Barack Obama on Guantanamo Bay

Last Updated : Oct 04, 2012

Summary

President Obama's stance on Guantanamo Bay prior to entering the Presidency was that the facility should be closed, those held there should tried in court, and habeaus corpus rights should be returned to those held there and other military bases. Once becoming President, he issued an executive order to close the base, but was never able to follow through with that order. Now, President Obama is using the same practices and policies as the Bush administration.

Record as Senator

In 2006, Senator Obama spoke on the Senate floor in support of an amendment to restore habaeus corpus rights to individuals at Guantanamo Bay. He argued that holding people in Guantanamo without habeas corpus is un-American, tyrannical, unnecessary to fight Terrorism, a potent means for stoking anti-Americanism and fueling Terrorism, a means of endangering captured American troops, Americans traveling abroad and Americans generally, and a violent betrayal of core centuries-old Western principles of justice.

While in Congress, Senator Obama co-sponsored legislation called the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 and the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. The purpose of these pieces of legislation was to grant habeas corpus rights to detainees at Guantanamo Bay and repeal provisions of the Military Commissions Act and allow for civilian trials of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

In 2005, Senator Obama voted against a measure to deny funding to move prisoners out og Guantanamo May. In 2006, he voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006. A few years later, in 2009, he voted in favor of an amendment to provide habeaus corpus rights to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

2008 Presidential Election

One of the main pillars is Senator Obama's 2008 platform was the closing of Guantanamo Bay and a return of civil liberties. In this manner, much of the campaign mirrored his voting record as Senator and his speeches while in office.

In December of 2007, Senator Obama was interviewed by Google and stated the the subject of Guantamo Bay was an "easy" one to deal with as he would simply close it. He added that one of his jobs as President would be to get over the climate of fear generated by the Bush administration and return to the values that made the US great.

That same month, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Boston Globe. In response to direct questions on the issues, he stated that the President had no right to hold US citizens as unlawful combatants, that he could not violate international human rights by holding such people without charge, and that the government could not deny people habeaus corpus rights.

In June of 2008, Senator Obama praised the supreme court ruling in Boudemiene v Bush which granted habeas corpus to the detainees, stating that it was an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law. He added that the supreme court ruling was a rejection of the Bush Administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo - yet another failed policy supported by John McCain.

In a debate early in the Presidential election, Senator Obama asserted that if elected, he would shut down Guantanamo and restore the US to a leadership position in the world. This leadership position would be based on the example the US would be once full civil rights were restored.

On Senator Obama's 2008 campaign website, 5 bullet points were listed to restore US values. Two of these bullet points were the restoration of habeaus corpus rights to all people and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. In pledging to close the facility, Senator Obama asserted that it was a recruiting tool for our enemies and that the legal framework behind Guantanamo had failed completely.

Early Record in Office

After the election, President-Elect Obama was interviewed by 60 minutes. When asked about early actions, he stated that he would indeed act early to shut down Guantanamo Bay to restore America's standing in the world.

Immediately after assuming office, President Obama signed three executive orders dealing with the base. One of these orders called for the closure of the facility at Guantanamo Bay within a year. A second order called for a review of all the detention policies in place, and a third order ensured that only lawful interrogation tactics were used. The final order created a review board to address and classify all detainees at the base. Military tribunals were also halted.

Continuing Bush Era Policies

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guatanamo Bay were due habeas corpus rights. Three months after the Supreme Court's ruling, four Afghan citizens being detained at Bagram tried to challenge their detentions in U.S. District Court in Washington. After Barack Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush's legal argument. In a two sentence response, the Obama administration sided with the Bush administration in declaring that those detained in Iraq and Afghanistan had no right to habeas corpus. "Having considered the matter, the government adheres to its previously articulated position."

Altering Military Tribunals

In May of 2009, President Obama issued a statement noting changes that were being made to the military tribunals process for those at Guantanamo Bay. Among the changes were that statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial, the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify, and that military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.

