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
3 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. Nelson Colorado Springs Co.

    Good job President Obama

    April 4, 2011 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  2. obama victim

    well now......was George W as smart at Barry?? or is Barry as dumb as George?? can one of the Obamabots help me out please??

    April 4, 2011 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  3. mscrimp10

    Poor reporting CNN. I have followed the President's efforts closely on closing Gitmo and your article gives the impression that he flip flopped. Nothing could be further from the truth. His opinion on how it should have been handled hasn't changed. The reality is that it is a highly complex effort involving many that oppose closing Gitmo. He may be President, but that doesn't mean gets what he wants.

    April 4, 2011 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  4. rob

    Add this to the long list of policies once decried by the Dems and the liberal media when it was the Bush Administration that are now being used by the Obama Administration. Most of the Patriot Act is in place, rendition is still being used, he can't close Gitmo, no civilian trials for these worst terrorists etc. etc. etc. The Democrats screaming about Goerge Bush "trampling the Constitution, "Taking away our rights", etc. was NOTHING BUT POLITICAL POSTURING AND OPPORTUNISM OF THE WORST KIND. They demonized George Bush with the help of our great impartial media.

    Where are the Dems standing and shouting now????? Where is the NYT editorials condeming this action?????? This CNN PUFF piece about the hypocracy of the Dems and the Obama admin is exactly what we can expect from the liberal media, Bush policies were bad but the Administrations hearts are in the right place because of all those terrific things they said.back in the good old days of blaming Bush for everything.

    This Administration is looking more and more foolish every day, Nov. 2012 can't come fast enough.

    April 4, 2011 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  5. Rich54

    Hey Tom, Did Obama and the DemocRATS have a majority in 2009? He broke his promise.

    April 4, 2011 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  6. I Was Dumb Enough To Vote For Jimmy Carter

    Gee Whiz! Maybe Dick Cheney isn't Darth Vader after all?
    Or....could it be Cheney was right all along?
    So, if it took Obama and Holder over two years to figure out the obvious, then maybe they are not as smart as they keep telling us they are.

    April 4, 2011 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  7. Jon in Rochester NY

    He tried but lawmakers put up such a stink and made the public fearful that there was a risk to closing Guantanamo Bay and having the trials moved to the federal courts. They decried the fact that the terrorist were being given rights that only citizens should have. These people shouldn't be held indefinitely in limbo without a trial. This is the only way for them to get that trial after Fox News spent months of installing fear in the public about the probablility of terrorist attacks if they were moved or tried in the states. Obama knows that this is the only way that the trials can proceed. I hate the spin on this story about how he broke another promise. What a joke!

    April 4, 2011 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  8. cryptodan

    I guess hope was that we give him more of our change, and to stay the course for everything else because hes trying to win over votes that wouldn't go towards him. He will not get my vote this time around. He is the worst president of the US we have ever had. He is so undeserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, and he makes a complete mockery of the Nobel Committee. All he has done, is make the US a more depressing place to be. It truly is in my opinion starting to become a 3rd World Nation.

    April 4, 2011 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  9. John K.

    How about we skip the trial and hang the terrorist scum right now?

    April 4, 2011 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  10. CV

    Tom he is the president and everyone loves him Tom Joad go back to Boulder, CO and smoke your weed.

    April 4, 2011 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  11. Will

    Ya know, I will give the president a mulligan on this issue. The Greedy Oil Party aka GOP WERE not going to budge on this issue, period. The GOP BLOCKED any and all attempts by the president to close Gitmo. This issue was taking up a lot of oxygen in the political arena. I would much prefer that the President would concentrate on jobs jobs,jobs. Oh wait, isn't that the priority the the GOP stated that they would pursue. But, as far as the whole US can tell, the GOP DO NOTWANT jobs to be created and they do not want to put AMERICANS BACK TO WORK, because then ObamaWould get credit. Of course, if the jobs market tanks,he gets the blame,and the GOP will then be very happy that the wealth and corporations made record profits and a vast majority of American are out of a job. One question, WHAT HAS THE GOP DONE TO CREATE A SINGLE JOB IN THE US SINCE THEY TOOK CONTROL OF THE HOUSE? The GOP are more concern with anything that does not help the US economy. THAT IS JUST SO MUCH TRUTH!!!!!!

