Obama Speech Intended to Mollify Left on Military Commissions, Guantanamo


Adriel Bettelheim
CQ Politics
May 21, 20099

After antagonizing the political left with several unexpected national security moves, President Obama on Thursday will seek to reassert control over the politically sensitive area of fighting terrorism.

[efoods]Obama will travel to the National Archives Thursday morning to deliver what aides say will be a 35-minute speech that articulates his principles on national security.

The address comes after a turbulent stretch during which Obama flipped positions and blocked the release of photographs allegedly portraying prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel. He also restarted Bush-era military commissions that try terror detainees. And on Wednesday, the Democratic controlled Senate denied funding for the administration to help shut the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The speech comes at almost the same time former Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to deliver remarks on the subject of “keeping America safe” at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Cheney has been a vocal and persistent critic of Obama’s policies, saying they raise the risk of another terror attack.

By delivering an address in the shadow of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, Obama will seek to portray his January decision to shut Guantanamo by Jan. 22, 2010 as essential to restoring the United States’ reputation as a nation built on the rule of law.

“We know that court cases are coming every day that are rendering different judgments about what legal standards there are in this country, the values that we have to uphold, and we’re taking all of that into account in making decisions about how to close Guantanamo Bay,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.

The speech is largely intended to mollify the political left, which increasingly suspects Obama is trying to shield his predecessor’s counterterrorism policies from public scrutiny.

Antiwar activists were taken by surprise when Obama restarted the commissions, which critics say do not afford enough due process rights to detainees. And they were baffled when he decided to fight a court order to release the detainee photographs a little more than one month after saying he would turn them over.

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