Obama Security Speech: Highlights

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President Obama made several points in his national security speech at the National Archives this morning:

-that he will not release any Guantanamo detainees into the U.S. if they pose a threat--but that some will be transferred to U.S. prisons

-that the problem of Guantanamo started before he took office

-that he opposes a truth commission to investigate the Bush administration but trusts Congress and the Department of Justice to look into issues like harsh interrogations

-that it's unlikely suspected or convicted terrorists would escape from supermax prisons on U.S. soil

-that the administration is reviewing possible reforms to document classification

-that the attorney general will have to personally approve invocations of the state secrets privilege, and that more stringent review of the classified material will be applied

Here are some highlights from the speech:

[T]he legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks in Washington would be taking place whether or not I decided to close Guantanamo....In other words, the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place...
Let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can:  we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders - namely, highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal "supermax" prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists...
First, whenever feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts...
The second category of cases involves detainees who violate the laws of war and are therefore best tried through Military Commissions. Military commissions have a history in the United States dating back to George Washington and the Revolutionary War. They are an appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war. They allow for the protection of sensitive sources and methods of intelligence-gathering; they allow for the safety and security of participants; and for the presentation of evidence gathered from the battlefield that cannot always be effectively presented in federal Courts...
The third category of detainees includes those who we have been ordered released by the courts.  Let me repeat what I said earlier: this has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to close Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law...

The fourth category of cases involves detainees who we have determined can be transferred safely to another country. So far, our review team has approved fifty detainees for transfer. And my Administration is in ongoing discussions with a number of other countries about the transfer of detainees to their soil for detention and rehabilitation...
If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so going forward, my Administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution...
[W]henever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions -- by Congress or by the courts. We are currently launching a review of current policies by all of those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters...
We plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the State Secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And  each year we will voluntarily report to Congress  on when we have invoked the privilege and why, because there must be proper oversight of our actions...
I know that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to the actions of the last eight years, some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, in some cases debates that they have lost. And I know that these debates lead directly to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an Independent Commission. I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws or miscarriages of justice.
[T]here are those who think that America's safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. And we hear such voices today...

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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