The Washington Times - May 21, 2009, 09:32AM

The White House often puts out excerpts or prepared remarks in advance of a major speech. They don’t appear to be doing that today for Obama’s Gitmo speech (background on the speech here), but a White House official did give a lengthy preview.

Here’s what he said in its entirety:


Thursday at the National Archives, the President will give a speech on protecting America’s security and upholding our laws and values.  The paramount responsibility of any President is to keep the American people safe.  That is what the President thinks about every morning when he wakes up and every night when he goes to sleep.  The President believes with every fiber of his being that we cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in the National Archives – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights – are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world.

We are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. In the face of threats, we are providing the resources to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan;  investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities; re-energizing a global non-proliferation regime and locking down loose nuclear material to deny the world’s most dangerous people access to the world’s deadliest weapons;  protecting our borders and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or natural disaster; building new partnerships around the world to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates; and renewing American diplomacy.

We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat – but we must also trust in these institutions, and in our values. The decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable – a framework that failed to trust in our institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass. That is why we lost our way. That is why we were alienated from our allies.

Upon inheriting this broken status quo, the President banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America.  Those techniques are not the most effective, undermine the rule of law, alienate us in the world, serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. And the arguments against these techniques did not originate in this Administration — even under President Bush, there was a strenuous debate about their usefulness and that Administration ultimately phased out their use.

In January, the President also ordered the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting only three suspected terrorists.  The record is clear:  rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. That is what the President will honor his commitment to close it. 

 The President also ordered a review of all the pending cases at Guantanamo.  In dealing with this situation, we do not have the luxury of starting from scratch. We are cleaning up something that is – quite frankly – a mess that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that we are forced to deal with on a constant basis and that consume the time of government officials whose time would be better spent protecting the country.  To take care of the remaining cases at Guantanamo Bay, the President will

*        when feasible, try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts.

*        when necessary, try those who violate the rules of war through Military Commissions.

*        when possible, transfer to third countries those detainees who can be safely transferred.

 One last group of detainees poses special challenges.  Some 24 detainees have been ordered released by the U.S. courts.  These court orders have absolutely nothing to do with the decision to close with Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The United States is a nation of laws, and we must abide by those laws.

The President will also address his efforts to open up our government and promote transparency.  He is reforming policies that promoted government secrecy – like the state secrets privilege, which allowed the government to fight the disclosure of information in court simply if it embarrassed the executive branch. The President also recognizes that there is privileged information that protects the American people – like classified information that tracks conversations between terrorists or the movements of our troops in combat zones — and this administration will protect that information like any other.

While we must ensure that our security measures and our justice system are ready to address the threats of the 21st century, the Obama administration will uphold America’s laws and its values that are the reason we have become the strongest nation in the world and persisted through crises that have threatened our core.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

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