Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The Contradiction in Obama's Speech

The conservative reaction to President Obama’s national security speech has been muddled. Is he actively undermining the successful fight against terrorism that followed Sept. 11, or shamelessly adopting most of the anti-terrorism policies of the Bush years? The verdict can hardly be both.

The speech itself involved a rhetorical sleight of hand. It used a ringing, unqualified language of civil liberties to justify a set of Niebuhrian national security compromises (including military commissions and the indefinite detention of terrorists who cannot be tried but pose a continuing threat). The gap between aspiration and application was massive -- an obvious attempt to appease Obama’s leftist base with civil libertarian and anti-Bush rhetoric while maintaining the policy tools necessary to conduct an ongoing war on terror (whatever that conflict is now called).

In spots, the speech seemed to recognize this contradiction. But Obama put the blame for this state of affairs entirely on his predecessor and the “mess” he created. “The problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees,” Obama said, “was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place.” Of course, President Bush did not create the detainee problem. The terrorists created the problem of what to do with enemy combatants, wearing no uniforms, who want to murder Americans. Bush struggled with the challenge of where to put them. But the problem would have existed even if Obama had been president in 2001. No location for imprisoned terrorists is particularly good -- as Obama himself is discovering. But self-pitying complaints about the burdens of history are not attractive in a president.

As a policy document, however, Obama’s speech was hardly surprising or radical. I have previously criticized Obama’s release of the Justice Department memos, which has opened the CIA to endless, distracting testimony and litigation. It’s a mistake he may already regret. But the rest of the policy in the speech seemed reasonable. Guantanamo has become a liability and Congress needs to step up and be part of a solution. The mechanics of the closure are difficult, but it eventually must be done. Obama continues to oppose a circus-like commission and the release of old photos damaging to the military.

Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, makes a strong case that the Obama administration is continuing many Bush-era anti-terrorism policies with only small modifications. This is not merely because Obama has been sobered by his presidential responsibilities. The policies of the Bush administration also evolved over time, becoming more legally established and sustainable. Even as both Obama and former Bush officials seem determined to emphasize their differences, there is significant policy continuity in the fight against terrorism between the administrations -- as you’d expect from serious professionals committed to the defending the nation.

The starkest difference seems to be on the issue of waterboarding. This is an important argument -- but hardly a current one. The practice, used on precisely three terrorists, was discontinued by the CIA five years ago. Other interrogation techniques -- from exposure to cold, to slapping, to prolonged standing -- continue to be debated. But the Obama administration has been less definitive on these matters, appointing a task force to determine whether CIA methods, in some cases, can be harsher than Department of Defense methods. One suspects Leon Panetta and others would like a little flexibility in the aftermath of a possible future attack.

In the end, Obama’s speech was rhetorically irresponsible and, for the most part, substantively defensible. That is not ideal. But it is better than the reverse.

By Michael Gerson  | May 22, 2009; 1:06 PM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Past Continues to Haunt Obama
Next: An Obama-Cheney Thought Experiment


The Contradiction in Obama's Speech Vs the out right lies in Cheneys.

Posted by: AverageJane | May 22, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The GTMO problem wasn't created by terrorists. It was created by Cheney's irrational and self-serving invasion of Iraq!

Posted by: lufrank1 | May 22, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

When you first started writing, I was looking forward very much to what you would say, once you found your own voice and left Bush's behind.But the constant carping, harping, and nit-picking, is getting on my nerves. It's so disappointing. Write something positive about our President for a change. Frankly, I'm ready to stop reading all opinion pieces because they are so negative - and so predictable - People are depressed enough already without this constant negative tone. I had hoped fervently that your column would be a refreshing breath of fresh air - like your eloquent Jack Kemp tribute - from a new generation of voices. But, right now I'm greatly disappointed. It's Nemorial Day weekend; write something Churchillian, something to give readers a reason to pause and give thanks for the sacrifices of those lying on the beaches of Normandy or on the gentle slopes of Arlington.

Posted by: choralsociety | May 22, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

The Contradiction in Obama's Speech Vs the out right lies in Cheneys.

Posted by: AverageJane | May 22, 2009 1:34 PM -------------------------

Truth in Cheney's speech Vs. outright lies in Obama's.

Did you notice that Obama began his speech by saying that it was time for government to stop pointing fingers and to get on with its work - They he made 28 separate accusations against Bush.

Obama's following of Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" propositions of "Ridicule", and "Isolate and Demonize" is beginning to wear thin. What will Obama do when he can no longer blame Bush and has to accept responsibility for his actions?

Posted by: mike85 | May 22, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Gerson wrote: "the policy tools necessary to conduct an ongoing war on terror."

In debate schools that's what's known as begging the question. (Perhaps Gerson would also like to explain what he means by the bloodless euphemism "policy tools." Waterboarding? Sleep deprivation? Beatings? Chaining people's arms to the ceiling? If you're not ahamed to support it, call it by its real name.)

Posted by: chaos1 | May 22, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

For six years, Gerson was employed in the Bush White House as a speechwriter and senior policy adviser to George W. Bush -- churning out, willingly and knowingly, the lies, distortions and misrepresentations that, cumulatively, have helped bring America to its knees.

Now the SOB has the temerity, the chutzpah, to comment on the speeches of the person asked by the voters of America to rescue the country from the wreckage which Gerson helped to cause.

What is the cretin doing in the pages of the Washington Post?

Why is he not in jail?

Posted by: pali2600 | May 22, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

I was disappointed with Obama's speech yesterday. I voted for him under the assumption that he would bring change for the good to Washington but after yesterday's speech, it sounds like he's simply candy-coating Bush-era policy. Indefinite incarceration without trial isn't real change. It's dreadful.

Posted by: solsta | May 22, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

One of these days, the liberals will actually wake up and realize that Obama was a creation of Karl Rove. Bush policies with a happier, multicultural face to appeal to the Europeans and New York Times editors.

