President Barack Obama Weekly Address February 27, 2016 (Video/Transcript)

President  Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
February 27, 2016
Hi, everybody.  This week, we continued our mission to destroy ISIL.  This remains a difficult fight, and the situation in Syria and Iraq is incredibly complex.  ISIL is entrenched, including in urban areas.  It uses innocent civilians as human shields.  Despite these challenges, I can report that we’re making progress.  And this week, I directed my team to continue accelerating our campaign on all fronts.

Our 66-member coalition, including Arab partners, continues to grow stronger.  More nations are making more contributions.  Every day, our air campaign—more than 10,000 strikes so far—continues to destroy ISIL forces.  And we continue to go after ISIL leaders and commanders—taking them out, day in, day out, one after another after another.

In Iraq, ISIL has now lost more than 40 percent of the areas it once controlled.  In Syria, a coalition of local forces is tightening the squeeze on ISIL’s stronghold of Raqqa.  As we bomb its oil infrastructure, ISIL’s been forced to slash the salaries of its fighters.  Thanks to the work of many nations, the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into Syria finally appears to be slowing.  In short, in Syria and Iraq, ISIL’s territory is shrinking, there are fewer ISIL fighters on the battlefield, and it’s harder for them to recruit and replenish their ranks.

Still, the only way to deal ISIL a lasting defeat is to end the civil war and chaos in Syria upon which ISIL thrives.  A cessation of hostilities in the civil war is scheduled to take effect this weekend.

We’re not under any illusions.  There are plenty of reasons for skepticism.  Even under the best of circumstances, the violence will not end right away.  But everyone knows what needs to happen.  All parties must end attacks, including aerial bombardment.  Humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach areas under siege.  Much will depend on whether the Syrian regime, Russia and their allies live up to their commitments.  The coming hours and days will be critical, and the world is watching.

That said, there will be absolutely no cease-fire in our fight against ISIL.  We’ll remain relentless.  Beyond Syria and Iraq, we continue to use the full range of our tools to go after ISIL wherever it tries to take root, as we showed with our recent strike on an ISIL training camp in Libya.  With partners around the world, we’ll continue discrediting the ideology that ISIL uses to radicalize, recruit and inspire people to violence, especially online.

Finally, we’ll continue to stay vigilant here at home, including for lone actors or small groups of terrorists like those in San Bernardino, which are harder to detect.  Our homeland security and law enforcement professionals are hard at work—24/7.  At the same time, we’ll keep working to build partnerships of trust and respect with communities to help them stay strong and resilient.  That includes upholding our values—including freedom of religion—so that we stay united as one American family.

Again, this fight against ISIL will remain difficult.  But we’ll continue to draw on all elements of our national power, including the strength of our communities and our values as Americans.  And I’m confident that we will prevail.  We will destroy this barbaric terrorist organization and continue to stand with those around the world who seek a better, safer future.


The End of the Establishment?

Robert Reich
Step back from the campaign fray for just a moment and consider the enormity of what’s already occurred.
A 74-year-old Jew from Vermont who describes himself as a democratic socialist, who wasn’t even a Democrat until recently, has come within a whisker of beating Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus, routed her in the New Hampshire primary, and garnered over 47 percent of the caucus-goers in Nevada, of all places.

And a 69-year-old billionaire who has never held elective office or had anything to do with the Republican Party has taken a commanding lead in the Republican primaries.

Something very big has happened, and it’s not due to Bernie Sanders’ magnetism or Donald Trump’s likeability.

It’s a rebellion against the establishment.

The question is why the establishment has been so slow to see this. A year ago – which now seems like an eternity – it proclaimed Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush shoe-ins.

Both had all the advantages – deep bases of funders, well-established networks of political insiders, experienced political advisors, all the name recognition you could want.
But even now that Bush is out and Hillary is still leading but vulnerable, the establishment still doesn’t see what’s occurred. They explain everything by pointing to weaknesses: Bush, they now say, “never connected” and Hillary “has a trust problem.”

