. I do wish that everyone in government would stop using stupid expressions like "brought to justice" or "held to account" to describe what we will do to KSM. "Neutralized, tried and punished" would be far more informative.

    April 4, 2011 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  18. Darryl

    "Promising to return America to the "moral high ground" in the war on terrorism..."

    Is this before or after accelerating drone attacks?

    April 4, 2011 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  19. Joe

    Obama the great Flip Flopper...How much money has it cost to try Obama's flip flop on this, if he had not tried to bring these terrorist to the US and had proceeded with military trials these clowns would already be with there 72 virgins. Another blunder from this rookie. He makes Bush look great.

    April 4, 2011 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  20. jeff, alabama

    Bush and Cheney said before the election that
    Obama would learn much after becoming President
    and would have to adhere to the policies at that time.
    Where are all the apologies from all the nuts who
    were hammering the Bush administration at that time ?
    Where's Michael Moore's head today ? Still up his........?

    April 4, 2011 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  21. Massimo Deportado

    You morons on the left were warned that using your vote as a fashion statement would turn out "ugly".

    Well? WELL?

    April 4, 2011 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  22. BILL, WI

    Reality bites!

    April 4, 2011 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  23. Chukkal

    This jerk doesn't know whether he's coming or going............He announces his re-election campaign on the same day that Eric Holder tells the country the terrorist trials will be held in Gitmo!!!!!!! 2012 can't get her quick enough!~!!!!!!

    April 4, 2011 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  24. nobama

    So, since he has been in office, he has continued Bush policy on Gitmo, civilian trials, Afghanistan, Iraq and has gotten us into another "war" in Libya (without Congressional approval). If you libs thought Bush was stupid what does this make Obama?

    April 4, 2011 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  25. Four and The Door

    We knew there would be a long learning curve hiring the Junior Senator from Illinois with no management experience to be the Commander-In-Chief. Yeah, but all talk during the 2008 election sure sounded good to so many people. Fortunately they will not be fooled again.

    April 4, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
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