- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

EXCLUSIVE:

President Bush said Thursday that closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is “not as easy as it sounds,” sending a warning to President-elect Barack Obama that he will have to find a way to prevent those released from coming back to attack the U.S.

“People will find that there’s quite a few that are very dangerous people and to put them in a position where they can eventually get out on the street and come back and harm one of our citizens would be a very dangerous policy,” Mr. Bush told The Washington Times in an interview in the Oval Office.

The president also saw an upside to otherwise painful economic times for many Americans, arguing that the recent drop in gasoline prices, which analysts blame largely on the recession, could end up spurring the economy.

“One aspect of these recent times that has been overlooked is the fact that the price of gasoline has gone down from near $4 to under $2, which is stimulative, because people have got nearly $2,000 on an annualized basis in their pocket — that’s $2,000 per family — as a result of gasoline going down,” he said. “That’s stimulative.”

Mr. Obama said last weekend that it would be “a challenge” to close Guantanamo Bay in the first 100 days of his administration, but his transition team said this week that he will issue an executive order early in his administration to begin the process.

“It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize,” Mr. Obama told ABC’s “This Week,” adding that he recognizes some of those detained “may be very dangerous.”

The Washington Times reported that the Pentagon is looking at several military bases in the U.S. as destinations for the nearly 250 suspected terrorists now at Guantanamo Bay. Among the bases under consideration are Camp Pendleton in California and Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Mr. Bush, while not mentioning Mr. Obama, expressed reservations about closing the detention center without having a plan in place for “some of these very hard, coldblooded people.”

“I think people will find it’s not as easy as it sounds, because the key for a president and an administration is to understand the most important responsibility is the security of the American people,” he said.

The Pentagon said this week that suspected terrorists who have been released from Guantanamo Bay are increasingly rejoining the fight against the U.S.

As of December, the Pentagon said, 61 former detainees, or about 11 percent of those released, were thought to have returned to the terrorist battlefield. That was up from figures from March, when the Pentagon said 37 former detainees, or 6 percent of those released, were either confirmed as or suspected of returning to the fight.

Mr. Bush said in 2006 that he would like to close the detention center. He said Thursday the fact that the facility is not closed is proof of how difficult it will be for Mr. Obama to follow through quickly.

“All I can tell you is that I have said I’d like to see Gitmo closed, this is about three years ago I said that, and we have worked very hard to put tribunals in place, for example, as a way to adjudicate some of these cases. And you’ve noticed how slow it’s been,” he said.

Mr. Bush also defended orchestrating a $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, arguing that he structured the deal so taxpayers would get their money back.

He predicted that the economic collapse will teach consumers a lesson.

“I think we come back better. I think we come back with a better appreciation of not borrowing too much money, of not creating financial instruments that are hard to understand, of not giving implicit guarantees to government institutions that encouraged them to go out and lend a lot of money in the first place,” he said.

The president likened the Republican Party’s political situation today to the period after the 1964 election, when President Johnson defeated Republican nominee Barry Goldwater in a landslide and Mr. Bush’s father lost a bid for the Senate.

Mr. Bush said the Republican Party rebounded in 1966. It “didn’t change its philosophy but came out with a message that was appealing to people from all walks of life,” and bounced the old leadership in favor of “a group of young candidates that said, ‘We are the future,’” he said.

Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Mr. Bush said: “President Bush was the president at a time that our nation was attacked. He clearly saw the dangers; he pursued the enemy; he put tools in place so the professionals could better protect the American people, and the homeland was not attacked.”