You never see Rove speaking when Obama talks, do you?

I think Larry O'Donnell's head just exploded.

Liberals are finally discovering the difference between campaigning and governing.

The BUSH LIEEEED!!! crowd just got pwnd again. Elected Democrats don't want justice, or peace. They want POWER.

Posted by: RaiderDan | May 22, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Dick Cheney, without doubt, wins the gold medal for the most manipulative fear-mongering of our time. Every time the issue of the law or of human rights abuses comes up, he leaps up to remind the American public that we are all in mortal danger from ‘terrorists’.

So are we to believe that the most powerful nation the world has ever known – a country with more destructive weapons than the rest of the planet put together, and with a history of using that power to devastating effect - is in extreme danger by some radicalized, disenfranchised peasants from Asia and Africa – more dangerous than the Soviet Union during the Cold War, a country with weapons to match America’s? These people are so dangerous that this country has to sacrifice the very values that it used against the British to gain independence?

Cheney’s clever advantage is that the ‘enemy’ is unseen. If the public could actually see who these ‘terrifying human beings’ actually are, understand their stories, their backgrounds, who they are, what they are called, what they believe in and above all, why they hate America, then the public would see human beings with concepts and emotions like the rest of us, not some enduring monsters without faces.

But what does Cheney care? As long as he gets heard, and as long as the influence of fear works, then he has power.

Posted by: francinelast | May 22, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Pres. Obama displeased Gerson. Pres. Obama is my type of man! A man who will listen to all views and change his policy/ideas if he finds that to be the right and noble thing to do. Pres. Obama is also a man who puts the blame where it belongs - I don't see what's so strange about that unless you're a Bushie then he should "move on".

Gerson doesn't disappoint he still is an apologist for his former boss and apologist is being kind.

Posted by: rlj1 | May 22, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: pali2600 "Now the SOB has the temerity, the chutzpah, to comment on the speeches of the person asked by the voters of America to rescue the country from the wreckage which Gerson helped to cause."

Give me a break! The wreckage he helped cause? So was he working for AIG advising them on how set up their derivatives? Was he approving bank loans and signing the papers for all of the idiots who borrowed more than they could afford? Was he part of the do-nothing congress, led by Nancy P., who passed non-binding resolutions, and called it a success?!? You need to wake up and realize that the Bush administration is not to blame for all of the problems we have today. Unfortunately, the press will paint any picture that will sell newspapers. Maybe someone could shed some light for me what the Dem controlled congress was able to accomplish since taking over during Bush's second term? Why didn't they try to do anything to reverse things? Why didn't they step up to the plate and propose laws to protect americans from the supposed wrekage that Bush was creating? I am tired of the Dems pointing fingers and not coming up with any solutions. Oh wait, Obama has come up with a solution to Gitmo, follow Bush's policies. What do you have to say about that?

Posted by: sanmateo1850 | May 22, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

With this detainee mess, one see the price of the Man without a plan.

Get elected, and then what?

Posted by: peterroach | May 22, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a big disappointment and he will not restore civil liberties and the rule of law as he promised. It is true, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Bush/Cheney handed over their tyrannical power grab to the next president and he's using it rather than giving it up as he promised.

I take issue with the assertion that if Obama were president at 9/11 he would have had to do something with detainees that would have resembled Gitmo. I think he would have arrested them and tried them in a court of law like the common criminals they are. Now it's a bit late for the existing prisoners.

Posted by: datdamwuf2 | May 22, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Gerson, you unpatriotic whiny hack ... RESIGN!

I am ashamed that an America-hating hack like you will get Memorial Day off to fester your hatred of our core values of Truth, Justice, and the American Middle Class way of life, when I spent seven years keeping your whiny self safe.


Posted by: WillSeattle | May 22, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Darth Vader Cheney is no favorite of mine. Who was it said "I disagree with what you say but would fight to the death for the right for you to say it". However, Closing Gitmo and voluntarily bringing trained killers into America is only creating enormous problems. What happens when they get loose? How many men can they convert to their way of thinking in the prisions? Paying for their comfortable upkeep causes me angst as well. What happened to the U.N.? Why won't the countries of their birth take them? And trying to stop a discussion of this mess doesn't make any sense.

Posted by: drzimmern | May 22, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Obama is off the rails on this one. Indefinite detention of individuals who have not committed a crime is unjust, unAmerican, and violates our most basic notions of due process. Very disappointing.

Posted by: nwflyfisher01 | May 22, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

"But self-pitying complaints about the burdens of history are not attractive in a president"....and he KEEPS doing it...saying, "let's not relive the past",then before the next breath, bashes the "last 8 years"....nice visioning, eh?

Posted by: powerange | May 22, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I don't want these prisoners in the U.S. Even France would only take 1.

Posted by: paris1969 | May 22, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Mr Gerson, one of the mainstays of the WaPo's own Axis of Evil (Gerson, Krauthammer, Kristol) writes here about "the successful fight against terrorism that followed Sept. 11." Oh, so it was successful? Eight years later and we are still mired in Iraq, the Taleban resurgent in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden is a free man and Al-Qaeda is on the rise, Pakistan is on the brink and the Iranians just tested a long range missile. That's a neat definition of success you got there, Mr Speechwriter. Did W give you some tips on that one?

