- President Barack Obama May 21st:
I . . . believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight. . .
The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of military commissions that were in place at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that: three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setback after setback, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system. Meanwhile, over 525 detainees were released from Guantanamo under not my administration, under the previous administration. Let me repeat that: Two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantanamo. . .
[I]nstead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.
So the record is clear: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security.
- The New York Times page A1 that same day:
An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.
- Former Vice President Dick Cheney that same day:
Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them.
As a practical matter, too, terrorists may lack much, but they have never lacked for grievances against the United States. Our belief in freedom of speech and religion, our belief in equal rights for women, our support for Israel, our cultural and political influence in the world--these are the true sources of resentment, all mixed in with the lies and conspiracy theories of the radical clerics. These recruitment tools were in vigorous use throughout the 1990s, and they were sufficient to motivate the nineteen recruits who boarded those planes on September 11, 2001.
The United States of America was a good country before 9/11, just as we are today. List all the things that make us a force for good in the world--for liberty, for human rights, for the rational, peaceful resolution of differences--and what you end up with is a list of the reasons why the terrorists hate America. If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don't stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for--our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.
What is equally certain is this: The broad-based strategy set in motion by President Bush obviously had nothing to do with causing the events of 9/11. But the serious way we dealt with terrorists from then on, and all the intelligence we gathered in that time, had everything to do with preventing another 9/11 on our watch.
- The New York Post published on the web that same day:
Four homegrown Muslim terrorists on a mission from hell were arrested last night as they planted what they thought were high-powered plastic explosives at two Bronx synagogues, authorities said.
The men were also allegedly plotting to use a Stinger missile to shoot a military plane out of the sky in upstate New York immediately after the bombings.
"They stated they wanted to commit jihad," NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a press conference this morning. "These men meant to do some serious damage. . . They were certainly intent on doing damage, on killing people." . . .
After bombing the temples, the men planned to split up and head to the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in their hometown and shoot down a plane with a weapon they believed was a Stinger surface-to-air guided missile, sources said.
"They [the United States military] are killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries, so if we kill them here [in the United States] with IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and Stingers, it is equal," one of the busted men, Onta Williams, allegedly told the informant.
- Jennifer Rubin in Commentary that same day:
[Obama] has continued all those supposedly fear-based policies put in place by the Bush administration. He has continued the military tribunals, propounded the state secrets doctrine, and refused to release the detainee abuse photos. We have a robust domestic surveillance program, are completing the mission in Iraq, and seeking victory in Afghanistan. Why? I’d imagine because Obama would fear for Americans’ safety if he did otherwise. Indeed, that was the explicit justification for refusing to release the photos.
So if Bush got it all wrong and capitulated to fear, why are so many of his policies remaining in place -- on advice of our military? Although George W. Bush is happily retired in Texas, Obama feels compelled to continue the fight rhetorically but not substantively against the former president in absentia and in the same news cycle as the former vice president. . . Obama hasn’t actually departed in any meaningful way from the "mess" of the Bush "fear-inspired" policies he inherited. To do that would be dangerous. Well, there are people out there who want to kill us, right? And so we come full circle. . .
One final thought: Obama has placed his presidency in the hands of America’s enemies. Should they succeed in any significant operation, his words disparaging his predecessors’ efforts will come crashing down on him and his party. In politics, as in life, you never want to give over control of your destiny to others. But in a shocking way the President of the United States did just that today.
- Con Coughlin in a Daily Telegraph (U.K.) blog that same day:
I always thought his knee-jerk promise to close Guantanamo Bay detention facility was cheap politics and displayed a profound lack of understanding about the very real security issues relating to Guantanamo and its remaining inmates.
And so it has proved. . .
Perhaps there is an important lesson the president can learn for the future: think through the consequences before making cheap political points.