Obama: We must never compromise our cherished values, unless it's really important

Hotline has the transcript, but be warned that it’s a long slog through many swamps — Gitmo, interrogation, the torture memos, the unreleased Abu Ghraib photos, and on and on. You’re better off with Maguire’s witty recap. In a nutshell: We must look forward while also remembering that everything is Bush’s fault, and we must not abandon our core ideals unless doing so would make things too difficult for The One. My favorite part:

We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war – must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. That is why my Administration has begun to reshape these standards to ensure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. Other countries have grappled with this question, and so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantanamo detainees – not to avoid one. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.

I.e. indefinite detention without trial, just like Karl wrote about this morning. There is an alternative to that available to Obama that would fall in line with constitutional principles: He could simply release the guys we don’t have enough evidence (or enough usable evidence) to prosecute and then have the CIA shadow them forever. But the public would go berserk and his national security credibility would be destroyed, so instead he falls back on some squishy “oversight” process in lieu of the right to a speedy trial. So much for cherished values. The irony is that his compromise on this sounds a lot like Clinton’s recommended compromise for torture in ticking-bomb scenarios: We know the CIA’s going to do it whether it’s legal or not, so we might as well create a judicial oversight mechanism, possibly involving torture warrants, to make sure there’s a check on it. That’s essentially the route The One’s going here vis-a-vis indefinite detention. Why not do it with torture, too?

The other lowlight comes when Obama explains why he released the torture memos but not the Abu Ghraib photos. Read it for yourself about three-quarters of the way down. In essence, he says that everyone already knew what interrogation techniques Bush had approved so there was no risk of inflaming anti-American outrage or disclosing any secrets to Al Qaeda. Really? I saw plenty of people in the media outraged upon learning from the memos that KSM has been waterboarded 183 times; presumably a few people overseas weren’t real thrilled about it either. As for disclosing secrets, what about that panel he ordered in January to investigate the CIA’s need for interrogation techniques that go beyond the Army Field Manual? Those aren’t going to be secret once they release their findings. And isn’t it equally true that everyone who’s seen the original Abu Ghraib photos has a pretty good idea of what’s in those photos he refuses to release — in which case, per his logic about the memos, shouldn’t they be released too? His spin here reminds me of Pelosi’s bobbing and weaving on waterboarding: The obvious truth is that he released the memos to appease his base and held back the photos to appease his righty critics, but he can’t say that so he has to come up with a, er, tortured explanation.

One more quote, simply because it’s the foulest lie in the whole speech:

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants – provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right.

Like Maguire says (and really, read his recap), did Obama even read the torture memos? The whole point was to provide guidance to interrogators because not everything goes. It’s his own moronic cultist followers who are the absolutists on this subject, not Bush/Cheney.

Here’s 90 seconds from the speech on values. Something tells me it’s not going to get the ACLU crowd off his ass.

Update: And I was right. Says Brett Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, “He wraps himself in the Constitution, talks about American values and then proceeds to violate them.” Preventive detention seems to be a sticking point, don’tcha know.