Obama says Gitmo should be closed

In briefing, president vows to "reengage with Congress" to change detention policy. Also discusses Boston and Syria

Topics: Editor's Picks, President Obama, Press Conference, Syria, Guantanamo, , ,

Obama says Gitmo should be closed (Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In a press conference on the 100th day of his second term (though his administration dismissed the symbolic nature of the date), President Obama said he would work with Congress to stop the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, also answering questions on his “red line” in Syria, the sequester and endless congressional gridlock.

On Guantánamo  

Facing questions about the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, Obama said he was “not surprised there are problems,” saying that he continues to believe the U.S. should prioritize closing Guantánamo, as it is “not necessary to keep America safe, is expensive, hurts our relationships with allies and is a recruitment tool for extremists.”

Obama said he planned to “go back to” his efforts in 2008 to close Guantánamo, saying: “I am going to reengage with Congress to make the case that this is not in the best interest of the American people,” calling the detention facility and the indefinite detention of people who have not been tried or charged “contrary to who we are, contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”

On Syria

Obama was careful to avoid making definitive statements about American military action in Syria, saying that while his administration had confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, it still did not have “all the facts.” He said, for example, they could not confirm “how they were used, when they were used or who used them” or a “chain of custody” firm enough to take decisive military action.

He went on to suggest that he is interested in building an international coalition to take action in Syria, rather than taking unilateral action, explaining: ”If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do … It’s important to do this in a prudent way.”

He backed away from his “red line,” calling the use of chemical weapons a “game changer,” going on to say: “The use of chemical weapons would be a game changer, not simply for the U.S., but for the international community. We have international law and norms that say when you use these kinds of weapons you have the potential of killing a massive number of people in the most inhumane way possible … We don’t want that genie out of the bottle.”

He avoided further defining “game changer” except to say: “By game changer I mean we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us … I won’t go into details of what those options will be.”

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On the Boston Marathon bombing and intelligence gathering

Obama applauded all levels of law enforcement for working to bring the Boston Marathon bombing suspects into custody within days of the attack, and explained that his administration will “leave no stone unturned” in order to “improve and enhance our ability to prevent a future attack.”

He went on to address the threat of “homegrown terrorists” and the steps his administration is taking to address threats “looming on the horizon,” including “engaging with the communities where there is a potential of self-radicalization,” additional “detection efforts,” but, he added, “all of this must be done in the context of our laws, due process.”

He went on to say that the Russians have been cooperative in intelligence gathering efforts, but “old habits die hard” between the two nations.

On the sequester, gun control failures and congressional deadlock 

After quipping, “Maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly,” Obama denounced congressional Republicans for derailing efforts to avoid the sequester or for coming to the table for “long-term solutions” to growing deficit and budget problems. He said he believed that “right now, things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.”

Despite failures on the budget and gun control, Obama expressed optimism that the immigration bill would pass and applauded the “bipartisan coalition” working on it.

On the sequester, Obama said it is: “Damaging our economy, hurting our people and we need to lift it” and “that’s going to require compromise.”

He once again denounced the lack of cooperation from Congress, explaining that it was not his job “to get Congress to behave.”

On Obamacare

The president chalked anxiety about implementation of his expansive health reform plan to the difficulty of doing “something new,” but remained adamant that moving forward was of critical importance, saying: “In a country as wealthy as ours, no one should go bankrupt because they are sick.”

On Jason Collins

Obama is “proud” of the NBA player’s decision to come out, calling the historic inclusion of an openly gay male player an important shift: “For young people to see a role model like that, it’s a great thing. I am very proud of him.”

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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