President Obama on Thursday will try to take the reins on the debate over national security and rally support for his plan to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in what his administration is billing as a major address.
In recent weeks, conservative critics have blasted Obama for what they see as missteps on national security. In addition to the controversy over closing Guantanamo, Obama released Bush-era memos detailing “enhanced interrogation techniques” of suspected al Qaeda members. Obama also upset those on the left last week by reversing course on a decision to release alleged prison abuse photos and deciding to resume — with expanded legal protections — the Bush administration’s controversial system of military trials for some Guantanamo detainees. The president will address all of those issues, in addition to state secrets, transparency and protecting national security, in his speech Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the most outspoken critics of Obama’s policies, is slated to give an opposing argument Thursday morning. Cheney has charged that Obama’s national security decisions have left the United States more vulnerable to attack. Obama’s address is scheduled for 10 a.m. ET at Georgetown University. Cheney will speak before the conservative American Enterprise Institute at 10:45 a.m. Obama’s proposal to close Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, which holds military detainees suspected of terrorist activity, has been met with opposition from both sides of the aisle.
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Following in the steps of House Democrats, Senate Democrats rejected on Tuesday the administration’s request for $80 million to close the Guantanamo facility. They instead asked that Obama first submit a plan spelling out what the administration will do with the prisoners when it closes the prison. “We share Congress’ belief that before resources are given for a project, that they need and deserve a more detailed plan. The president will lay out the framework on many of those decisions and some of the work that has to be done between now and then to make progress in closing Guantanamo Bay,” Gibbs said at the daily press briefing. Gibbs said the president has not yet decided where the detainees will be transferred. Obama, in one of his first official duties as president, announced that he would close the prison by January 22, 2010. The Senate passed a measure Wednesday that would prevent the detainees from being transferred to the United States. The measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in a 90-6 vote. A similar amendment has already passed the House. The moves by the Democratic-controlled Congress are considered a sharp rebuke to Obama. “The president understands that his most important job is to keep the American people safe and that he is not going to make any decision or any judgment that imperils the safety of the American people,” Gibbs said. Asked whether the president had any new announcements planned for his speech, Gibbs said, “I’m going to wait for the speech tomorrow.” Aides say the president also wants to speak more about his decisions to release the four so-called torture memos but not make public the prison abuse photos. The White House maintains the memos did not contain any information that wasn’t already available to the public, but critics, including former CIA director Michael Hayden, said the move compromised national security. On the photos, Obama said he blocked the release because it could affect the safety of U.S. troops and “inflame anti-American opinion.” The Pentagon was set to release hundreds of photographs of prisoners in detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.