A respected political insider recently told me most Americans are largely content. “The economy is in good shape,” he said. “Most Americans are better off than they’ve been in years. The problem has been the major candidates themselves.” 

I beg to differ.

Economic indicators may be up but they don’t reflect the economic insecurity most Americans still feel, nor the seeming arbitrariness and unfairness they experience. 

Nor do the major indicators show the linkages Americans see between wealth and power, crony capitalism, declining real wages, soaring CEO pay, and a billionaire class that’s turning our democracy into an oligarchy.

Median family income is lower now than it was sixteen years ago, adjusted for inflation.
Most economic gains, meanwhile, have gone to top.

These gains have translated into political power to rig the system with bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, special tax loopholes, trade deals, and increasing market power – all of which have further pushed down wages and pulled up profits.

Those at the very top of the top have rigged the system even more thoroughly. Since 1995, the average income tax rate for the 400 top-earning Americans has plummeted from 30 percent to 18 percent.

Wealth, power, and crony capitalism fit together. So far in the 2016 election, the richest 400 Americans have accounted for over a third of all campaign contributions.

Americans know a takeover has occurred and they blame the establishment for it.

There’s no official definition of the “establishment” but it presumably includes all of the people and institutions that have wielded significant power over the American political economy, and are therefore deemed complicit.

At its core are the major corporations, their top executives, and Washington lobbyists and trade associations; the biggest Wall Street banks, their top officers, traders, hedge-fund and private-equity managers, and their lackeys in Washington; the billionaires who invest directly in politics; and the political leaders of both parties, their political operatives, and fundraisers.

Arrayed around this core are the deniers and apologists – those who attribute what’s happened to “neutral market forces,” or say the system can’t be changed, or who urge that any reform be small and incremental.

Some Americans are rebelling against all this by supporting an authoritarian demagogue who wants to fortify America against foreigners as well as foreign-made goods. Others are rebelling by joining a so-called “political revolution.”

The establishment is having conniptions. They call Trump whacky and Sanders irresponsible. They charge that Trump’s isolationism and Bernie’s ambitious government programs will stymie economic growth.

The establishment doesn’t get that most Americans couldn’t care less about economic growth because for years they’ve got few of its benefits, while suffering most of its burdens in the forms of lost jobs and lower wages.

Most people are more concerned about economic security and a fair chance to make it.
The establishment doesn’t see what’s happening because it has cut itself off from the lives of most Americans. It also doesn’t wish to understand, because that would mean acknowledging its role in bringing all this on.

Yet regardless of the political fates of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the rebellion against the establishment will continue. 

Eventually, those with significant economic and political power in America will have to either commit to fundamental reform, or relinquish their power.


America, you’re stupid: Donald Trump’s political triumph makes it official — we’re a nation of idiots

Trump's rise proves we're full of loud, illiterate and credulous people — and he's a mirror of them

“I love the poorly educated.” — Donald Trump

Before any votes were cast, when Donald Trump was the theoretical front-runner, the optimists preached patience. Just wait, they said. This will blow over. He’s a clown, a huckster, a TV personality. There’s no way he can win. It’s just not possible.

Well, it’s not only possible – it’s likely.

Trump won again in Nevada on Tuesday night, by a massive margin, and he may well sweep the Super Tuesday states. If that happens, and it’s the most probable outcome at this point, the race is effectively over. Trump will have won the nomination of one our two major parties, and he’ll have done it with extraordinary ease.

I hate to have to say it, but the conclusion stares us in the face: We’re a stupid country, full of loud, illiterate and credulous people. Trump has marched straight to the nomination without offering anything like a platform or a plan. With a vocabulary of roughly a dozen words – wall, Mexicans, low-energy, loser, Muslims, stupid, China, negotiate, deals, America, great, again – he’s bamboozled millions of Americans. And it’s not just splenetic conservatives supporting Trump or your garden-variety bigots (although that’s the center of his coalition), it’s also independents, pro-choice Republicans, and a subset of Reagan Democrats.

