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Special Report

Obama's Guantanamo Bay Course Reversal

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 8, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: And I want America once again to be a beacon of freedom where everybody says America, that flag represents rule of law and due process. And that is why we're going to close Guantanamo and restore habeas corpus.

(APPLAUSE)

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We have always, ya know, said that those at Guantanamo would be subject to, ya know, prosecution as part of a, ya know, legal and transparent process...In the announcement yesterday at the White House we were reaffirmed, our commitment to pursue cases through Article III courts as well as through military commissions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, nearly three years after that Ohio campaign stop by candidate Obama, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is not closed. The Obama administration has endorsed and embraced the Bush era policy of indefinite detention for detainees who are threats and can't be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence.

And now the president's new executive order calls for those military commissions, the trials down there at Gitmo, to continue at the Navy base.

We're back with the panel. What about this as an issue? And what does it mean for this president, Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Well look, I think it's a very powerful public reversal. It's embarrassing; they're taking a hit on this. But I also smell a rat. I don't think that this is as complete a reversal as a lot of the editorial writers and headlines are making it out to be.

On this conference call where the White House previewed all this, they were pressed very hard, as the report indicated, were pressed very hard. Well, if the you are really going to go with the trials at Gitmo and go back to the military commissions what about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? And they absolutely refused to say that they were going to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed back on trial, even though it would be very easy to do so.

BAIER: 9/11 mastermind.

GOLDBERG: 9/11 mastermind. They are, again, as I was saying in the previous segment, I think the Obama administration is kicking the can down the road on all sorts of fronts; they are keeping their options open. And I think Obama and Eric Holder are firmly committed to bringing back the civilian trials, even so committed that remember, Obama reversed himself on signing statements when he signed the legislation that barred bringing Gitmo detainees into the United States. Ya know, embracing the "evil" Bush signing statements policy because he didn't want to lay down a marker saying that he agreed with this stuff. I think they are still committed to it but they need a political reversal right now to get them through 2012.

BAIER: Does this help? Does this hurt them politically? Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: It hurts them with the left.

BAIER: Does that matter to them, at this point?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it matters to them. But I don't think it's gonna matter in terms of votes if you looking at 2012, the election, if that's what you mean Bret. But I think that if you are talking about the flip-flop here, and that's what it's been, a flip-flop, this is a president who voted against this in the Senate, who said in the campaign it's time to close it.

And I think he was speaking from an idealistic point of view. So this is like you know, a conservative is the liberal who has been mugged. I think this is a president who has had to come to terms with the reality of how do you cope with people that you fear would actually perpetrate additional acts of terrorism. You're having difficulty, he had difficulty with the Democratic majority in the Congress, remember, in terms of getting permission to bring them into the civilian courts here in the United States.

So he is really stuck at the moment with-- in seeking a course of action that fits with his desire to take this away as an issue from people in the international community who say why are you holding people in violation of Geneva rights, giving them no civil recourse, and all of that? But at the same time he says, ya know what, I've got to deal with this and I've got to keep my country safe.

BAIER: As Jonah mentioned, Charles, the administration officials are careful to emphasize that federal courts are not ruled out.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it's a cover. I disagree with Jonah. I think it's something they have to say, because this is a complete capitulation, this is a surrender, it's Appomattox. Obama has just handed over his sword on this issue.

And it exposes how irresponsible and hypocritical he and Democrats were in the early years of the war on terror, attacking everything that the Bush administration had done, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, military commissions, rendition, detention without trial, all of which, once in office after hearing the reports of the intelligence agencies and having their hair stand on end, all of which, the Democrats have now adopted as national law and policy.

And it's also a kind of homage to the Bush administration. It created this entire infrastructure out of nothing, out of 9/11. Where we were caught off-guard, we had no infrastructure. It created Guantanamo and commissions, it improvised. And with some tweaks and amendments that the Supreme Court indicated were required, essentially it got it right. And that's what the Obama administration is admitting after all of these irresponsible and hypocritical attacks in the past.

BAIER: Every time the administration talks about this, they mention Congress, saying that Congress is preventing moving detainees to the U.S. You're saying, they don't have any other options.

KRAUTHAMMER: Of course, it's a cover. There's no way they are ever gonna try KSM in the U.S. They know it. They won't admit it. They will pretend they're gonna try. It's a done deal. He will die in Guantanamo.

BAIER: Jonah?

GOLDBERG: It's very rare I disagree with Charles on this stuff. Ya know we've been here before when Chuck Schumer forced the White House to say that we weren't gonna have the trial in New York. Everyone said, oh, civilian trials in the United States are over, and then two minutes later Ahmed Ghailani is being tried and gets off on something like 279 of 280 counts.

WILLIAMS: And does get convicted.

GOLDBERG: Gets convicted on one count. But at the same time, look, it just seems to me, it would be very easy -- if you're gonna do this -- if it is Appomattox, why hold on to this tiny little square block of territory which is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11? Why not concede it?

BAIER: That will have to be the last word. We will come back, I guarantee it. That is it for panel. But stay tuned for an example showing that not all companies are going green.

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