Posted by: gposner | May 22, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

What is most interesting is that its Cheney coming out of the closet defending all the torture and gitmo etc. Bush does nothing. I think this proves that Dick was the dark side of The Force all along. Darth Cheney

Posted by: laag | May 22, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

You can cloak the defense of Bush era policy all you want with fine non-inflammatory writing and claims that Obama is doing much the same (come on, we're not THAT stupid), but it rings hollow. The objection sane people have to Bush-era war policy is that it was made up on the fly and the legalities were worked out after the fact (and pretty shaky legalities in many cases). It is evident that Bush was acting autonomously without regard to the constitution or the rule of law. And republicans these days will no doubt greet that last sentence with a big ole eye roll. Why the constitution and the rule of law have become (shudder) liberal buzzwords is curious. How can you be American if you don't believe in the constitution? And Cheney's sociopathic behavior is frankly terrifying. So the VP is not in the executive branch. His chief of staff is a criminal (fall guy I believe is the correct term), and he shoots people in the face when on vacation. And isn't it a common courtesy even in these times that the last administration does not blast the current administration so directly? But then, one of the casualties of the Bush-Cheney years was any semblance of basic decency.

Posted by: Liberalisnotabadword | May 22, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

While one might object to having a political hack of one party attack the political hack of another, I think those who studied Obama's rhetorical skills before his election knew that he was brilliant at seeming to be on both sides of every question. Against war, but not all war (ergo, Iraq is bad, Afghanistan is good), for free enterprise and an expanding of the New Deal, etc.

MIKE85: when Obama stops blaming Bush he will do what all politicians do, REORGANIZE. That's how we got Homeland Security after the 9/11 screw-up.

CHAOS1: I think you have no idea what "begging the question" means. I taught debate -- and used Obama speeches to teach Sophist rhetoric. Here's a quick lesson with the fancy Latin term: " Petitio Principii: (circular reasoning, circular argument, begging the question) the fallacy of assuming as a premise a statement which has the same meaning as the conclusion.

Posted by: | May 22, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

The classical approach to prisoners taken on active service is that they remain prisoners till let out. There really is no need to charge them with anything. All that seems wise to have is a commission to decide who and when to let out. The onus is on the prisoner to show he deserves to be let out. There is a special difficulty for those not represented by a nation state. But the bad guys should get out last. The cases where imprisonment passes the bounds of humanity should be protected by the writ of habeas corpus. It would help greatly if Congress would return the law to its traditional path. And it could pick up pirates on the way through. There was a time when such prisoners would be lucky to make it all the way to Gitmo. It is a sign of a civilised nation that so many did. And a duty falls on the prisoners to help suppress terrorism by giving information. In this case they are in no different position than a citizen of a nation state.

Posted by: davidnelsonau | May 22, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Gerson is only good for wrapping fish.

Posted by: pedraza1 | May 22, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

choralsociety - "people are depressed"? "say something positive about the usurper Hussein?" are you serious? of course people are depressed you moron*, BECAUSE of the negative things to BE said about B. Hussein Obama. Sorry if you don't like the truth and the facts, I don't either, but if you can't handle those you really SHOULD stop reading and go enjoy your 'Nemorial' Day weekend in an ignorant stupor.
(*moron - this word is used intentionally and properly in this context, look it up!)

Posted by: Indignant2 | May 22, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

oh yah.. one more thought.. what to do with the 'detainees'? Kill them. Kill them all then close GTMO. No more terrorist prisoners. No more 'enhanced interrogation'. Kill them. THEY want to and WILL kill your mother, your sister, your dad, you second grade teacher, your children, and after they rape you they will kill you too. Are you people paying attention at ALL?? They are enemies of the people of the United States!! They are enemies of society, of humankind!! yeesh!

Posted by: Indignant2 | May 22, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Contradictions in Obama's speech!

Outright Lies in Cheney's speech!

But the big story is one of them is going to jail!

We'll tell you who, tonight at eleven!

Stay tuned!

Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | May 22, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

"Obama is off the rails on this one. Indefinite detention of individuals who have not committed a crime is unjust, unAmerican, and violates our most basic notions of due process. Very disappointing."

I suggest you read up on international law and the concept of "prisoners of war". The Gitmo detainees are essentially being treated as prisoners of war under Geneva, even though we have no obligation whatever to do so because these are not uniform-wearing soldiers of a nation that has signed the Geneva treaty. Neither are they "criminals" under US law because US law does not apply in the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. US criminal law applies only to citizens or legal residents of the US, inside the US. If you are a US citizen traveling in Sudan and you commit a crime in the Sudan, you don't get to come back to the US for your trial. You will be tried in the Sudan under their law.

The Gitmo detainees are not "criminals" in the sense of pickpockets. They are enemy combatants - they are not called soldiers because that term refers to a uniform-wearing member of a nation's military.

If anyone succeeds in bringing these people to US courts, the ACLU will have them released and walking the streets of America in no time, not because they are not a threat to us, but because once we stop treating them as POWs a regular criminal court (which is NOT supposed to deal with situations like this) will have no tools to deal with them.

The simple fact is, these individuals were waging war against the United States or its allies, were captured in the course of battle, and there is no law of war, not even the Geneva Convention, which precludes us from detaining them until the conflict is over or until we have a reasonable assurance they will not just go back to the battlefield to attack us again.

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

From Obama's speech, it sounded like he would not have waged the war???

Posted by: emenot | May 22, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

What a treat! More stupidity from a former George Bush speechwriter!

Isn't it amazing what Fred Hiatt will print these days? All failed neocons, chickenhawks, GOP hacks, and idiot conservatives are welcome!

In the meantime, the guy who was elected by a landslide, they guy with more class, intellect, and competence than all of them, works to repair the damage done to America.

Thank you, President Obama! Ignore the wingnuts who got us into this mess, and keep on doing what you've been doing- we know it will take years to undo the damage!. We support you!

Posted by: losthorizon10 | May 22, 2009 9:13 PM | Report abuse

I really wish you right wing hypocrites would get a clue or get out of this country. You don't love this country - you have loved manipulating it to make yourself fat and stupid. You have tainted everything this country was founded on. Go read George Washington's farewell address sometime. See what this country was MEANT to be. Look at all of the things Washington warned us against becoming... and look at what we have become. And look at how many of those things Washington warned against are things Republicans believe in...

Posted by: MSquared | May 22, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

"See what this country was MEANT to be."

