Obama: Gitmo Likely Won't Close in First 100 Days
"It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize," Obama says.
"I think it's going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do," Obama said in an exclusive "This Week" interview with George Stephanopoulos, his first since arriving in Washington.
"It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize," the president-elect explained. "Part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication. And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it's true. And so how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."
But Obama said unequivocally that it will close. "I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our Constitution. That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values."
Obama said that he is not ruling out prosecution for crimes committed by the Bush administration and left open the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor or commission to independently investigate abuses of power and illegal activity.
Obama's comments came in response to the most popular question on his own Web site, www.change.gov, which has received 23,000 votes on the "Open for Questions" portion of the site. Bob Fertik of New York who runs the Democrats.com Web site asks Obama, "Will you appoint a special prosecutor -- ideally Patrick Fitzgerald -- to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"
"We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law." Obama said. "But my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."
When pressed by Stephanopoulos as to whether he will instruct his Justice Department to investigate such accusations, Obama deferred to his nominated attorney general, Eric Holder.
"When it comes to my attorney general he is the people's lawyer... His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he's going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."
Obama criticized Vice President Dick Cheney for his public defense of "extraordinary" interrogation methods.
"Vice President Cheney I think continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures when it comes to interrogations and from my view waterboarding is torture," Obama said. "I have said that under my administration we will not torture."
When asked if he plans to require that every government interrogation program be under the same standard and in accordance with the Army Field Manuel, Obama said, " My general view is that our United States military is under fire and has huge stakes in getting good intelligence. And if our top army commanders feel comfortable with interrogation techniques that are squarely within the boundaries of rule of law, our constitution and international standards, then those are things that we should be able to."
The incoming president admitted that fixing the economy over the long-term will involve sacrifice from every American and scaling back on some of his campaign promises. "Everybody is going to have to give. Everybody is going to have to have some skin in the game," Obama said.
George Stephanopoulos' interview with President-elect Barack Obama kicks off ABC News' week-long series on the economy, "America's Economy: What's the Fix?"
"These are going to be major challenges. And we're going to have to make some tough choices... So what our challenge is going to be is identifying what works and putting more money into that, eliminating things that don't work, and making things that we have more efficient. I'm not suggesting, George, I want to be realistic here, not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace that we had hoped."
When pressed by Stephanopoulos and asked if he was "Really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of a grand bargain...where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?" Obama simply said, "Yes."
On when such sacrifices would be expected, Obama said, "Right now I'm focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure that we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place. But what you describe is exactly what we're going to have to do."
"What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government, what are we getting for it, how do we make the system more efficient?"
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