- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

President Obama on Thursday vigorously defended his decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention site but said some terrorist suspects would be held indefinitely, setting up the prospect of a painstaking fight with Congress over relocating detainees to the United States and disappointing supporters critical of what they saw as a concession to Bush-era policies.

The announcement came midway through a 50-minute address, which kicked off a highly public and impassioned debate between Mr. Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney over how far the government should go to defend itself from terrorism - a back and forth that transfixed Washington and much of the nation.

In a speech that was by turns fiery, analytical and sober, the president sought to rally support for his counterterrorism policies by appealing to the nation’s constitutional ideals and rebuking the “fear-mongering” he said has crept into the debate.

“Every now and then, there are those who think that America’s safety and success require us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. And we hear such voices today,” Mr. Obama told a small audience at the National Archives while standing in front of the nation’s founding documents and next to enormous murals of the Founding Fathers.

“We are cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess, a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost-daily basis,” he said, blaming the Bush administration for constructing “an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable.”

Immediately afterward, in a downtown building several blocks away, Mr. Cheney rebutted much of the president’s message. He blasted protests over the enhanced interrogation techniques he approved for use on a handful of detainees - procedures that some in the White House call torture and that the president has outlawed.

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“In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists,” Mr. Cheney said, during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Mr. Cheney characterized Mr. Obama’s ban on techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, as “recklessness cloaked in righteousness” and noted that Mr. Obama has “retained the power to order the same methods in the same circumstances” as they were used under the Bush administration.

Former President George W. Bush, who has maintained virtual silence since leaving office in January, was grateful for Mr. Cheney’s speech, a spokesman said.

“President Bush appreciates Vice President Cheney’s defense of his administration’s policies and of the people who have protected our nation,” Bush spokesman Rob Saliterman said.

But while Mr. Cheney pilloried the president for not going far enough to defend the country, liberal and human rights groups decried Mr. Obama for going forward with indefinite detention.

The president reiterated what he said in January about the prospect of indefinite detention even after Guantanamo is closed, saying that “there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.”

The evidence against them may either be classified or inadmissible in court - the president called it “tainted” - because it was obtained through coercion or harsh treatment.

Mr. Obama called on Congress to help him craft “a clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category” and “a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”

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