High Drama: President Barack Obama Found Himself Defending His Decison to Close Guantanamo Bay to the Ex-Vice President Dick Cheney

By Vesely, Milan | The Middle East, July 2009 | Go to article overview

High Drama: President Barack Obama Found Himself Defending His Decison to Close Guantanamo Bay to the Ex-Vice President Dick Cheney


Vesely, Milan, The Middle East


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It was high drama of the most intense kind, the articulate and reasoning President Barack Obama versus the hunched over, combative and even defensive ex-vice president Dick Cheney. So was this bare-knuckle brawl really all about torture, Guantanamo Bay, Al Qaeda and the now discarded "war on terror"; or was it really about American values, the rule of law and even the very foundation of the American state? More important, was it really about the architect of the Bush era "enhanced interrogation techniques" firing a pre-emptive strike as he sees the net closing in on all those involved in their authorisation?

Against the backdrop of the parchment copies of the American constitution in the rotunda of the National Archives and after a month-long simmering attack on his repudiation of the worst aspects of the Bush administration's "war on terror", President Obama came out swinging in a 21 May speech on national security. "Far from making us safe," he forcefully stated, "the misguided, enhanced interrogation techniques authorised by the Bush administration and the setting up of the Guantanamo Bay facility have left us in a mess." Insisting that America's adherence to the rule of law had been undermined, President Obama defended his decision to close the Cuban facility and to bring even the most hard-core Al Qaeda terrorists to mainland America to stand trial under the tried and tested law of the land.

"We lost our way," he said, pulling no J punches. "Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world. We went off course."

This followed a setback the day before when the United States Senate voted 90 to five to deny President Obama the $80m he requested for the closing of the Cuban facility. In doing so, America's worst fears were on display; the previous eight years of warmongering by the Bush administration on display for all to see. Adding fuel to the fire, a visibly uncomfortable Senator Harry Reid, Democratic leader in the upper house, then went before the TV cameras and bumbled through a barely understandable explanation, his insistence that "all senators are adamant that we will not allow terrorists to be released in our states" being so far off the mark that it made no sense whatsoever. No administration official had even mentioned turning loose any prisoners on American soil, only the use of maximum security prisons--the so-called Supermax facilities--in Montana and Colorado being mooted as long-term holding facilities for the worst of the Al Qaeda detainees.

Obviously stung, President Obama did what he does best; he argued his case for following the rule of law before the American people. "From Europe to the Pacific," he said in his long, measured speech, "we have been a nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law"--the reverse implication patently obvious to all.

"That is who we are," he pressed. "And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology."

Fifteen minutes later, ex-vice president Dick Cheney responded before an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, an audience that had viewed President Obama's speech via widescreen TV only minutes before.

"I was, and remain, a strong proponent of our [Bush administration] enhanced interrogation techniques," he said. Elaborating further he stated: "You've heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [KSM], the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl (the American journalist working in Pakistan)."

Needlessly demeaning the American judicial system that he had sworn to uphold as vice-president, Dick Cheney then went on to state: "Maybe you've heard that when we captured KSM he said that he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyers. …

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