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President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney both gave speeches about national security on thursday. Obama was critical of the Bush administration's policies, and Cheney was critical of Obama's policies while defending the Bush era actions. There's nothing wrong with that. People can differ over important issues, and national security is about as important as it gets. Here is a transcript of Obama's speech. Here is a transcript of Cheney's speech. They are both interesting reading, and when stood side by side outline seemingly stark policy differences. I think a fair assessment of the two men's differing positions regarding the terrorist threat could be summarized as follows - Obama says "let's adhere to our values as we fight terrorism," and Cheney says "let's do whatever it takes to defeat terrorism."
Which of the two men is right, or whether both of them are partially right depends on your viewpoint and priorities, I guess, but I found many of Obama's statements contradictory. For instance, Obama talks about how imprisoning detainees indefinitely at Guantanomo Bay makes us less safe, goes against our values, and violates the rule of law, but his own administration is arguing that detainees may be imprisoned at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan indefinitely without contesting their detainment. The Obama administration is arguing against a U.S. court ruling on this matter. The court ruled that the detainees must be granted habeas corpus, and the Obama administration is arguing otherwise. The Obamans are arguing that U.S federal court has no jurisdiction over the Bagram detainees, directly in opposition to Obama's stated opinion about Guantanomo Bay detainees. If keeping prisoners in Gitmo makes us less safe, goes against our values, and violates the rule of law......doesn't the same hold true in Bagram ? Not to mention that Obama's own Gitmo closing strategy includes one option to keep dangerous terrorists who could not otherwise be prosecuted in prison. From Obama's speech:
Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people...a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States...a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States...We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.
Obama says he wants to construct some type of (unnamed) new legal framework for these detainees, but the message is clear - Obama doesn't want to release dangerous terrorists, just like the Bush administration didn't want to. He'll keep them in prison without trial, just like Bush did. The only difference will be where he keeps them. It won't be in Gitmo. It will be somewhere else. How that is the least bit different than Bush is completely lost on me. It isn't different. It's just semantics.
After all is said and done, and all the partisan fighting amongst ourselves is waged, we end up with a new president from another party, Barack Obama, who will keep dangerous terrorists in prison without trial for the sake of national security (as Bush did), who will release others not deemed to be so dangerous (as Bush did), who will conduct military commission trials for some (as Bush did), and who will try those few who they can make a criminal case against in civilian court (as Bush did).
So, what was all the arguing about ?
Ain't politics grand ?
I'm also willing to bet that if there's another successful major terrorist attack in the U.S., god forbid, and we capture the mastermind while other plots are still in the works, as happened with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and two others following 9/11, Obama will probably reinstate those enhanced interrogation techniques quicker than greased lightning too, because there's been one overriding concern for every U.S. president we've ever had - national security means keeping Americans safe, above all else. All the introspective wailing, gnashing of teeth, and mea culpas come later. If you don't believe me, read some history books.