Benjamin Wittes

What Did Obama Really Say During the Campaign?

A bunch of readers have written to me since I posted this little item questioning whether New York Times editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal got it wrong when he wrote that:

When President Obama came into office in 2009 he promised to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and end the extra-judicial system that his predecessor had created to imprison terrorist suspects without trial, often without even filing charges. He has broken that promise (emphasis added).

Some readers pointed out that Rosenthal must be ignorant of the President’s speech at the National Archives in May 2009, in which Obama explicitly discussed long-term detention as a possible component of a Guantanamo closure. I am inclined to defend Rosenthal on this point. That speech, about which I have written extensively, took place months after Obama took office, and Rosenthal might reasonably see it as the first major statement in which the President backed off his commitments.

Others have pointed me to various statements that Obama made that may be said to justify or falsify Rosenthal’s contention. Only one, in my view, even comes close to justifying Rosenthal’s claim that Obama came into office having promised to forswear non-criminal detention. There may be others. As I said in my original post, I have not gone through every statement Obama made. So far, however, this is the only one I have seen that helps Rosenthal even a little. And for reasons I will explain, it doesn’t help him much.

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