Really? The Founding Fathers meant the US to be a socialist welfare state?

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Re Washington's Farewell Address

If you really want comparisons with Washington, let's look at the socialist icon FDR.

Washington eschewed power and stepped down voluntarily after two terms.

The socialist's dream boy FDR ran for office four times and only didn't run a 5th because he died.

Also, do you really think George Washington would have cheered on your poster boy Bill Clinton, whose casual drug use, constant cheating on his wife, and lying to a grand jury are the epitome of leftist ideals?

The same George Washington who commanded a revolution over ... high taxes?

Maybe you should not open this particular can of worms, socialista.

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

"And isn't it a common courtesy even in these times that the last administration does not blast the current administration so directly?"

So Dick Cheney doesn't have a right to free speech? That would be consistent with Democratic party principles of supporting free speech only when you agree with what is being said, yes, but you shouldn't be so blatant about it.

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Gerson's column gets moved over here, where no one can vote on the comments and Post management doesn't have to see how unpopular he is. KEEP BOYCOTTING THE POST everyone, revenue is still dropping and removal of Gerson and his enablers is worth the effort.

Posted by: hairguy01 | May 22, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Obama's speech was welcome rationalist stance on a subject requiring both finesse, and adherence both to the constitution and the values of progress and humanity that the United States was founded on.

America has never condoned torture. In it's almost 300 year history, America has condoned slavery, Jim Crow, child labor, internment of American citizens, and nuclear war, but it has never condoned the torture of prisoners. By allowing heinous acts like water boarding to take place in the name of the American people and in the name of exporting American ideals and defending American values, the Bush administration took this great nation down a dark path. Obama is not a liberal nut job because he has ended legalized torture, and torturing Arabs is not synonymous with being patriotic, or conservative.

The Bush administration's handling of terrorists made this country a confusing mess of backwards ideology and absurdist rationalizations. Yes, terrorists want to kill Americans, Nazis also wanted to kill Americans, the Viet Cong wanted to kill Americans, the North Koreans wanted to kill Americans, and uniform or not, we are at war and terrorists are our enemy. As deadly as they are, as Americans defending our values and way of life, we must also treat these potentially deadly killers with the humanity and justice they have denied to those they wish to harm. We as Americans have the moral high ground. We are a country of progressive ideals, democracy, liberty and hope for the greater good.

When we torture, we lose the very thing we are defending: Our liberty and our Nation's moral compass.

Posted by: frankbrenn | May 22, 2009 10:02 PM | Report abuse

The whole issue is inherently contradictive, as is much of life. Every individual point is valid although taken as a whole seems at odds. I thought the speech was very good. Mr. Obama shows temperment and intelligence.
If Mr Gerson was indeed a speech writer for president Bush, is it possible he's jealous he could never come up with such a well written and delivered address?
A prisoner of war goes home when the war is over. The war on terror is most likely never ending. Therefore, some of these detainees are going to have to be put before a military tribunal at the least. Everyone should get their day in court.
Considering the number of detainees who were already released, who's to say they don't have some poor, dumb goat herder in the mix who was just in the wrong place.
We took the war to Afganistan when the Taliban didn't turn over Bin Ladin. Is it possible some of these guys were maybe just defending their country against foriegn attackers? Does that justify being tortured and imprisoned indefinitely? Personally, I'd rather just be shot. I'd take death in battle over the dehumanizing treatment some of these guys got. Obama's right that we as Americans should stand on moral high ground. It may be partisan politics, but I'd throw stones at my predecessor too. Maybe he wants the world to see that were not all animals.

Posted by: rick386 | May 22, 2009 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Indignant2 & jb1123: You have already tried and convicted the detainees at Gitmo in your own minds. If you had a better command of the facts, you would realize that many of these detainees are demonstrably innocent of any crime. Many of them were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Chinese Uighrs are a perfect example -- even the Bush Administration cleared them for release, yet they continue languishing in our Orwellian gulag in Communist Cuba. And many others were offered up to U.S. forces to settle regional vendettas or for ransom. You cannot speak of these people as murderers, rapists, or even dangerous without evidence. Your posts are therefore morally atrocious.

Posted by: brianmoskal | May 22, 2009 10:33 PM | Report abuse

"America has never condoned torture. In it's almost 300 year history, America has condoned slavery, Jim Crow, child labor, internment of American citizens, and nuclear war, but it has never condoned the torture of prisoners"

Did you miss the part where waterboarding was only used on 3 prisoners? What about the other 250+?

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

"Gerson's column gets moved over here, where no one can vote on the comments and Post management doesn't have to see how unpopular he is. KEEP BOYCOTTING THE POST everyone, revenue is still dropping and removal of Gerson and his enablers is worth the effort."

Another brilliant example of how socialists want to silence dissent, and support free speech only when it's convenient to their cause.

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

"And many others were offered up to U.S. forces to settle regional vendettas or for ransom. You cannot speak of these people as murderers, rapists, or even dangerous without evidence."

Since you are the expert and know the histories of all the Gitmo detainees then you're right. Let's ignore the process which the Bush administration put in place to start processing these people, and let's instead just have you let them all go.

You seem to have forgotten the part where numerous people released from Gitmo have been re-captured on the battlefield once again fighting US troops.

We have a right to defend ourselves and the law of war says we have the right to keep captured soldiers off the battlefield.

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 10:40 PM | Report abuse

"You cannot speak of these people as murderers, rapists, or even dangerous without evidence."

You seem to believe that all the detainees are innocent flowers wrongly imprisoned by the evil United States. You cannot believe that any of them were engaged in war against us. Your belief is in contradiction with the facts.

If someone points a gun at you that makes them dangerous until proven otherwise. (Unless you're a bleeding-heart socialist, apparently).

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

"I'd take death in battle over the dehumanizing treatment some of these guys got."

Some equals 3 according to the recently released records. Again, what about the other 250+?

