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
12 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. groingo

    The press calls them "Shifts" the real world call them what they are LIES!
    Further proof that Obama is incompetent and incapable of making and sticking to ANY decision.

    April 4, 2011 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  2. mkjp

    Guess what republicans: you now love Obama's policies. Got it? If all he is doing is exactly what Bush and Cheney were doing and you think that pair was the bees knees of presidential teams, then you have to stop bashing Obama for doing what they did. Oh that's right, y'all are too dumb to realize that when you say "we love Bush and everything he did" one minute followed by "Obama is just Bush's third term" the next minute, it has to mean you like Obama's policies.

    Pull your heads from your behinds and listen to the words that are coming out of your mouths.

    Oh, and how are all those jobs bills coming from the congress members you all elected? How many have there been? Oh, that's right, ZERO. so much for republicans being perfect and perfectly following through on every single campaign promise!

    April 4, 2011 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    I guess it needs to be pointed out that his political opponents won this battle. This loss has less to do with the ability to lead, than the ability to mislead. There are those who will savor this victory, no doubt. Those with the taste of victory are the ones who have mislead public opinion as to what are the real issues.

    The real issue is closing down this recruiting tool. But, there are some "patriots" in our society who would rather see it stay open just because the POTUS said he wished to close it. Never mind the price we pay in national security by keeping it open.

    I don't care where the incarcerated are put on trial, civilian or military, just as long as the process moves forward. Just as long as each individual is tried. Each trial will eventually mean one less detainee being held, and its eventual closure. In these days of budget crisis and cuts, you would think anything that reduces cost would be welcomed. Except, when it fulfills campaign promises made by the other side.

    April 4, 2011 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  4. Atticus Caulfield

    @Tom Joad - how is your book coming along, "From the Dust Bowl to Life as an Obama Apologist"?

    April 4, 2011 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  5. Joe

    To all of you suckers who drank the Obama cool-aid ... how do you feel now? How's that Hope and Change thing working for you now?

    April 4, 2011 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  6. Joe Doakes

    March 31, 2011

    Dear President Obama,

    Is the idea to abandon your liberal socialist base by attacking Libya, keeping Guantanamo open, and keeping the war on Islamic Radicalism running in Iraq and Afghanistan; then expect citizens like me to vote for you while your demoralized liberal base stays home? Because if that’s your plan I’d start packing your bags today. In the wife's case I’d hire some help. Do not for one flat second think that you can earn our vote by this decision. My recommendation was to whack Gadaffi. Not send in the boys with the dark sunglasses, and the checkbooks.

    Look. I know you are circling the political drain. You know you are circling the political drain. But have a little pride. It is only going to get worse. As much as I think you are the wrong man for this job, and so does the voting public. I live in “Obama Country” and those stickers with that funny logo are almost all gone – even from the Toyota Prius’s, and you know how those people are. The American people know that you are the kind of guy that can detail out some useless legal theory, or you can give us the nitty gritty details on how to get a sweetheart mortgage from Mr. Rezco, or how to best market a Senate seat, that you used to occupy, and not get prosecuted for it. Or accomplish most of any number of nefarious activities right under the nose of a press corps that reminds me of the front row at a strip club. All that is missing is the pole.

    Ever see a play called “Annie?” Now that I am older I listen to the propaganda songs in it and I am truly nauseated. I can’t help, but think of you as FDR at times, promising all kinds of things, but delivering nothing but a constant stream of destructive uncertainty. Kind of like you. When you were elected, you had three jobs that I can discern from your campaign speeches. I’m throwing out lowering the ocean, considering what has happened in Japan. You were hired to repair the economy, fix the housing market, and end the war. While I disagree with the end the war part. You spoke, and the people decided. Mr. Obama you had an obligation to keep your word to those people, and you broke it. “My word is my bond.” Didn’t someone ever teach you that? Right now there are an awful lot of people hoping you keep it in Libya.

    As for 2012. I think you can kiss that goodbye. From what I hear the tracks are being laid to run you out of town. The only question they need answered is which direction? I recognize there is still the possibility Republicans end up with a nominee that is not significantly different form you. If you are betting on that, you and the rest of the liberal democrats are spending too much time in your bubbles with Mr. Friedman. Obamacare has made this very personal and people are very, very, upset. You’ve lost your base and now you are going to lose your office. I will not be surprised in the least if President Carter comes back from Cuba with a piece of paper and waves it and he says “Peace in our time!” All wars start with a failed politician proclaiming peace. As if paper was somehow bullet proof.


    Joe Doakes

    April 4, 2011 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  7. MaryA

    "Obama shift"?? Obama is flip-flopping on lots of things because he doesn't know what the heck he's doing. He's being given on-the-job training! He's also flip-flopping on Libya: first he dithers; then he announces involvement in the no-fly coverage and flies off to South America on a family vacation. When he returns he says we'll be out in days; we're out; now we're back in because the UN asked us back (Obama's fallback when he gets flack on this). What's the mission? If it's about helping victims, what about the Ivory Coast that Hillary is already getting involved with? Another flip-flop is Gitmo. This clown is unbelievable! I'm afraid and embarrassed for the USA that we have such an inept, arrogant, narcisstic joke in the WH that today announces his bid for re-election while the world is in chaos. Next thing, he'll be flying off somewhere to campaign or vacation.

