Transferring Gitmo to the Heartland

Obama to tell Congress to ‘designate a site’ for military commissions and trials of terrorists

Guantanamo detention facility / AP
• May 23, 2013 2:00 pm


President Barack Obama will call on Congress to "designate a site in the U.S." where military commissions and trials can be held for terrorists still being held in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in a speech on Thursday, according to senior administration officials.

Obama will outline shifts in the nation’s counterterrorism policy during a speech later this afternoon at the National Defense University.

The speech will broadly discuss ongoing efforts to combat terrorism across the globe and make clear that "the use of force alone cannot defeat" violent radicals, administration officials said during a conference call before Obama’s address.

During the speech, the president will renew his call to close the Gitmo prison and either try the remaining terrorists in America or send them back to their native countries, according the administration officials, who spoke on background.

Obama will also announce that he is lifting a moratorium on sending Gitmo detainees back to Yemen, a longtime terrorist haven that the administration says has moderated under new political leadership.

Administration officials will review these transfers on a case-by-case basis, according the officials.

Obama will also reiterate his opposition to the notion that America is engaged in a global war on terror, a policy established by former President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

"The president has indicated and will indicate today that he rejects the notion of a global war on terrorism which is an amorphous definition that applies to a tactic," one senior administration official told reporters.

The Obama administration views the effort to combat Islamic radicalism more narrowly, the official said.

"The president will make clear what we are engaged in is a focused effort against" a very specific network of extremists such as those affiliate with al Qaeda. "We are defining this more narrowly."

Obama also will recommit to his controversial policy of targeting terrorists—including American citizens—with drone strikes, the White House officials said.

This policy declaration comes just days after the White House acknowledged that drone strikes have killed at least four Americans since 2009.

"There are times when there are individuals who are present at an al Qaeda and affiliated facilities, and in that regard they are subject to the lethal action that we take," one official said.

"As in any war there are tragic consequences that come with the decision to use force including civilian casualties," the official said, arguing that there would be "far greater civilian casualties" if the president decided to utilize military force or air strikes.

The administration officials also discussed the "trade offs" associated with reporting on classified information, an issue that has garnered much attention since it came to light that the Obama administration tapped the phone lines of several Associated Press reporters.

"The president will indicate he believes that again we must protect the right of a free press, even as we must prosecute those who violate the law," said one official, saying the president is concerned about "any potential chilling effect on reporting."

Asked by a reporter if the ongoing hunger strikes at Gitmo had anything to do with the president’s renewed call to close the facility, the officials said the strikes were concerning.

"It’s certainly true you’ll hear it [the hunger strikes] in reference as an indication the type of issues we have, where you have" hundreds of detainees who have been cleared for transfer but are barred from leaving due to a congressional mandate.

"Part of the context of that is people taking drastic steps of hunger strikes in Gitmo," the official said.

The president’s speech will also touch on efforts to combat domestic terrorist threats, such as the Boston Marathon bombings.

Obama see a "need to take action given the fact that in today’s world, particularly given the Internet, individuals can be radicalized and learn to kill … without leaving their home," one official said.

The president will also call on Congress to provide increased funding for security at U.S. diplomatic compounds around the world.