Obama Won't Specify Detainee Destinations

Speaking tomorrow about the future of Guantanamo Bay detainees, President Obama won't say where he expects detainees convicted by courts or military tribunals will end up, his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said today. Instead of providing specifics, Obama will "frame" the issue, Gibbs said, and discuss how he'll reconcile the tension between liberty and security. Donning a professorial gown is risky at a time when Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with the American people, wants details from the administration, particularly about whether dangerous detainees might be imprisoned in the United States. A U.S. official conceded this morning that some of them would end up in the United States, even as the federal law enforcement bureaucracy, in the name of FBI director Robert Mueller, worried openly about the ramifications. 

The message tomorrow from Obama might well be: "trust me." That's a tough sell, even for a president whose approval rating exceeds 60% and whose capacity to keep American safe is rated highly by voters. Two of the detainees, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and Abu Zubaydah, are fairly well-known terrorists; until their final status is determined, Republicans will ask whether Obama intends to bring them into the contiguous United States.  

Though administration officials are briefing allies on the speech tomorrow -- presumably, the allies can't figure out what the President means on their own -- they've decided to describe the speech in very broad terms. When the administration has faced communication challenges in the past, they've solved them by letting Obama explain himself before the American people.  The problem now is that so many sentiments about terrorism and Guantanamo are unventilated, and the civil libertarian center-left is getting gloomy about Obama's commitment to fundamentally reorienting the role of the president after the perceived excesses of the Bush administration.

Throughout the week, White House officials have said that Obama will try to put the question of his exercise of executive power in the context of what he inherited from the Bush administration, the court decisions that force the administration to change course almost every day, and the state secrets that he must now defend, even though, had he had the chance to redo decisions, they never would have been on the verge of being revealed. 
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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