    April 4, 2011 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  8. Truth In Spending

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

    Idiotic? Did you really say that. If you swallow that pablum, then Obama had no business making the oft repeated, along the lines of Bush the Elder's "Read my lips, no new taxes." pledge, I WILL CLOSE GUANTANAMO WITHIN A YEAR promise. Only an idiot would make a promise to do something over which he does not have absolute control.

    Obama had a majority in both houses for two years. Are you saying that his fellow dems prevented him from closing Guantanemo. Face it, he opened his mouth and inserted both feet, speaking boldly of something which he knew nothing about. If there is an idiot in this scenario, it's Obama.

    April 4, 2011 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  9. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    In a "perfect world" each president would be able to carry out campaign promises in an unfettered fashion.
    Intentions meet reality to present very different results. Republicans have done everything they can to thwart this President's every action.
    Even in doing what they want, he "gets it wrong."

    Not to say that he is a perfect President, or man, far from it. This human has failed on his own at times, but fought hard against almost insurmountable odds to do what he believes is appropriate.

    April 4, 2011 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  10. MontanaSon

    Obama's inexperience is dangerous in itself, but his blind haste to discard and demonize the policies of his predecessors (which he does not yet understand) reflects a frightening inability to comprehend and analyze different viewpoints.

    April 4, 2011 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  11. Ray


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

    Except the facts haven't changed. Just the realization that Bush was right all along.

    April 4, 2011 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  12. nuser

    What kind of headline is that? It is fraudulent. Are you trying to influence voters?

    April 4, 2011 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  13. Frank Castle

    I have developed a new Alternative source of energy. We just have to harness the spinning liberals every time Obama lies.

    April 4, 2011 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  14. kylefromohio

    Like Tom Joad said how does that add up to "breaking a promise", When anyone with a little knowledge about how the Government works Knows that congress write bills and give it money and the president either veto or signs the bill; No person can change anything allow in our government, which is the way it is suppose to work!!!!

    April 4, 2011 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  15. DanStlMo

    Governing is much harder than Campaigning.

    April 4, 2011 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  16. SickOfBigGovernment

    Change? What change from Bush's policies? NONE.. NOTA... except.. HE GOT US INTO YET ANOTHER WAR. What a liar.... gee... I wonder how the media organizations are going to cover for this FLIP FLOP...
    He was AGAINST the trials at GITMO before he WAS FOR THEM.... I think he has been taking instructions from that other imbecile John Kerry...

    April 4, 2011 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  17. John

    Obama obviously tried to close Gitmo and follow through on his promise. The Justice Department blocked it.

    April 4, 2011 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  18. what a BS Article - READ

    "I stand by that decision today," Holder told reporters. "We were prepared to bring a powerful case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed." The reason for the reversal: "Unfortunately, since I made that decision, members of Congress have intervened," putting restrictions on rules for Guantanamo detainees, Holder said.

    April 4, 2011 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  19. Dave IL

    OMG! Another promise broken. Can you spell SLEAZY POLITICIAN?

    April 4, 2011 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  20. stevens

    To Tom Joad.


    April 4, 2011 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  21. jfalstaff

    "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?"
    -John Maynard Keynes.
    Then how did the conservatives get the facts right. Were they facts or opinions. Sounds like an opinion to me.

    April 4, 2011 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. MCRidersClub

    Tom Joad, you're telling me that President Obama, with a Democratically ruled House of Representatives and Senate could not close Guantanamo? This is the same President who forced through a healthcare overhaul bill that was opposed by more than 60% of the people using every trick in the book to get it passed, and yet this same President couldn't convince all his Democrat allies and buddies to find a way to close Guantanamo? You've got to be kidding. Of course it was a lie. He made that promise without having the slightest inkling of how he was going to enforce it. Either he was lying or he was incompetent. You decide which sounds more accurate.

    April 4, 2011 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  23. all the news that's fit to omit

    Tom Joad, don't blame Oblunder for anything, he is trying so hard and the job is sooooo hard.

    So you're hero OWNED the whole show for about two years and HE DIDN'T GET GITMO CLOSED with both House and Senate being Democrats in power.

    Sounds like a lack of uh, uh, uh, uh, uh fortitude OR leadership.

    I say both, what say the other non-Oblunder voters?

    April 4, 2011 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. betterdays

    Well, at least he's stopped trying to change things just for the sake of changing them. He's begun to make prudent decisions instead of pie-in-the-sky promises. In other words, he's confronting the same realities previous presidents have had to face. And he's found that a more CONSERVATIVE approach to SOME situations may be what's best for the country in the long run. Interesting. Verrry interesting....

    April 4, 2011 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  25. Joe Doakes

    Dear "Four and the Door,"

    Really? Sop you will vote for a Republican just because you think he is "different?"


    April 4, 2011 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
1 2 3 4 5