    April 4, 2011 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  12. johnsmockberg

    How come hissoc. sec. number isbased out of connecticut? Funny, my libs next door (andtheuir families) have taken off all theirobama stuff from cars. Dadsaidhewas embarrassed to keep it on their cars. He saidhe will never vote for dems again until they bring back real values shared by real americans. Hey GOP, looks like you got 10 more votes, or at least 10 less forthe libtards! 2012 can't get here soon enough. God help us if the narsacist wins again..with illegal votes. Shame on you libs!

    April 4, 2011 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  13. LooneyBin

    I love how the conservatives are blasting Obama about this. They should be happy they're getting their way. If Bush did an about face on DADT or DOMA, would the liberals be blasting him for changing his mind? No, they'd be happy that he acquiesced.

    April 4, 2011 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  14. John

    Isn't it funny how some politicians "flip-flop" while others "shift"?

    April 4, 2011 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  15. Paul

    Once again the Obama administration has proven their incompetence. America can not afford to let Obama grow up on the job. All of his ideas and agendas have been proven failures. He is destroying and bankrupting America. The sooner he is out of office the sooner a recovery can start.

    April 4, 2011 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  16. Duane - St.Pete FL

    Bush was right after all.....Obama took long enough to figure that out. Yep, Obama back tracked on this as well as....
    1) debate on healthcare will be on CSPAN......lie
    2) I will close Gitmo.....lie
    3) I knew nothing about the church and the preacher I attended for over 20 years.....lie
    4) I will open up with and speak to Iran.......yeah, that worked great! NOT....
    5) I will get us OUT of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.......wrong again....he started another
    one last thing.........where are all the peace protesters? If the GOP would have gone into Libya there would have been no shortages of Cindy Sheehan's and code pink screaming......all the networks would be screaming (abc, nbc, cbs, msnbc and of course cnn). Why not scream now you ask???? Because of the double standard the liberals use.....it's glaring.

    April 4, 2011 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  17. Tim

    My hope-n-change hurts.

    April 4, 2011 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  18. terry,va

    I see the CNN censor is back at work. Holder and Obummie are FOOLS for wanting to use our court system to try terrorist. My earlier post was more explicate but this gets the point across. Obummie has been dragged kicking and screaming to do what is right on economic and foreign polices. The repubs can mark down another victory when they forced Obummie to go to military trials. They will also claim another victory when 40 billion will be cut from this budget and 4 trillion from the next 10 year budget.

    April 4, 2011 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  19. EddyL

    Military tribunals are all BS. They are all FIXED. Military tribunals are on par with the trial of Saddam Hussein.

    April 4, 2011 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  20. Rick in OP

    Posted by :
    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

    Dude,
    That was classic, I wish I would have said that.

    April 4, 2011 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  21. Sean

    I have less a problem with the many reversals of opinion this president has had (let's not call them shifts, shall we? They're a bit too significant a change in position for that). What is troubling is the fact that his first opinion on practically any issue is hastily determined and almost always wrong. What is more troubling is the amount of time it takes for him to correct course.

    April 4, 2011 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  22. rob

    @ Tom Joad

    First, Congress DID NOT stop Obama from closing Gitmo, Congressional Dems joined in a BI PARTISAN REBUKE of Holder and Obam's plan for transporting terrorists to th US and holding terror trials in NYC. It was a riducules idea to begin with. More importantly, the Military tribunals which were so roundly condemmed by the Dems and the liberal media will go forward because BUSH WAS RIGHT !!!!!!!!!

    April 4, 2011 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  23. Truth In Spending

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

    Sounds like something liberals would regurgitate. There is only one minor problem with that bit of lunacy. FACTS DO NOT CHANGE! Circumstances may change, but a fact, like the truth, is eternal and unchanging. And that's a fact.

    April 4, 2011 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  24. RiffRaff

    My guess is that once he was privy to all of the info about the goings on at Guantanamo it became apparent that he couldnt have a trial for them. 10+yrs later,and still they sit. If it were so easy,it wouldve been done already

    April 4, 2011 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  25. C. G. Lynch

    "a dramatic affirmation of the old axiom, "You campaign in poetry, but govern in prose." ?? I prefer a dramatic affirmation of a different old "axiom." : "Politicians, campaigning for office at any level, will tell any lie to get elected, counting on Americans' stupidity and short-term memories to save them once in office." And the higher the office sought, the bigger the lies.

    April 4, 2011 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
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