Defiant Obama slams Bush Guantanamo 'mess'

President Barack Obama has vowed no retreat on closing Guantanamo Bay, branding the prison a "mess" and charging that Bush-era anti-terror tactics were rooted in fear and ideology.

Obama also raised the prospect of holding the most dangerous Al-Qaeda detainees indefinitely in US "super-max" jails, in a major speech Thursday designed to recapture the initiative in a row over his national security policies.

Hours after Obama's speech, the US Senate approved a 91.3-billion-dollar 2009 budget supplement to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through October 1, but without funds to close the prison camp at the US naval base in Cuba, after days of acrimonious debate.

"The terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies -- and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are," Obama said.

Obama took on critics on the right who believe "anything goes" in the fight against terrorism, and rebuked allies on the left who he said believed that in all cases transparency should triumph over national security.

Minutes later, former vice president Dick Cheney stepped up, in a compelling duel between present and past administrations, forcibly defending former president George W. Bush's policies in his own nationally-televised speech.

Protesters dressed as prison inmates call for the closing of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in front of the White House in Washington, DC,

Obama insisted he had been right to order the closure of the controversial "war on terror" prison by January 2010, saying it had stained the US image abroad.

"By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it," Obama said at the National Archives, where the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence documents are held.

"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."

But Cheney, at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, vehemently justified the Bush approach, including harsh CIA interrogations derided by critics as torture and setting up Guantanamo outside the US legal framework.

He said he would "do so again in the same circumstances."

Cheney warned that bringing the "worst terrorists" from Guantanamo Bay onto US soil would be "cause for great danger."

Cheney also warned the Obama administration against launching a witchhunt against former Bush aides and CIA investigators.

Obama, however, took his own swipe at Cheney, who has been leading the Republican charge against his anti-terror policies.

"Some Americans are angry, others want to refight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November," he said.

Obama also rejected Bush administration tactics adopted after the September 11 attacks in 2001, saying they were the result of "fear rather than foresight."

"All too often, our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions," he said

The president said his administration may seek to transfer some of the most dangerous Al-Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay to US top security jails.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday joined Republicans in a lopsided 90-6 vote to forbid transferring to US soil any of the 240 detainees held at Guantanamo.

"We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people," Obama said.

"Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders."

It was unclear whether Thursday's speech would bolster support for Obama's plans.

"Senate Democrats look forward to reviewing the details of the administration's plan when it is released, and to working with the president to keep Americans safe and bring to justice those who seek to do us harm," said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid in a statement.

"It may cost you a few popularity points in Europe," said Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, "but as you indicated, Mr President, in your speech today, figuring out what to do with these folks is quite complicated, and it's better to do that in a timely fashion without the arbitrary deadline for closing Guantanamo."

Source AFP

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