That some were Taliban henchmen seems not to bother you. That the Taliban pillaged Afghanistan, and tortured and mutilated 3 women every hour for 5 years seems not to bother you. The only thing that bothers you is that the US stepped in stop it. Now how interesting is that?

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Cheney should be reminded Ronald Reagan criticized the torture of prisoners even more harshly than Obama.
Sterling Greenwood/Aspen Free Press

Posted by: AspenFreePress | May 22, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

why such a mess for the location of a jail...

Posted by: blafouille | May 22, 2009 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Before you all go all hippy flower-child on us, you might read the documents about the names, status, background & history of the Gitmo detainees:

One last thing. If indeed as you say none of these people present a danger to the United States, why hasn't Obama simply released them?

Posted by: jb1123 | May 22, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Gerson says: "Of course, President Bush did not create the detainee problem." Gerson, who decided to move the detainees to Guantanamo then? If not Bush, was it Cheney? Who? Tell me Gerson, who created the absolute disaster that Bush dumped in Obama's lap last January? Was it some unknown unknown? Gerson, you are nothing but a hard core propagandist for the Republican party. The WaPo needs to cut you free, so you can find out what it is like, having to stand in line to collect unemployment benefits because if you don't you don't eat next week.

Posted by: Chagasman | May 22, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

lufrank1, lets be clear and honest for a change...

The War in Afghanistan began October 7, 2001 in direct response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Gitmo was receiving detainees as early as Jan. 11, 2002 (according to a CNN news article on that date).

The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003 -- 17 months later. The purpose of the Iraq invasion was, "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." (see Let's not forget that we went to war with Iraq in 1991, won that war and imposed sanctions on the Iraqi government. The current Iraq war is primarily the result of Mr. Hussein's failure to abide by those sanctions and secondarily due to his support of terrorism. Did we have faulty evidence about WMD's? Perhaps. It is still entirely possible that the intelligence was credible and any useful material was transferred out of the country prior to the invasion.

Like so many others, your hatred for all thing Bush has kept you from actually considering the facts.

Posted by: BondJamesBond | May 22, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

Cannot tell which is worse your bias or your idiocy!!!

Posted by: dhoptoad5 | May 22, 2009 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh are the two most destructive men in America. I believe history will show that collectively, they have done real damage to the country.

Posted by: kushka53 | May 22, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse


"many of them were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time"

Yah! uh huh. Nit wit!

"You cannot speak of these people as murderers, rapists, or even dangerous.."

Really? Watch me! These 'people' are there because they were convicted.

These 'people' are NOT US Citizens, they do not get to share the same liberties and rights that you are blessed with.

This whole discussion is insane. 'Morally atrocious"? Try this one on... I love my country, MY countrymen, my liberties, and my family. These people, even if they are all as perfectly sweet and innocent as YOU know them to be... STF what? acceptable losses. Kill them. Trash. Throw them away. Dispose of. If you don't love this country, ain't no one stopping you from leaving. But if you're gonna stay here, quit being ashamed of yourself for being an American.

Posted by: Indignant2 | May 23, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Gerson:

The release of the torture memos was both necessary and revealing. It is the architects of those policies who should be brought to justice not those acting upon what were thought to be legal orders.

Further, the only reason the Bush Adnministration's polies "evolved" was because the Democrats in Congress, the press and the courts forced an evolution. Please do not try to claim any credit for on behalf of Bush or Cheney. It is unattractive in a journalist to use sleight of hand and half-truths in defence of the indefensible.

Posted by: takdan | May 23, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

oh, Brianmoskal, and you folks with similar notions...

"You cannot speak of these people as murderers, rapists, or even dangerous without evidence"

Consider this, manic man in your house, pointing a gun at your wife's head. Yeah, right there, right at her eyeball... "now you can't speak of him as dangerous without evidence". Okay, when your wife is dead and her pretty eyeball exploded and her brains splattered on your kids faces.. evidence now??

pah! you won't listen, you won't agree, but i charge you with this thought to stick deep in your mind... wake in the night thinking about it and remember... REMEMBER... when this country finally goes to hell... you were warned this would happen.

[jb1123... good luck man, i'm outta here]

Posted by: Indignant2 | May 23, 2009 12:26 AM | Report abuse

The contradictions rest with the Bush era policies.

The Bush administration had a couple options in the aftermath of 9/11 and during the invasion of Afghanistan.

1. They could have prosecuted high value detainees in our civilian courts (e.g. treating Al Qaeda as part of an international criminal conspiracy).

2. They could have established a military court system to prosecute detainees (e.g. something closer to POW status).

Instead they chose a 3rd option -- they created a 3rd classification whole-cloth -- and then failed to establish a legal framework for dealing with this 3rd party classification.

Rather than working with a GOP controlled Congress at the time to reform the existing system, or to find a way to work within the existing system, the past administration addressed the issue by attempting to avoid legal obligations altogether by creating Gitmo (the thought being that a space outside of the U.S. would also be outside of U.S. laws).

There was an attempt to push a measure through just before the elections in 2006 "The Military Commissions Act" (modus operandi for the Bush administration). However, the attempt wasn't especially serious given that many who voted for the measure figured that it would be thrown out or modified by the courts (the measure was more serious politics than serious policy).

So eight years later, many of these questions remain unresolved. The onus is now on the Obama administration and Congress to create a legal framework that is on sound legal footing for future use (if needed).

The matter is complicated by the fact that many of these people have been held for almost 7 years now without charge or trial. The matter is doubly-complicated by the fact that many detainees were tortured (not limited to waterboarding) -- so that evidence that could be used in the context of a trial is no longer available for use. The final issue is where to keep those who are ultimately convicted given that Gitmo has become a legal and PR nightmare.