This says something profoundly uncomfortable about our country and our process. A majority of Americans appear wholly uninterested in the actual business of government; they don’t understand it and don’t want to. They have vague feelings about undefined issues and they surrender their votes on emotional grounds to whoever approximates their rage. This has always been true to some extent, but Trump is a rubicon-crossing moment for the nation.

Trump’s wager was simple: Pretend to be stupid and angry because that’s what stupid and angry people like. He’s held up a mirror to the country, shown us how blind and apish we are. He knew how undiscerning the populace would be, how little they cared about details and facts. In Nevada, for instance, 70 percent of Trump voters said they preferred an “anti-establishment” candidate to one with any “experience in politics.” Essentially, that means they don’t care if he understands how government works or if he has the requisite skills to do the job. It’s a protest vote, born of rage, not deliberation.

In no other domain of life would this make any sense at all. If your attorney drops the ball, you don’t hire a plumber to replace him. And yet millions of Trumpites say they don’t care if Trump has ever worked at any level of government or if he knows anything about foreign policy or the law or the Constitution. It’s enough that he greets them at their level, panders to their lowest instincts.
He even brazenly condescends to his supporters, as the opening quote illustrates, and they fail to notice it. Trump, a billionaire trust fund baby who inherited $40 million from his father, has convinced hordes of working-class white people that he’s just like them, that he feels their pain and knows their struggle. He’s made marks of them all.


Trump Leads GOP Charge Embracing Torture: "I'd Bring Back a Hell of a Lot Worse Than Waterboarding

AMY GOODMAN: In the final debate before Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, Republican presidential contenders battled it out Saturday night at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Taking part in the debate were New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Donald Trump, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich. ABC News excluded former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina from the debate despite protests from many Republicans.
Much of the post-debate coverage has focused on Marco Rubio for repeatedly reciting the same talking points about President Obama, even after he was called out by Governor Christie.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: And let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. ... But I would add this: Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. ... Here’s the bottom line: This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: He knows exactly what he’s doing.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: There it is, the memorized 25-second speech.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: He’s—well, that’s the—
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: There it is, everybody.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: That’s the reason why this campaign is so important, because I think this notion—I think this is an important point. We have to understand what we’re going through here. We are not facing a president that doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows what he is doing. ... I think anyone who believes that Barack Obama isn’t doing what he’s doing on purpose doesn’t understand what we’re dealing with here. OK? This is a president—this is a president who’s trying to change this country.
AMY GOODMAN: While headlines about "Robot Rubio" and "MarcoBot" dominated much of the discussion after the debate, a number of other issues did come up during Saturday’s debate, including torture, North Korea, police brutality and eminent domain. We’re going to look at all four of these issues and how the candidates responded on today’s show. We’ll begin with the issue of torture, raised by debate moderator David Muir of ABC News.
DAVID MUIR: We’re going to stay on ISIS here and the war on terror, because, as you know, there’s been a debate in this country about how to deal with the enemy and about enhanced interrogation techniques ever since 9/11. So, Senator Cruz, you have said, quote, "Torture is wrong, unambiguously, period. Civilized nations do not engage in torture." Some of the other candidates say they don’t think waterboarding is torture. Mr. Trump has said, "I would bring it back." Senator Cruz, is waterboarding torture?
SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, under the definition of torture, no, it’s not. Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing—losing organs and systems. So, under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.
DAVID MUIR: If elected president, would you bring it back?
SEN. TED CRUZ: I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use. And indeed, I’d join with Senator McCain in legislation that would prohibit line officers from employing it, because I think bad things happen when enhanced interrogation is employed at lower levels. But when it comes to keeping this country safe, the commander-in-chief has inherent constitutional authority to keep this country safe. And so, if it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that, as commander-in-chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.
DAVID MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you. Mr. Trump, you said not only does it work, but that you’d bring it back.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what. In the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians. We have people chopping the heads off many other people. We have things that we have never seen before—as a group, we have never seen before what’s happening right now. The medieval times—I mean, we studied medieval times. Not since medieval times have people seen what’s going on. I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.
DAVID MUIR: Mr. Trump, thank you. Governor Bush, you have said that you won’t rule waterboarding out. Congress has passed laws banning the use of waterboarding by the military and the CIA, as you know. Would you want Congress to change that, if you’re elected president?
JEB BUSH: No. No, I wouldn’t. No, I wouldn’t. And it was used sparingly. Congress has changed the laws, and I think where we stand is the appropriate place. But what we need to do is to make sure that we expand our intelligence capabilities. The idea that we’re going to solve this fight with Predator drones, killing people, somehow is a—is more acceptable than capturing them, securing the information—this is why closing Guantánamo is a complete disaster. What we need to do is make sure that we are kept safe by having intelligence capabilities, both human and technological intelligence capabilities, far superior than what we have today. That’s how you get a more safe place, is by making sure that we’re fully engaged. And right now this administration doesn’t do that.
DAVID MUIR: Governor Bush, thank you. Senator Rubio, I do want to ask you, you have said that you do not want to telegraph to the enemy what you would do as commander-in-chief, but for the American people watching tonight who want to know where the next president will stand, do you believe waterboarding is torture?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, when people talk about interrogating terrorists, they’re acting like this is some sort of law enforcement function. Law enforcement is about gathering evidence to take someone to trial and convict them. Antiterrorism is about finding out information to prevent a future attack. So the same tactics do not apply. And it is true: We should not be discussing wide—in a widespread way, the exact tactics that we’re going to use, because that allows terrorists and others to practice how to evade us. But here’s the bigger part—problem with all this: We’re not interrogating anybody right now. Guantánamo is being emptied by this president. We should be putting people into Guantánamo, not emptying it out. And we shouldn’t be releasing these killers, who are rejoining the battlefield against the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Marco Rubio at Saturday’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, the eighth debate, the final one before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.
Joining us now is Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with Center for Constitutional Rights representing current and former Guantánamo prisoners.
Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: So, quite a discussion here—


