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"The issue really here ... is that there is a fundamental disagreement around the world, which I experienced when I was the legal adviser, as to whether the United States really is in a war at all. And we are about the only country in the world that really thinks that we are in an armed conflict with al-Qaida."
But Obama said, four times, that his preference is capture over killing. Someone is not telling the truth.
Here's how Spencer Ackerman posed the question in a recent piece for Wired:
"Obama turned more than a few heads by declaring his 'strong preference' for 'the detention and prosecution of terrorists' over sending an armed robot to end their lives. It's hard to know what to make of that. The simplest interpretation is that it's a lie. Whatever Obama's preferences are, he has killed exponentially more people than he has detained and prosecuted."
Over 100 hunger strikers in the Guantanamo prison are being force-fed to prevent them from the only method of release they see open to them -- death. In this part of his speech, too, Obama keeps giving a bad name to hypocrisy. His handwringing sounds as though he were some kind of liberal pundit on MSNBC; as though he were powerless to do anything; as though his hands are tied by Congress. He said:
"Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees... Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?"
Interrupting Obama, Code Pink's Medea Benjamin appealed to the President to "release those 86 prisoners" (more than half of the 166 prisoners still held at Guantanamo) already cleared for release. On Jan. 22, 2010, those 86 were pronounced cleared after a year-long investigation of their individual cases by an interagency task force of officials at the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and others.
But Congress has tied the President's hands, you may be thinking. Congress, to be sure, has posed legal obstacles, but is not the only fly in the ointment. Congress has also given Obama considerable leeway; but he has not had the courage to take advantage of it. One of Congress's most powerful members, Sen. Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, sent the White House a letter on May 6 reminding the President that, thanks to the efforts of Levin and others, Obama can release the 86 without further delay.
In other words, Medea Benjamin was right, though you would never know it from the mainstream media. Referring to congressional restrictions on detainee transfers, Levin reminded Obama: "I successfully fought for a national security waiver that provides a clear route for transfer of detainees to third countries in appropriate cases; i.e., to make sure the certification requirements do not constitute an effective prohibition."
Moreover, Obama did say that he will lift the restrictions he himself imposed on sending detainees to Yemen. After Obama's speech, attorney Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Paul Jay of the Real News Network:
"All that has to happen is for the President to certify, as he is required to do by law, and send the detainees to Yemen. But then he [the President] says, 'I'm going to do this on a case-by-case basis.' They have already been cleared on a case-by-case basis. So Obama is going to go back through it?
"The proof will be in the pudding even on Yemen. Will he actually do it? How slowly will he do it? You know, what he should actually do is just do it and get it done and then move on to the next thing. So we'll have to see..."
Summing Up: An Epochal Speech
Benjamin Wittes of Brookings (quoted above) is hardly alone in characterizing Obama's May 23 speech as a rebuke to his own administration for taking the positions it has and then a defense of its intention to continue to do so.
Here's what Norman Pollack had to say about all this, in an article he titled "Obama's Militarism-Imperialism Lite":
"A tissue of lies? No, the whole Kleenex box -- one tissue interleaved with all the others. Obama is fortunate to be presiding over a country steeped in false consciousness on essentials (war, sacrifice of the social safety net for the glories of militarism, and ... authoritarian submission, a political-cultural disposition to strong leadership reinforced by appeals to patriotism and pressures toward conformity)...
"His May 23rd address therefore fell on receptive national ears, a desperate will to believe that immorality is moral, illegality, legal, and war, the necessary defense of Homeland in its centuries'-old quest for peace, honor, the rule of law. How comforting!
"Liberals and progressives especially have taken heart in POTUS's rhetoric that a new day in American foreign policy is dawning -- has already dawned, by the simple fact of self-declaration that the United States is always bound by the constraints of the rule of law. ... All else is enemy propaganda.