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. all the news that's fit to omit

    Shifts, really CNN, make this Bush and they uh, uh, uh, uh, uh would be called LIES.

    As in Oblunder LIED to the foolish sheep who bleated how Hopey Changey he is, but as it has turned out, 114... of his "promises" were OUTRIGHT LIES.

    WE the un-sheep warned you, but you "needed to make history".

    Selected, elected and STILL protected.

    Great job, bahhhh, bahhhh, bahhhhh.

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

    Obama = Change We Can Believe In! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

    April 4, 2011 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. Doyle Wiley, MI

    I believe the President is doing the best job possible under the present circumstances.

    April 4, 2011 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  4. larry

    I love it when leftist, self-righteous rhetoric and demagoguery meets up with real world realities.
    This must be like eating your own puke.

    April 4, 2011 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  5. terry,va

    Obummie is trying to make voters think he is moving to the center. He is NOT. He is the biggest liar, socialist and closet muslin that has ever been in politics. Obummie has been dragged kicking and screaming on cutting the budget and his hair brained idea about putting terrorist in criminal court. He is a FOOL plain and simple. Anyone but Obummie in 2012.

    April 4, 2011 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  6. EJ

    W was right again. This must make you goofy liberals heads want to explode. HA HA!

    Barry makes Carter look competent, and that's saying a lot.

    April 4, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  7. smokehouse56

    Like CNN, Obama is a leftist and leftist's have no clue on how to run a war and engage in foreign policy. Obama is way too inexperienced to even be POTUS.

    April 4, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  8. Joe

    "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?"
    -John Maynard Keynes.

    April 4, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  9. Michelle

    Well, he finally did something right.

    April 4, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  10. CV

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

    Instead of "shifts" you should replace with lies, political stunts or broken promises. Had enough yet liberals?

    April 4, 2011 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  11. Fair is Fair

    Spin it, Obama supporters... spin away. You were the ones who supported civilian trials, remember? What's the matter... doesn't Obama have any faith in the judicial system? You must be exhausted from supporting this inept administration.

    April 4, 2011 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. johnsmockberg

    LOL! libtards get whatthey voted for, empty suit. Mindless drones willvote for him as long as he keeps giving them other people's money. over 1200 entities have been exempt from healtcare mandate – proof the bill sucks. Funny how the poor keep voting for libs for the past 40 years...AND THEY ARE STILL POOR! Worst leader in history. Cronie capitalism...or communism.

    April 4, 2011 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. K

    It sounds like they know something that we don't.

    April 4, 2011 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  14. Bob (Illinois)

    Horse puckey biased article!

    Closing Guantanamo means you have to have some place for the current prisoners to go. What is the President to do when Congress declared that NO prisoners from Guantanamo could be brought into the United States?

    Naturally, there is a long list of countries begging for the prisoners to be released to them. Oh, wait. I guess that list is not so long after all.

    April 4, 2011 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  15. Peter Grynch

    You can't treat terrorist jihadis as "criminals" subject to all the rights and protections granted by the criminal justice system! Obama is simply inviting a propaganda victory to the terrorists. Only CNN is rooting for this.

    April 4, 2011 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  16. Going John Galt

    CNN, you DARE question Dear Leader's flipped terrorist trial stance?

    April 4, 2011 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  17. PDXSerric

    I never really saw this as a reality when Obama said it, but he did fulfill his promise. His desire was to close it down. He tried. He was blocked. And in the end, he had no choice other than to back off. Disappointing? Yes. A deal breaker? No.

    After all, when the republicans and tea partiers ran this previous election, they promised to push jobs bills. Jobs, jobs, jobs was their platform. And to date, no bills. Rather, they’ve spent time and funding on The Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on the “radicalization of American Muslims”. The Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on health care funding and employer-provided health care. The Financial Services Committee will mark up additional legislation to weaken the housing market. The Energy and Commerce Committee will markup a bill to stop the Federal Communications Commission’s open internet rule. Other hearing topics include patent law judicial decisions, national Flood Insurance program, and private sector participation in passenger rail service.

    But no jobs. THOSE were promises broken.

    April 4, 2011 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  18. DTG

    Hope and change. Obama changes into Bush the Third.

    April 4, 2011 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  19. Don

    "Say one thing do another" that should be Obama's theme for 2012!

    April 4, 2011 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  20. Dean

    We can have Holder's trial in New York.

    April 4, 2011 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  21. Indiana Voter

    So after Obama tried to do it his way and failed miserably, he is once again going to follow Bush and do it the way it was supposed to be done from the beginning. In other words, once again, Obama endorses another Bush policy. Obama has endorsed and used more of Bush's policies than Democrat out there. Apparently he only opposed them while running to dupe the masses into believing in that hope and change crap. Silly Democrats. They fall for it every time.

    April 4, 2011 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  22. USA401

    Who the F cares.

    April 4, 2011 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  23. rightisright

    This is what happens when inexperienced, incompetant people are put in positions of power.

    April 4, 2011 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  24. Rus

    So, really, what is the difference between Obama and Bush? The Patriot Act has been renewed numerous times under the current administration, it was the tea party freshman republicans opposing it the latest round in the House. The course has not changed in Iraq, we've followed the same timeline that was put into place before Bush left office. Afghanistan has been escalated, we've increased arial drone bombings. Now we've started a 3rd war spending hundreds of millions of dollars a day we don't have, to a country that has no national security threat or WMD's.

    We've changed no course in foreign affairs since Bush, if anything, Bush has been vindicated with seeing the recent uprisings and the spread of democracy throughout the middle east, which was a big piece of his vision in our conflicts there.

    April 4, 2011 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  25. Tom Joad

    The headline "Obama breaks big promise" is idiotic. Congress prevented the President from closing Guantanamo. How does that add up to "breaking a promise"?

    April 4, 2011 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
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