AMY GOODMAN: —both around the issue of waterboarding and of expanding Guantánamo.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Right. You know, there’s a lot to say, hard to know where to begin. To this—to just the basic point about the fact that we are still debating whether things like waterboarding constitute torture and you have candidates able to say, "No, waterboarding is not torture," and to sort of redefine those terms, I mean, that is not—redefine the term of "torture," that’s something that’s not unique to the issue of torture, it’s not unique to a political party. You know, we’ve heard many times administrations and officials say, "We don’t torture, we don’t engage in indefinite detention, we don’t do targeted assassinations"—all of this by sort of unilaterally redefining and gutting terms of their plain meaning under international law. So, it’s not new or unique.

As to whether things like waterboarding constitute torture, clearly, under widely accepted understandings and standards and definitions under international law, it is torture. The U.N. CAT committee, Committee Against Torture, has said it. The—

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Cruz said it wasn’t.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Senator Cruz said it wasn’t. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is an authority on the laws of war and international humanitarian law, has said specifically waterboarding is torture. U.S. courts have said it. U.S.—the United States has prosecuted U.S. and foreign soldiers for engaging in waterboarding. There have been prosecutions domestically for waterboarding domestically. So the idea that this is arguable is just not supported. It is clearly illegal.
I think the troubling thing is the fact that it has been made arguable or is able to be debated, still has in part to do with the fact that there has been zero accountability for torture under the Bush administration. And that’s been something that has been—you know that falls on the Obama administration, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: What could be Obama administration do?

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Well, there have been no—there have been calls for a special prosecutor to investigate clear allegations of crimes committed at least by the CIA, as evidenced by the Senate report on the CIA torture program. I mean, there’s volumes of documented information about at least one piece of torture under the Bush administration. There should at least be an investigation domestically. Politically, you know, that seems very difficult, if not impossible. Those investigations have not been pursued.

