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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Today President Barack Obama gave a sweeping defense of his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by the end of the year. He said he had inherited quote, â€œa messâ€ from the previous administration â€“ one that had hurt America's moral standing. Mr. Obama chose the National Archives in Washington, home to the constitution, to say that the country must stick to its fundamental values of justice and liberty even in dangerous times. The World's Katy Clark begins our coverage.
KATY CLARK: Standing in front of a massive copy of the constitution, President Obama declared that under the previous administration America went off course.
BARACK OBAMA: This is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people who nominated candidates for president from both major parties who despite our many differences called for a new approach. One that rejected torture and one that recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
CLARK: President Obama went on to say that America needs to update the institutions that allow it to deal with the terrorist threats. But he said the country must do so with confidence in the rule of law and due process. And that holds true even when it comes to transferring some of the men being held at Guantanamo to prisons in the U.S.
OBAMA: Now let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can. 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. 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. Namely highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety.
CLARK: There are currently around 240 detainees being held at Guantanamo. The president explained today that the courts have already determined that there's no legitimate reason to continue holding 21 of them. And his administration has approved 50 others for transfer. Mr. Obama is now trying to figure out what to do with the remaining 169 detainees. One plan he's considering is a revamped military commission's process. That possibility doesn't sit well with Shayna Kadedal. He's managing attorney of the Guantanamo project at the Center for Constitutional Right.
SHAYNA KADEDAL: It strikes me as very unusual that he would want to keep a system that's been condemned by the world open just to try a very, very small handful of people who are not even accused really of terrorism but rather of you know sort of disobeying the laws of armed combat. So I'm very suspicious I guess I should say about the idea that it is going to be used narrowly rather than you know going to be used to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
CLARK: Another possibility the president said he's considering is holding some detainees indefinitely without charge. That would be the detainees who've sworn their allegiance to a terrorist group but for whom there's not evidence to prosecute. Sarah Mendelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls that an especially worrisome scenario.
SARAH MENDELSON: It's sort of like this issue of a little bit of torture. You either torture or you don't torture. You either are bringing people to justice or not. But going down a road that includes a preventive detention or a detention without charge regime I think is going to be... well deliver the message of justice and security that I think he's trying to deliver today.
CLARK: Minutes after Mr. Obama's speech former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered his own ideas about Guantanamo and national security in Washington. Cheney defended the Bush administration's handling of suspected terrorists.
DICK CHENEY: The United States has never lost its moral bearings. And when the moral reckoning turns to the mean known as high value terrorists I can assure you they were neither innocent nor victims. As for those who asked them questions and got answers, they did the right thing. They made our country safer and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.
CLARK: Cheney added that President Obama's reversal of Bush-era-detainee policy amounted to recklessness cloaked in riotousness and would make the American people less safe. For The World this is Katy Clark.