That same month, President Obama held a major national security speech in which he noted major changes to the militayr tribunals process. The President noted hat no one had ever escaped from a super max prison and this was a proper forum for some of those prisoners. In the speech, the President noted that they were reclassifying  the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay into five new classes. These new classes included prisoners who will be tried in the federal courts, prisoners who will be tried through the new military commissions, prisoners who have been ordered released by the federal courts, prisoners who will be turned over to other countries, and prisoners who cannot be tried in court or through commissions but who will not be released. This final classification of prisoners represented a continuance of Bush era policies that some people can be held indefinitely without trial.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others

In November of 2009, the administration noted that it had looked into the mastermind of the USS COle bombing - Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), and several others implicated in the 9/11 attacks. He noted that some 9/11 cases were to be tried in federal courts in New York and Virginia and some were to be referred back to military tribunals. These trials never occured due to political pressure.

Review Board Report

In January of 2010, the review board established by President Obama's executive order released their report. The report found that of the 240 detainees at the facility when President Obama took office, 126 were approved for transfer with 44 of those having already been transferred at the time of the report. 44 of those detainees were referred to prosecution at either the federal court or the military tribunal system. 48 were determined to be too dangerous to be released and "not feasible" for prosecution. 30 detainees which were from Yemen were designated as conditional as the status of Yemen was too unstable.

Resumption of Military Tribunals

In March of 2011, President Obama issued an executive order allowing new military tribunals to be started under the new provisions. A policy of periodic review was initiated to determine the status of detainees to ensure they are in the proper class of detainee.

Number of Detainees at Guantanamo

The chart below shows the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay at any given time. Note that the number of people present at the facility peaked in July 2003 and began to fall off from there. As established in the review board report, 240 people were present at Guantanamo when President Obama took office. As of July 11, 2012 168 were still being held there.

 

Floor Speech - Habeas Corpus for Guantanamo Detainees

In late September of 2006, Senator Obama spoke on the Senate floor about the need for Habeas Corpus and the ability of someone detained to question his imprisonment. Senator Obama was arguing in favor of an amendment to the Military Commissions Act that would have restored habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees. As noted in the cited article, Senator Obama states that taking people and placing them in Guantanamo without habeas corpus is (a) un-American; (b) tyrannical; (c) unnecessary to fight Terrorism; (d) a potent means for stoking anti-Americanism and fueling Terrorism; (e) a means of endangering captured American troops, Americans traveling abroad and Americans generally; and (f) a violent betrayal of core, centuries-old Western principles of justice.

Prior to these statements, Senator Obama specifically mentioned Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and asserted that the bill he was supporting would receive a full military trial.

 

Sunset on Military Commissions Act

On September 28, 2006 Senator Obama spoke on the Senate floor in support of legislation to place a 5 year sunset on the Military Commissions Act.

 

The Culture of Fear

In a December 2007 google interview, Senator Obama states that the Bush administration has used a culture of fear to manipulate the nation. He states that Guantanamo is "easy" and that is should simply be shut down, and that habeas corpus should be restored.

 

Boston Globe Interview

In December of 2007, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Boston Globe and asked about habeas corpus rights, detention, and surveillance.

 

Reaction to Boudemiene v Bush

In June of 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that those detained at Guantanamo Bay were allowed access to the federal court system. This decision essentially granted the detainees habeas corpus rights. While Senator McCain was highly critical of the ruling, Senator Obama applauded the decision and said the following:

 

Campaign Events - Guantanamo and Habeas Corpus

In numerous campaign events during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Senator Obama stated that he would close Guantanamo Bay and restore the rights of Habeas Corpus to the prisoners there. He noted the importance of the writ of habeas corpus to ensuring that the person being held was the person in question.

 

Primary Debate

During one of the primary debates with Senator Clinton, Senator Obama pledged to return America to a leadership positions in the world. He stated that he would do this by shutting down Guantanamo Bay and restoring Habeus Corpus rights so that America was able to lead by example.

 

2008 Campaign Website Statements

 

60 Minutes Interview

In an interview with 60 minutes just days after winning the election, President-Elect Obama stated that he would close down Guantanamo Bay and end torture through an executive order.

