President Barack Obama acknowledged Saturday that figuring out what to do with detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who are too dangerous to release “is going to be one of our biggest problems.”
In an interview with C-Span television, Obama suggested it would require a bipartisan effort to create a legal and institutional structure under which the detainees could be tried.
“It’s a messy situation. It’s not easy,” he said.
Obama traced the problems to “poor decisions” made by the previous administration in the period right after the September 11, 2001 attacks “because people were fearful.”
He said “I think we cut too many corners and made some decisions that were contrary to who we are as a people,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of people there who we should have tried early, but we didn’t. In some cases, evidence against them has been compromised,” he said.
“They may be dangerous, in which case we can’t release them. And so, finding how to deal with that I think is going to be one of our biggest problems,” he said.
But he said he was confident that the detainees could be tried by US military commissions or in US civilian courts “if we approach this in a way that isn’t trying to score political points, but is trying to create a legal and institutional framework with checks and balances, respectful of due process and rule of law.”
His comments came just two days after he clashed with former vice president Dick Cheney on the issue in dueling, back-to-back debates.
Cheney attacked Obama’s approach to the “war on terror” as increasing the risk to Americans and defended the harsh interrogations of detainees that tainted evidence gathered against them.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats joined Republicans in refusing funds for Obama to close Guantanamo, demanding a more detailed plan from the administration amid widespread congressional resistance to transferring detainees to prisons in the United States.