President Barack Obama on Tuesday recommitted himself to closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which would fulfill a campaign promise he made during his first bid for president in 2008.
“I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo,” he said in a White House press conference marking the first 100 days of his second term. “Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe, it is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
“I am going to go back at this,” Obama said “I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe.”
Obama said that the facility might have been necessary in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11, but it has outlived its usefulness.
“We’re now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists,” Obama said. “This is a lingering problem that’s not going to get better. It’s going to get worse; it’s going to fester.”
He pressed his point home by naming terrorists who have been convicted by civilian courts and are now serving life terms in prison, including the Times Square bomber, the Detroit Christmas Day bomber, and a Somali member of Al-Shabaab.
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Obama has long argued that the military-run detention facility is unnecessary and hurts America’s standing in the world, but he blames Congress for obstructing his ability to close it. His statement at the press conference came in response to a question about detainees who are currently staging a hunger strike.
Obama also repeated his message that the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria would be a “game-changer” that would provoke greater U.S. involvement in the country’s two-year-old civil war in which an estimated 70,000 civilians have died.
Intelligence has recently disclosed the use of the deadly sarin gas in Syria, but Obama said, “We don’t know how they were used, when they were used, or who used them.”
When asked if why the administration was hampering whistleblowers at the State Department from cooperating with a congressional probe over the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Obama said, “I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody’s been blocked from testimony. I’ll find out exactly what you’re referring to.”
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who is leading the congressional investigation, said after the press conference that his probe is being blocked by State Department officials.
“A lawyer for Benghazi whistleblowers has publicly stated that the State Department is blocking her client’s ability to talk freely with counsel,” Issa said. “The president’s unwillingness to commit himself to protecting whistleblowers only aids those in his administration who are intimidating them.”
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