 

Executive Orders

On January 22, 2009, President Obama signed three executive orders. One of these orders called for the closure of the facility at Guantanamo Bay and a review of all detainees there. The second order called for a review of all the detention policies in place. The third order ensured that only lawful interrogation tactics were used.

In particular, subsection C of section 2 of the first executive order stated that all those in the detention facilities had a right to habeas corpus. Section 3 of the order called for the base at Guantanamo Bay to be closed within a year.

President Obama spoke at a press conference about these three orders and noted that the facility would be closed, and that he was in the process of determining the best method of dealing with the prisoners there.

On January 22, 2009 the White House issued a press statement noting the signing of the three executive orders and one additional memo.

 

Bagram Air Force Base - Agreement with Bush Administration

As noted, in the summer of 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guatanamo Bay were due habeas corpus rights. Three months after the Supreme Court's ruling, four Afghan citizens being detained at Bagram tried to challenge their detentions in U.S. District Court in Washington. Their petition was filed by relatives on their behalf since they had no way of getting access to the legal system. The military has determined that all the detainees at Bagram are "enemy combatants," and the Bush administration said in a response to the petition last year that the enemy combatant status of the Bagram detainees is reviewed every six months, taking into consideration classified intelligence and testimony from those involved in their capture and interrogation. 

After Barack Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush's legal argument. In a two sentence response, the Obama administration sided with the Bush administration in declaring that those detained in Iraq and Afghanistan had no right to habeas corpus.

 

Restart of Military Commissions

On May 15, 2009 President Obama issued a statement noting that military commissions were to be restored as a legitimate forum for prosecution. The statement noted that the military commissions that are reopened will be done with new rules in place.

  • statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial
  • the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability
  • the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel
  • basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify
  • military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts

 

National Security Speech

On May 21, 2009 President Obama spoke at the National Archives about national security issues and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. In part of this speech, the President stated that the detention facility had made the US weaker by lowering our moral authority and reducing our influence overseas.

In that same speech, President Obama noted that no one has ever escaped from one of the federal supermax prisons and that these facilities already house the most dangerous and violent criminals in the society. He noted the previous cases handled by the civilian court system.

Also in the speech, the President established 5 categories that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay would fall into when the determination was to be made as to their futures. 

  1. Prisoners who will be tried in the federal courts;
  2. Prisoners who will be tried through military commissions;rn
    1. with modifications such as removing the burden to prove that hearsay is unreliable
    2. No evidence obtained through interrogation would be allowed
  3. Prisoners who have been ordered released by the federal courts;
  4. Prisoners who will be turned over to other countries;
  5. Prisoners who cannot be tried in court or through commissions but who will not be released.

This final classification of inmates are Guantanamo Bay represent the biggest problem that he has with honoring his promises to restore habeas corpus rights. He notes that he cannot simply release them, but that there may not be enough evidence to hold the men indefinitely. He states that any prolonged detention must be done in a legal framework.

 

Civilian Trial for KSM

On November 18, 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder announced that civilian federal trials would be held for KSM and four other defendants. He outlined the items that were considered when deciding which detainees would be tried in civilian courts and which were tried in military tribunals.

 

Resumption of Military Commissions

On March 7, 2011 President Obama issued an executive order noting that he was allowing new charges to be filed in military tribunals. The President also authorized a policy of periodically reviewing detainees and determining where they fit in the categories established in his National Security Speech.

The same day that President Obama issued the executive order, the white also issued a "fact sheet" on the issue of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

  

Voting Record

Military Commissions Act of 2006

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 established the authority to hold military tribunals for unlawful enemy combatants. It also defined that term and several others. The legislation was passed 65-34 in September of 2006. Barack Obama voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Barack Obama voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Removing Funds for Transfer

In April of 2005, the Senate voted on a measure to reduce by $36,000,000 the amount appropriated for "Military Construction, Army", with the amount of the reduction to be allocated to funds available under that heading for the Camp 6 Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The measure failed 27-71. Barack Obama voted against reducing the spending for Guantanamo.

Barack Obama voted against reducing the spending for Guantanamo.

 

Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

This representative has not been identified as sponsoring or cosponsoring significant legislation related to this title.

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