We at CCR have—as a result, because of the lack of complete accountability domestically, we’ve turned to foreign courts and have supported or been involved or brought a request for prosecution or accountability in the courts of Spain. We’ve brought—we’re supporting an action in France. There have been actions in Canada or before the CAT committee. So, I mean, we’re trying, at least internationally through universal jurisdiction in foreign courts, to bring to bear some kind of accounting for what’s happened.

But I think the fact that there hasn’t been anything domestically, and the message is sort of "we need to look forward and not backward" by the Obama administration, is part of what has allowed this sort of gray zone and for things like torture and waterboarding, which is sort of the—one the most overt forms of it, to remain arguable and debatable, and cheered on national television—by Republican donors, but, you know, nonetheless.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of expanding Guantánamo and the mutual outrage of the candidates that it was not being—not just closed, but expanded?


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the prisoners that you represent inside Guantánamo.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Well, just one—I mean, there’s a lot to unpack there. You know, when Rubio says that we need to be putting more people back into Guantánamo and the basic problem is we’re not—we’re not interrogating anyone anymore, it is false to suggest that Guantánamo was the only place where the United States or is the only place where the United States is interrogating terrorist suspects. In recent years, for example, there have been operations reported in the media, that we know about, where the United States has snatched suspects off the streets in suburban areas in their own homes. One example is of Abu Anas al-Libi in 2013, snatched in front of his home in a suburb of Tripoli by U.S. military forces, held and interrogated aboard a U.S. Navy ship without counsel, effectively incommunicado, and then appears in federal court in the United States to face charges and trial. And that entire period of extrajudicial holding, treatment, interrogation is effectively erased once that happens, because of the challenges of—because of the difficulty of challenging that treatment in federal court. But that is one sort of hybrid way the U.S. is relying on wartime authorities—problematic ones—to sort of pick people up far from recognized war zones, hold and interrogate them without charge, without counsel, you know, effectively secretly, and then—and then bring prosecution. So we know that those things are happening. And so the suggestion that we’re not interrogating anymore is just false.

As to, you know, expanding Guantánamo and, you know, what is happening with the prison now, there is a certain momentum in terms of transfers of people. We need to be very clear about who is being transferred. Those are people who U.S. intelligence and defense officials themselves have said do not need to be at Guantánamo.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking not only Obama administration officials—

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Bush administration.

AMY GOODMAN: —but Bush administration officials.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: We have said this 'til we're red in the face. I mean, it’s just—it’s just a complete distortion to suggest.

AMY GOODMAN: Many of these prisoners held for well over 10 years, cleared for years to be released.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: The first group of people under the Obama administration were approved for transfer in 2009 and '10. Many of them are sitting in Guantánamo today, including some of our clients—Tariq Ba Odah, nine-year hunger striker, still at Guantánamo; Mohammed al-Hamiri, cleared for release in 2009, sitting in Guantánamo, perhaps even watching this broadcast now. There's another group of men who have been cleared under more recent administrative reviews, under what’s known as the Periodic Review Board. Those are reviews that were set up and meant to start in 2011, didn’t—nothing happened until 2013. That’s entirely on the Obama administration. That’s something entirely within executive control. There was an executive order that said these reviews need to start in 2011, they need to be done by 2012. Nothing happened until—

AMY GOODMAN: So it’s four years later.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Four years later. Nothing happened after—until after a mass hunger strike at the prison in 2013. I mean, Guantánamo had really sort of fallen off the administration’s agenda as a priority until after the hunger strike. Slowly, since then, the reviews have started. But there are still dozens of people who are waiting for their first review. One of my clients—two of my clients, Zahir Hamdoun, just went through his review, was approved for transfer; another, Ghaleb al-Bihani—both Yemenis—approved for transfer last year, still waiting for transfer. So, those men, cleared men by the administration itself, remain sitting in Guantánamo.