Posted by: JPRS | May 23, 2009 2:56 AM | Report abuse

Consider this, manic man in your house, pointing a gun at your wife's head. Yeah, right there, right at her eyeball... "now you can't speak of him as dangerous without evidence". Okay, when your wife is dead and her pretty eyeball exploded and her brains splattered on your kids faces.. evidence now??

pah! you won't listen, you won't agree, but i charge you with this thought to stick deep in your mind... wake in the night thinking about it and remember... REMEMBER... when this country finally goes to hell... you were warned this would happen.

Posted by: Indignant2


Indignant2, you are introducing a false dilemma.

What you're talking about isn't evidence, you're talking about preventing a crime.

In the scenario that you're spelling out too, if you thought shooting the intruder could prevent the murder, odds are you'd probably avoid a conviction on the basis of self-defense.

On the other hand, if you heard a rumor from a neighbor that some guy in a city of 2 million with a brown shirt had threatened your family, and you then went into the city and killed every guy with a brown shirt -- you'd be killing a lot of innocent people, and you may not even catch the person making threats against your family. Odds are you'd go to jail as a murderer.

The issue of torture relates to the collection of intelligence more than evidence.

Under no circumstances would any court in any developed democracy recognize evidence obtained under torture as legitimate (e.g. because the evidence that you collect under torture is not reliable).

Using your gun analogy, let's say someone points a gun at your head and says: "Confess to the JFK murder or I'm going to kill you and your family".

Would you confess, or would you have the person kill your family?

Under what conditions would a confession obtained under those circumstances make sense?

It's tainted evidence.

Odds are, so is a "confession" that you made after you've been scrunched in 2 foot box for a 72 hour period, or one that you've made after having water poured down your mouth.

As far as this question of rights goes. The Framers believed in the idea of "universal rights".

Things like "due process" weren't optional. Read up on the concept and see what Jefferson and others had to say about it.

In terms of people captured on a battlefield, we have traditionally had a system for dealing with those cases -- a POW wouldn't go through a civilian court; they'd go through a military one. But even in the case of a POW, you'd still have due process rights. There isn't any legal basis for detaining someone indefinitely without charge. Even the Iranians afford foreigners some legal rights.

Posted by: JPRS | May 23, 2009 3:17 AM | Report abuse

I am quite sure that Mr Gerson did not write an article on Gitmo, I am however certain that he was writing about the inconsistencies of our current president. Obama's inability to act as he says is a major mark upon his record, overall I do not agree with the things he or any other president in the past 30 years have done for this country, a problem which is not his alone. This is an opinion post, not fact, not fiction, and should be treated as such. I would say at least Gerson's opinion is factually based, well researched, and well presented, that I can not say of the authors of the comments left. Maybe if one wanted to be effective they would take their opinions outside of a web browser and make changes in how things are going in the real world. Until that happens I don't think anyone has a right to criticize someone who actually did something to make our political system go, no mater how completely repulsive it has become.

Posted by: fellowdoomer | May 23, 2009 3:20 AM | Report abuse

And to add to the inconsistency of this post. No, one can not use a statement from a torture victim as evidence in a Cort. But its good enough to use to find more victims to torture, more bad guys to kill, and more land to conquer. In the end its needed to rip some poor bastards skin off and run around in it so that other people will talk, and im sure the guys that the millions have been spent to train them on that specific task enjoy their job very much.

Posted by: fellowdoomer | May 23, 2009 3:26 AM | Report abuse


"Maybe if one wanted to be effective they would take their opinions outside of a web browser and make changes in how things are going in the real world."

Expressing an opinion on a web browser and effecting change in the real world are not mutually exclusive categories. The web is a great place to learn, debate, and think through ideas. Ideas and voting behavior are influenced by what people see, hear, and think on the web -- so it is part of the real world.

Additionally, it's a false choice to suggest that a person who comments on a web column is incapable of also investing time in lobbying public officials to change policy, lobbying to replace public officials who do not change policies that need to be changed, or becoming a public official oneself.

I would wager that people these days who are engaged on the web -- especially those who actively comment -- are also probably the most politically engaged citizens (evidence from the past two national election cycles would seem to bear this out).

This is especially true given that commenting on issues of public interest demonstrates at the bare minimum an indication of interest in political questions. In terms of campaign volunteers and those involved in public advocacy campaigns, many people who are plugged in online, are equally plugged in when it comes to off-line political activities.

I think there's much to be said for engagement on the part of a free citizenry in political matters -- including via the internet.

Posted by: JPRS | May 23, 2009 4:15 AM | Report abuse

The bucheney regime should be quiet because if they had been paying a little attention back in August 01 instead of doling out the spoils of victory, we would not have anyone in Gitmo. That is what this fearmongering is all about , they want to deflect the message away from their incompentence. An amoral pack of liars who will answer to a higher authority at some point.

Posted by: Oilcan4148 | May 23, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Obama has legitimized everything Bush and Cheney did during the Wae on Terror. That the lefties are still ready to blow Obama shows their complete intellectual dishonesty. They are all about hating Bush and really care nothing about civil liberties.

Posted by: IMBILLY | May 23, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

What I find appealing in a President is smirking cocksureness based on ignorance, and a constant stream of snarling lies. Couldn't we get back to that?

Posted by: markfromark | May 23, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

What President Obama and no else mentions... During World War II, almost 11,000 German Americans were interned...all were interned without charges...and many were held for 7 years...and none of were combatants or terrorists!



Posted by: CrystalCity1945 | May 23, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Gerson's continued presence in the WP op-ed section ranks as one of the great mysteries. Bush DID create the detainee problem, contrary to Gerson's illogic, by NOT coming up with a legal framework governed by the facts on the ground, our Constitution and international and domestic legal covenants, and making it inclusive with the other branches and bi-partisan, and INSTEAD defining the ends and ramming that as the justification down everyone's throat using a complicit rubberstamping Justice Dept and Republican-controlled Congress. Really, Michael, when are you going to learn to spell the words nuance and logic?

