Sunday, May 24, 2009

Obama Says Dangerous Guantanamo Prisoners May Be Big Problem

President Barack Obama said one of the “biggest problems” in shutting down the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may be how to deal with terror suspects who pose too great a threat to be released.

“It’s a messy situation. It’s not easy,” Obama told C- SPAN in an interview. “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. They may be dangerous, in which case we can’t release them, so finding how to deal with that I think is going to be one of our biggest problems.”

Obama, who called the Bush administration’s policy of indefinitely holding prisoners in Guantanamo a “mistake,” said he’s spoken to former President George W. Bush since taking office in January. He didn’t elaborate on the conversations, saying, “I think the general policy of keeping confidence with the predecessors is important.”

The Democratic president defended his decision to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay by early next year in a speech two days ago in Washington. He said some choices made by Bush and his advisers in pursuing the war on terrorism were “ad hoc” and “hasty” and left behind a “mess.” He repeated the criticism in the C-SPAN interview, which will air in full today at 10 a.m., Washington time.

Corners Cut

“There was a period of time after 9/11, understandably because people were fearful, where I think we cut too many corners and made some decisions that were contrary to who we are as a people,” Obama told the cable-television network.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the Bush’s administration’s actions in a May 21 speech in Washington.

Cheney said the Bush administration employed tactics after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that saved lives, including using harsh interrogation techniques. He said he would support those decisions again “without hesitation.”

Obama has banned the interrogation techniques in question, including simulated drowning, or waterboarding. He contends the measures betray the country’s “ideals” and aren’t necessary to “wage an aggressive battle against organizations like al-Qaeda that want to do us harm.”

“I’m confident that we are stronger when we uphold our principles, that we are weaker when we start pushing them aside,” he told C-SPAN.

General Motors

Obama also discussed his administration’s effort to revive the U.S. automobile industry by trying to save financially troubled General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp.

GM, surviving on $19.4 billion in U.S. loans and facing a probable bankruptcy by June 1, will reemerge a “strong company,” Obama said.

Allowing either GM or Chrysler to liquidate would have been a “huge anti-stimulus on the economy as a whole and could have dragged us deeper into recession or even depression,” Obama said in defending the government’s intervention.

“Ultimately, I think GM is going to be a strong company and we are going to be pulling out as soon as the economy recovers and they’ve completed their restructuring,” the president said.

Obama said he’s also confident that Chrysler, which already is reorganizing in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, will emerge stronger. For both automakers, “it means going through some pain now,” he said.


When it comes to struggling states, Obama said a federal bailout of California and others won’t be necessary. The administration is in talks with state treasurers nationwide to find “creative” ways they can deal with frozen credit markets.

Many states will end up having to make some “very difficult choices” as demands on services rise while tax revenue falls, Obama said.

The biggest area in which states need help probably is in rolling over debt, according to the president. Obama said he’s trying to find “creative ways that we can help them get through these difficult times.”

“They are still being affected by some of the freezing in the credit markets,” Obama said in the interview, according to a transcript released by the C-SPAN.

California’s top finance officials told lawmakers yesterday that they must slash spending and shore up the budget by the end of next month to prevent the most-populous U.S. state from running out of cash as soon as July.

Fiscal Crisis

Bill Lockyer, the Democratic treasurer who handles the state’s bond sales, said short-term securities can’t be sold without a plan to eliminate a deficit that the Legislative Analyst’s Office says may total $24 billion in the next 13 months. Such borrowing allows the state to meet its obligations until the bulk of tax receipts are collected later in the year. Controller John Chiang, who pays the state’s bills, echoed that sentiment.

“We are experiencing the greatest fiscal crisis since the Great Depression,” Chiang, a Democrat, said during a Sacramento legislative budget hearing.

Separately, Obama, in response to a question on when he finds time in his schedule to sit and reflect, said he tends to be a “night-owl” and typically stays up until midnight after having dinner with his family.

He said sometimes he isn’t dealing with current matters, yet rather, mulling issues “coming down the pike.”

An example, he said, is cyber security.

“There is not a cyber attack right now,” he said. “But that’s a big critical system that is vital to our economy. It’s vital to our public health infrastructure.”

Obama said he is working to “get the wheels turning now” on how to set up systems to protect data while also allowing the government to work with the private sector and not stifle innovation.