Is President Obama misrepresenting the facts about Gitmo?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 23, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are going to continue to make the case for doing so as long as I hold this office.

I am very clear-eyed about the hurdles to finally closing Guantanamo. The politics of this are tough.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY: We'll review President Obama's plan. But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against the proposal.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The president putting forward a plan to close Guantanamo Bay prison, the detention facility he wanted to close down on day one when he took office almost seven-and-a-half years ago. The other side of the Congress, the leadership in the House, Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, saying "His proposal fails to provide taxpayers with critical details required by law, including the exact cost and location of an alternate detention facility. Congress has left no room for conclusion. It is against the law and it will stay against the law to transfer terrorist detainees to American soil. We will not jeopardize our national security over a campaign promise."

With that, let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist, Dana Perino, co- host of "The Five," and Charlie Hurt, political columnist for The Washington Times. I feel like I'm on an island over here.


BAIER: It's not that bad. OK, Steve, what about this plan?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Look, I think the point you just noted is the important point, or one of many important points. This is against the law. The president can't bring them here. It is against the law. It was in the National Defense Authorization Act. And 370 people from both parties voted for it. The president signed it. He is not allowed to do it.

BAIER: All right, so why is he doing it?

HAYES: Because I think this is a campaign promise and Barack Obama is a long time ideologue who wants to make good on his campaign promise to close Guantanamo. But in order to do that, he is simply misrepresenting the facts.

The president once again today said that Guantanamo is a major tool for jihadist recruitment. It is not. You can ask experts from across the political spectrum. It is not a major recruitment tool for ISIS or Al Qaeda, what have you. There was no mentioned of it in the latest several issues of the glossy magazine that ISIS uses to recruit. It has never been a major recruitment tool for Al Qaeda. But the president wants people to believe this because he wants to suggest that there's some national security imperative to closing it. There is no national security imperative to closing it.

And by releasing additional prisoners, which is what Josh Earnest said the president intends to do, he wants to clear more and release more, that present the national security threat. We've already seen the recidivism rates above, or at or above 30 percent. There was another Guantanamo recidivist released in 2004 who was arrested today in Spain. You see Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Gitmo detainee who was released by President Obama in 2012, ascend to heights, running Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This is a disastrous policy and there is one explanation for the president doing it, and it is his ideology.

BAIER: Kirsten, what about this argument that ISIS is not going to suddenly put down their weapon that's the we move everybody to Colorado.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY: Yes. I think the president thinks this is the right thing to do. It was a campaign promise, and he wants to release people who he feels are safe enough to release and send them to other countries, which George Bush did. And then with the rest of them put them ideally in a federal prison system. He is not specific about that but that's probably what he is talking about. It's what he suggested before. We have hundreds of terrorists, including foreign terrorists, in our super max system and we've had no problems.

The problem is, of course, Democrats don't even support that. So when he tried to do this before, it was overwhelmingly defeated. And it wasn't just Democrats doing it. And he is also creating an issue for Democratic candidates who are not going on want to get on the wrong side of this issue.

BAIER: OK, speaking of candidates, here's what the candidates said today on the trail. These are the Republican candidates.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only are we not going to close Guantanamo. When I'm president, if we capture a terrorist alive, they're going to Guantanamo and we're going to find out everything they know.

SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me say this, Mr. President. Don't shut down Gitmo. Expand it, and let's have some new terrorists there.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not for closing Gitmo plain and simple. So we'll just have to see how it all unfolds.

BEN CARSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If it was such a great idea to close Gitmo, how come it has not been done in seven years since that was one of his earliest promises?

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Guantanamo Bay, which, by the way, we are keeping Gitmo open, which we are keeping it open.


TRUMP: And we're going to load it up with some bad dudes. Believe me, we're going to load it up.


BAIER: "Load it up with some bad dudes."

Moments ago Hillary Clinton put out this statement. "I support President Obama's plan today to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, finally close the door on this chapter of our history. Over the years Guantanamo has inspired more terrorists than it has imprisoned. It has not strengthened our national security. It has damaged it. Closing Gitmo would be a sign of strength and resolve. Congress should implement President Obama's plan as quickly and responsibly as possible." Bernie Sanders echoes the statement almost exactly. Dana?

DANA PERINO, CO-HOST OF 'THE FIVE': It is pretty interesting to me on the politics, because President Obama said earlier today, I don't have to worry about the politics. Just mention the merits and the law. So apparently he doesn't care about any of those three things.

But I also think there is no harm in the president saying I have tried to close Gitmo. I have reduced it by x amount. I do not think it will be able to fully close it, but it is on a path to closure, and leave the worst terrorists there until they have another solution. On the politics of it, Hillary Clinton just four months ago in Colorado in the local station interview said I'm not for bringing them to Colorado. I've changed my opinion. So as she changed her opinion again here? That leads to her bigger political problem about trustworthiness.

BAIER: Does this become a big political issue on the trail?

CHARLES HURT, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: I don't know how it possibly can't become a big issue. And it is kind of mind-blowing because it's sort of an unforced error on the part of Democrats. True, Joe Biden and President Obama don't face reelection, but a lot of Democrats do. And two of them are now running to replace President Obama.

But it just goes to the heart of President Obama's inability to grasp politics. In his statement, he said that people just want these terrorists to be off in some faraway place. It is a little more complicated than that. The whole reason we set up the thing in the first place is because of the legal issues that are attended to when you bring them to U.S. soil. And he can say that that's not going to be an issue. But what does he know? It very well could become an issue, and it could very well, that could go to great lengths to undermine our ability to get information out of them and to hold them, for that matter.

BAIER: All right, Steve, what about any positive in this argument? Saving money -- $65 million to $85 million. Is there any upside to the argument that the administration is making to close Gitmo?

HAYES: Saving money is nice. It is interesting that the president would choose this as the place that he would do it. He didn't address the debt crisis. He didn't address entitlements which are driving the debt crisis. He gave us a new entitlement in Obamacare. But he is wanting to save tens of millions of dollars by closing down Guantanamo and freeing the people that are kept there.

Look, I think this is likely to be a big campaign issue in large part because it was a campaign issue in 2012 in this respect. Barack Obama said in effect, we don't have to worry about this war on terror anymore. It is over. Al Qaeda is on the run. Al Qaeda has been decimated. And we've seen the neglect of that growing global jihadist threat has led to. We've got ISIS proliferating. We've got Al Qaeda around the world. Democrats had not taken the threat seriously. They thought it was overstated by the Bush administration. The president has enacted policies that reflected that, and the problem has gotten markedly worse. This will be a major issue in the 2016 campaign.

BAIER: Note to the White House: It will be tough to convince Steve.

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