Terrorism: Front and Center

May 21, 2009 6:50am

Explaining his counterterrorism policies in a speech at the National Archives this morning, President Obama will literally be speaking alongside the Constitution.

The president will talk about the decision to close the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay, his use of the "state’s secrets" privilege, fighting the release of photos of detainee abuse, transparency and national security in general.

“I don’t expect that he’s going to hand out a 100-page plan (for detainees) that will have every decision made,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “we share Congress’ belief that before resources are given for a project, that they need and deserve a more detailed plan.  The president will lay out the framework on many of those decisions and some of the work that has to be done between now and then to make progress in closing Guantanamo Bay.”

But questions about the president’s policies abound.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate delivered a harsh rebuke to President Obama with a 90-6 vote against $80 million Mr. Obama requested to shut down that Guantanamo Bay prison. The message was clear: do not close the Guantanamo detainee center until you have a plan of what to do with the detainees.

The language from Majority Leader Harry Reid was harsher than the lopsided vote.

“Democrats under no circumstances will move to forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the President.," Reid said.

Nearly 540 detainees at Guantanamo Bay were transferred or released to foreign countries under President Bush. 240 detainees remain, including those no other country has been willing to accept, ones the U.S. will eventually prosecute, and prisoners judged too dangerous to release, but the evidence against them would likely not withstand a trial.

What to do with the remaining prisoners is an especially complicated dilemma for President Obama. Democrats and Republicans are promising a fight to keep the detainees not only out of the U.S. but even out of U.S. prisons.

When asked if he’d be comfortable with the prisoners being transferred to American prisons, Senator Reid said, "not in the United States.”

Several convicted terrorists are currently in so-called super maximum security facilities in the US, including Richard Reid, the British citizen and al-Qaida follower who’d tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner with explosives hidden in his shoes.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., spoke out in favor of moving Guantanamo Bay prisoners to US supermax prisons. “There is ample evidence that the United States can and, in fact, does hold dangerous convicts securely and without incident,” Feinstein said.

But FBI Director Robert Mueller said putting these detainees in U.S. prisons could be dangerous.

“There is a potential for radicalization in a number of ways, whether it be for gang activity, for terrorist groups, for other extremists,” said Mueller in congressional testimony.

Asked to respond to Mueller’s comments, Gibbs said “I can respond to — to anybody, including everybody in America, to say that the president understands that his most important job is to keep the American people safe and that he is not going to make any decision or any judgment that imperils the safety of the American people.

President Obama is considering sending roughly 100 detainees from Yemen to a rehabilitation center in Saudi Arabia. At least 11 Guantanamo detainees sent there by the Bush administration, however, have graduated and have become involved again with terrorism, including al Qaeda’s deputy leader in Yemen.

And all this debate comes, as ABC News’ Luis Martinez reports, with news of an internal Pentagon report indicates that 14 percent of the detainees released from the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay under President Bush — 74 out of 540 — returned to terrorism.

“In my view, these men are exactly where they belong, locked up and safe is a secure prison,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

Other terrorism-related news fills the headlines today, with:

* the Justice Department bringing Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national who has been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility since September 2006, to New York for prosecution for his alleged role in the bombing of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya;

*  Mohammed Warsame having pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide support and resources to al-Qaeda, according to U.S. Attorney Frank Magill Jr. Warsame, prosecutors said, trained with al Qaeda in  Afghanistan and Pakistan, fought with the Taliban and once shared a meal with Osama bin Laden;

* Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Lev Dassin and others in law enforcement last night announced the arrests tonight of four men "on charges arising from a plot to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York, and to shoot military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles."

At the exact same time President Obama is explaining his counterterrorism policies to the nation today, former Vice President Dick Cheney will be giving a competing speech saying those policies are making us less safe.

– jpt

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