President Obama today strongly defended his administration's terrorism policies and his decision to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, saying the policies of his predecessor were based on fear ideology rather than sound strategic principles.
"We are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability," Obama said at the National Archives in Washington.
"Too often, our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions," he said.
The president's comments did not go unchallenged, as former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke shortly afterward, offering a sharp rebuke to Obama's criticisms and the current administration's national security policy.
"The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism," Cheney said in a competing speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., immediately following Obama's speech. "But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed."
"I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program," Cheney added later in the speech. "The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do."
Obama gave a professorial explanation on why his administration needed to reverse the Bush Administration policies that "established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable."
In a speech that ran nearly 50 minutes, Obama laid out his case for ending so-called enhanced interrogation methods, closing the detention center Guantanamo Bay and moving detainees currently held there. He stressed that he inherited these complex legal and ethical questions from the previous administration.
"We are cleaning up something that is -- quite simply -- a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country," he said.
Obama said the toughest issue facing his administration, and the one that is causing him headaches from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, concerns the detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted but also cannot be released because of the threat they pose.
The president did not lay out a specific plan for these terror suspects but said there must be "clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in 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," he said.
The president defended his recent decision to not release photographs showing alleged abuse of detainees held by the U.S. because of the potential impact it would have on the American military.