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Obama: U.S. 'lost Way' Fighting Terror

President Barack Obama plans to say in his speech Thursday that the U.S. lost its way in fighting terrorism over the last eight years by failing to trust its institutions and values, according to an administration official.

Obama will also renew his pledge to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying he will honor the commitment he made in the first week of his presidency.

In a remarkable split-screen presentation of opposing world views, former Vice President Dick Cheney will speak on the exact same topic moments after Obama finishes. Cheney is appearing at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, where the audience will watch the president on large TV screens.

Cheney will say: “When President Obama makes wise decisions, he deserves our support. And when he mischaracterizes the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer.”

Cheney will argue that his intent is not to look backward, but will say that a truthful telling of history is necessary to inform our choices going forward. “Though I'm not here to speak for George W. Bush, I am certain that no one wishes the current administration more success in defending the country than we do,” Cheney will say. “What I want to do today is set forth the strategic thinking that drove our policies.”

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Both the president and Cheney will rest a good part of their case on effectiveness, with the president saying the last administration’s approach to fighting terror was not effect, and Cheney arguing that those programs are the reason there has been no second Sept. 11.

During his remarks at the National Archives: Obama will say that the Bush administration established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable, and alienated the nation from its allies.

Obama will argue that so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding are not the most effective, undermine the rule of law, alienate the U.S. in the world, serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America.

The president will say that while the nation must ensure that its security measures and our justice system are ready to address the threats of the 21st century, the Obama administration will uphold America’s laws and its values that are the reason we have become the strongest nation in the world and persisted through crises that have threatened our core.


Obama will say that the paramount responsibility of any president is to keep the American people safe. That is what he thinks about every morning when he wakes up and every night when he goes to sleep. The president believes with every fiber of his being that we cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values.

The president will refer to the setting, saying that the documents in the National Archives – including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world.

Obama will point out that he is providing the resources to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on Sept. 11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan; investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities; re-energizing a global non-proliferation regime and locking down loose nuclear material to deny the world’s most dangerous people access to the world’s deadliest weapons; protecting our borders and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or natural disaster; building new partnerships around the world to disrupt, dismntle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates; and renewing American diplomacy.

Referring back to the opening week of his presidency, Obama will point out that he ordered the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. For over seven years, the U.S. has detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting only three suspected terrorists.

Obama will contend that the record is clear: Rather than keep Americans safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. Turning to detainees who remain, the President will announce this framework:

--When feasible, try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts.

--When necessary, try those who violate the rules of war through Military Commissions.

--When possible, transfer to third countries those detainees who can be safely transferred.