Posted by: lloydamy | May 23, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

"the problem of what to do with enemy combatants, wearing no uniforms, who want to murder Americans. "

How do these "enemy combatants"--people who "kill Americans while not wearing uniforms"--differ from the people who kill Americans every day on our own soil, and end up in our state and Federal Supermax prisons?

I'm talking about the convicted murderers whose targets would from their graves probably point out that the citizenship of their assailants did little to make them feel less "terrorized" in their final moments.

If these killers end up incarcerated by a judicial criminal prosecution instead of an arbitrary military tribunal operated in a offshore concentration camp, I would feel just as safe.

Posted by: wistlo | May 23, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

The man who wrote into the lexicon of American language (via Bush's speeches) ideas that were impossible to examine, prove or disprove, is here to tell us that locking up the guys who are terrorists and giving court hearings to those who aren't is contradictory. "You're either with us or against us" is the motto of a fascist state that brings no justice and yeilding none of the benefits of a free country to its citizens. Men like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Obama don't release and appease real terrorists the way Bush did. The very idea of justice is repellant to criminals like Cheney who profitted from the Iraq war. This is not the American way. In better times Cheney's behaviour and recent speech was openly called sedition and treason.

Posted by: hrayovac | May 23, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

That fakir, Obama, is the contradiction.

Posted by: DarkMatter | May 23, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Your writings (rants, opinion pieces) have become so devoid of "reasonableness" and/or logic that they are no longer worth reading. Sure we know that you were part of the Bush WH: but this fact alone does not disqualify you as a potentially credible voice who is able to intellectually analyze and intelligently comment on the pressing political issues of the day. The rank partisanship that you portray - in piece after piece that touches on the new administration's policy - makes you a less credible voice in the on-going debates. For this reason, going forward, I will no longer be resding your columns. They have become terribly 'unappetizing".

Posted by: Konam | May 23, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

"the problem of what to do with enemy combatants, wearing no uniforms, who want to murder Americans. "

My sentiments.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | May 23, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Please... Bush and friends didn't struggle to find a place to put the detainees. They went for Gitmo because they believed it to be out of the reach of the judicial system. The used a perceived loophole to skirt the justice system they claim to believe in--- plain and simple.

Am I disappointed with Obama's decision to deny some prisoners the chance at a trial? Absolutely. I think all but Bush apologists would be interested in finding out what evidence if any the government has against these people. I think we might be surprised to find out how little (or none) there is against some of them.

The only thing that surprised me about this piece was you failed to mention ticking bombs, terrorists breaking out of American jails or how "swell" Dick's speech was.

Posted by: 49orfight | May 23, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations. Another fine piece, Mr. Gerson, the evidence being that you catapulted the Left into yet another blind rage of blaming not just Bush and Cheney but every other hated "icon" that they loathe, when you were writing only of the internal contradictions of the speech given by Obama.
They foam at the mouth, unable to discuss anything rationally, and don't even want to see anything that might conflict with their preconceived notions of the some imaginary world.
Why not banish all contrary opinion from their universe so they can read only that which agrees with them?
What will they do when they discover that Obama's policy is virtually identical to that of Bush and the Devil Cheney?
Is this what's really driving their anger? Have they already seen that their lunacy is inoperative?

Posted by: parkbench | May 23, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson writes,

"Is he (President Obama) actively undermining the successful fight against terrorism ...."

Successful? How do you know that?

What in a man's character keeps him telling lies?

Posted by: flamingliberal | May 23, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

1. I await with glee, the coming indictment of VP Cheney in The Hague international court, and his guilty plea, after the pre-trial hearing includes his CBS confessions, in which he says that torture works. For it to work, you have to do it. And its illegal.

2. I am not surprised at Obama's tack, in the sea of politics.
He is a moderate on many fronts. He is only a socialist in right wing circles' hallucinations. To the left, Obama is a politician right in the middle, on nearly everything.

3. I look forward to the passing of a real health care bill, that doesnt raise costs for people with employer supported plans.
Let's expand medicare so that when the poor go to a hospital, it doesnt cost the state a $1,000 for an office visit.

4. Arrest hiring managers, who use illegals. Enough pandering to the Catholic church on illegal immigration. We cannot afford to subsidize the Catholic church's resurgence based on 10 million illegal immigrant Catholics.

Posted by: ottothewise | May 23, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Arrest Cheney at his first booksigning.

Posted by: ottothewise | May 23, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

From the beginning of his first paragraph, Gerson has shown himself to be an idiot. “Is he [Obama] actively undermining the successful fight against terrorism that followed Sept. 11? . . .”

How anyone can call Bush’s War and the way he handled things in Afghanistan successful, is beyond rationality.

“. . . . or shamelessly adopting most of the anti-terrorism policies of the Bush years?”

Lord, Lord my God, spare us. Obama inherited a terrible situation with few choices, and all of them bad. Moreover the changes that Obama made were significant. Officially stopping waterboarding, not allowing tortured statements as evidence, giving detainees the right to request another lawyer, etc, all these things are important changes. And there are more forth coming. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gerson, you are full of dingo’s kidneys.

As far as Cheney beating the bushes to undermine Obama? . . . Cheney is playing politics with America's future in a way that suggests that he doesn't give a darn about America, just himself and his precious "Haves and Have-mores". . . . . . . Most everyone agrees that in the future America might well be hit again and hit hard like 9-11. Then when the inevitable comes, Cheney along with other Republican talking heads like Rush Limbaugh [ whom the Fat-cats have sponsored to be there ] will attack Obama and the Democrats screaming that they let America down. . . . . . . . . . Let's face it Cheney's actions are just another one of the Republicans dirty political maneuvers.

