“And the best way to prevent violent extremism inspired by violent jihadists is to work with the Muslim-American community, which has consistently rejected terrorism, to identify signs of radicalization and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence,” Obama said. “And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. In fact, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say that we’re at war with Islam.”
Obama claimed that “as president, I have tried to close Gitmo.”
“I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo,” he said.
During the Guantanamo part of the speech, he was repeatedly interrupted by Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and engaged her instead of ignoring her. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” Obama said. “Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously, she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”
Republicans lashed out at his speech, though, as very wrong-headed.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, declared “the president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory.”
“Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit,” he said.
“We knew five years ago that closing Guantanamo was a bad idea and would not work. Yet, today’s speech sends the message to Guantanamo detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home, even to Yemen. With the recidivism rate now at 28 percent and the increased threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including in Yemen, Gitmo must stay open for business.”
Obama said “Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.”
“Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at Gitmo,” the president added.
“Gitmo serves an important function of detaining America’s most dangerous enemy combatants. No individual who continues to pose a threat to the U.S. should be shuttled home at the expense of American taxpayers only to return to the battlefield to kill Americans and our friends, no matter how many dramatic hunger strikes are staged,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
“In making national security decisions, the president’s foremost consideration must always be the safety of the American people, not misguided campaign pledges and attempts to pivot from scandals.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted that just before the Benghazi attack Obama had declared “al-Qaeda is on its heels.”
“The troubling reality is that the president continues to underestimate the serious threat that al-Qaeda and its affiliated and inspired terrorists present to Americans. Now is not the time to abandon robust efforts to keep Americans safe. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates were not on their heels last year, and they clearly are not now,” Royce said.
“The president continues to mistakenly treat counterterrorism as a law enforcement issue,” he added. “As a recent example, the Administration has reportedly failed to take military action against the identified Benghazi attackers, in part, because it prefers to try to collect evidence on them so that they might be tried in U.S. courts, leaving these terrorists on the loose. ”
Domestic drone opponent Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he was “glad the president finally acknowledged that American citizens deserve some form of due process.”
“But I still have concerns over whether flash cards and PowerPoint presentations represent due process; my preference would be to try accused U.S. citizens for treason in a court of law,” Paul said.
The greatest praise for Obama’s address, which even liberal pundits branded on Twitter as a catch-all jumble, seemed to come from Obama appointee Chuck Hagel over at the Pentagon.
“The president today presented a comprehensive vision for how we will continue to protect the nation from terrorism, especially from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, while remaining true to our values and laws,” Hagel said. “…Having been closely involved in these issues as a U.S. senator, the co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and now as secretary of Defense, I applaud President Obama’s strong leadership in defending the United States of America and advancing our interests around the world.”