Posted by: Here2day | May 24, 2009 12:14 AM | Report abuse

I did not hear either speech. I did read the text of both. One was by a man who at the time, was responding in real time and with extraordinay buck stop scrutiny to one of histories greatest incursions on American soil and an enormous loss of life. The other was by a man who, seven years later and in the relative comfort of hind site, evaluates the wisdom and justice of those decisions. I absolutely understand the heart felt arguments raised in Obama's speech. Many of his concepts are pure Americana. On the other hand, reading Cheney's speech, I was reading a much more Presidential feeling narrative. It was charged with stark reality and a burdened leadership perspective that reflects what the ultimate guys in charge were facing at the time. In the final analysis, no decision is too tough when you are not the one who has to make it. I believe Bush and Cheney did what they thought was right for America at the time without the luxury of hindsight. I believe that both Democrats and Republicans supported what they were doing. So, I guess I am in the minority. I thought Cheney's speech was exceptional. Kinda described the feelings I had as I was painting my house on 9-11, listening to the radio and wondering what such a brazen attack on our soil meant for our country's future. And judging from the environment in Washington today, the attack was successful in ways none of us would have believed on 9-12.

Posted by: donchew1 | May 24, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Camp Delta was created, based on the fiction that the Constitution doesn't follow the flag. If Bush/Cheney had actually spent some time serving in the active military they would know that it isn't true.

Close it down. We can handle the detainees. After all America is now the largest prison nation in the world.

Posted by: Marcaurelius | May 25, 2009 7:47 AM | Report abuse

That WaPo makes a lesser political hack into a serious commentator is mind boggling.

Posted by: anders1 | May 25, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

"The terrorists created the problem of what to do with enemy combatants, wearing no uniforms, who want to murder Americans."

That's not a new problem, Mike. Bush creating Gitmo and using it to avoid the Constitutional obligations of the state is what created this issue, Obama is correct in that regard.
You are also correct that he's loosing the "civil libertarian" crowd on the left.

"The policies of the Bush administration also evolved over time, becoming more legally established and sustainable."
That's what worries us.
He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, December 23, 1791

Posted by: dijetlo | May 25, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I might even suggest that what you say in this article has merit - if it wasn't for a few things that lessened the credibility of the last administration to wit:
* lies about WMD and casus belli in Iraq,
* the curious no-bid contract to Halliburton & the immediate demotion and firing of Corp of Engineers whistle blowers
* the firing of US Attorneys weeks before an election
* the STILL UNIVESTIGATED ties of Enron and Bush
* the utter lack of oversite (or even comment) as gasoline prices quadrupled DURING WARTIME, most curiously in Bush's own business of oil
* the usurpation of congressional and judiciary functions
* comments that the Constitution is a piece of paper
* the complete incompetence in the SEC, an executive branch department, caused by the dismissal of excellent employees and hiring of incompetents - which was a tremendous factor in the global depression
* Donald Rumsfeld in any position of responsibility, anywhere, ever
* The absolute abasement of law, over and over, by Attorney General Gonzalez
* the curious relationship of Henry Paulsen and Goldman Sach's 100% bailout, while their competitors were allowed to fail
* the complete debacle of going from $250 billion surplus on taking office to a multi-trillion dollar debt 8 years later
And I could go on, seriously, for a week.
What does this have to do with it?
Only that Obama is facing the most difficult constitutional crisis since the Civil War. Very nearly every article in our national law has been broken by the past administration, in many cases flagrantly and openly; and now Obama has to address the debacle.
Give the fellow some room & I believe it will come around to something resembling a future for the country.

Posted by: TramplingGrapes | May 25, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

jb1123 I think you have misspoken on a great deal of this.
* You say that these are POWs - but Bush said they were NOT, thus justifying the denial of the Geneva Conventions.
* You say many of the terrorists that Bush released have returned to the battlefield. I believe only ONE, who stupidly blew himself up. Several people in the area at the time suggest he did it because he was innocently thrown into a dungeon & tormented.
* Why only 3 convictions in SEVEN YEARS? Doesn't that seem like a rather small number considering the numbers of detainees?

No, defending this process won't stand up to the light. Which is why Bush had secret memos drawn up. Which is why this site is off-shore - in Cuba of all places, which has been embargoed by the United States for 50 years because Cuba was torturing prisoners.
Go on back and really read the international law, since you apparently have not. Secret memoranda does not replace law.

Posted by: TramplingGrapes | May 25, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

The only reason Obama is now our sitting President is what Gerson so rightly expressed as his gift for "rhetorical sleight of hand." People don't really blame Bush or Cheney as much as they didn't like the loss of America's patina after we were savaged by 9/11. The average American is not a deep thinker; thus they do not comprehend on any rational level the issues our leaders faced after 9/11. Obama is such a lightweight that all he is capable of doing is keeping the curtain pulled around him, much like the Wizard of Oz. He's in over his head on every front and his bent towards appeasing every country in the world by throwing America under the bus for at least trying to stand up to the unprecedented global threat from terrorism, unlike our spineless European counterparts, is not only appalling to watch but sincerely frightening. He then goes on to upend the essence of what has made America the country everyone else turns to when times get unbearable. I knew the moment I first watched him in the primaries that he was an illusion based on corruption. He would do and say anything to achieve his own ends. He could care less about America. I'm convinced that he will be a one-term President; thank God; but will he still have the time in his four short years in office to bring unspeakable harm to our way of life and our national security. His speech last week shows he is, indeed, on the defensive but I can't wish for him to fail as it will hurt the country I love. I can only hope we hang tough and survive him for the remainder of his term and then vote him out and back to his sleazy Chicago politics where he seems right at home.

Posted by: carolindy | May 25, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

OH, and one more thing, obama constantly complains about Bush but he is using most of President Bush's policies. So this fraud tells the snarling left what they need to hear and then follows Bush's lead. Do any of you idiots understand this. You must really be mad because you got taken and yet you have to act like the fraud is credible. We conservatives are enjoying the show.

Posted by: valerie6 | May 25, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company