There is another problem in terms of the way people are being transferred from Guantánamo. That’s an issue that’s gotten far less attention. But in terms of what they face, particularly for those people not going home, which means a lot of the Yemenis, and they’re not going home not because they don’t want to go home or they can’t go home, but because it is U.S. policy not to send them back to Yemen because of conflicts that have nothing to do with some of their individual circumstances or their families or their facts, so, as a result, is needing to find third countries for them. You know, it’s just the experience of people who have been held for 14 years without charge, arbitrarily, tortured, getting on another—getting on a plane and then landing in an entirely alien environment, without family, without community, with very little support. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Are the Democrats different in their approach to Guantánamo? I mean, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state during a number of these years.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: No, I mean, these transfers—dozens of them, over 70, 80, 90 of them—have happened under the Obama administration. And certainly, transfers need to keep happening. Bottom line, the men in Guantánamo need to be out. But how they are being transferred, the support they have, what their experience on re-entry is like, that’s important to pay attention to, as well. But separate from these issues, I think—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: —we need to be clear about: The Obama administration’s own plan for closing Guantánamo envisions maintaining the policy of indefinite detention. So part of the danger of that is that it allows for things. It allows for the policy and legal justifications to remain open, and would allow for a place, whether in Cuba or in a U.S. prison, for future administrations to send additional detainees to. So that’s part of the danger of the administration’s own close—so-called close Guantánamo plan.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights representing current and former Guantánamo prisoners.
We’re going to go on with this debate on the issue of eminent domain, preemptive strikes against North Korea, and about the issue of police brutality. Then we’ll look at the Super Bowl, the protests, the concussions, and we’ll look at Beyoncé, the song she released and the one she performed at halftime. Stay with us.

President Obama Delivers Remarks on Closing of Guantanamo Bay (Video/Transcript)

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  In our fight against terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL, we are using every element of our national power -- our military; intelligence; diplomacy; homeland security; law enforcement, federal, state and local; as well as the example of our ideals as a country that’s committed to universal values, including rule of law and human rights.  In this fight, we learn and we work to constantly improve.  When we find something that works, we keep on doing it.  When it becomes clear that something is not working as intended -- when it does not advance our security -- we have to change course.

For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security -- it undermines it.  This is not just my opinion.  This is the opinion of experts, this is the opinion of many in our military.  It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.  It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees.  Guantanamo harms our partnerships with allies and other countries whose cooperation we need against terrorism.  When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantanamo is not resolved.

Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values.  It undermines our standing in the world.  It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.  As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law.  But 15 years after 9/11 -- 15 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history -- we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks -- not a single one.

When I first ran for President, it was widely recognized that this facility needed to close.  This was not just my opinion.  This was not some radical, far-left view.  There was bipartisan support to close it.  My predecessor, President Bush, to his credit, said he wanted to close it.  It was one of the few things that I and my Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, agreed on.

And so, in one of my first acts as President, I took action to begin closing it.  And because we had bipartisan support, I wanted to make sure that we did it right.  I indicated that we would need to take our time to do it in a systematic way, and that we had examined all the options.

And unfortunately, during that period where we were putting the pieces in place to close it, what had previously been bipartisan support suddenly became a partisan issue.  Suddenly, many you previously had said it should be closed backed off because they were worried about the politics.  The public was scared into thinking that, well, if we close it, somehow we’ll be less safe.  And since that time, Congress has repeatedly imposed restrictions aimed at preventing us from closing this facility.  

Now, despite the politics, we’ve made progress.  Of the nearly 800 detainees once held at Guantanamo, more than 85 percent have already been transferred to other countries.  More than 500 of these transfers, by the way, occurred under President Bush.  Since I took office, we’ve so far transferred 147 more, each under new, significant restrictions to keep them from returning to the battlefield.  And as a result of these actions, today, just 91 detainees remain -- less than 100.

Today, the Defense Department, thanks to very hard work by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, as well as his team, working in concert with the Office of Management and Budget, today, the Department is submitting to Congress our plan for finally closing the facility at Guantanamo once and for all.  It’s a plan that reflects the hard work of my entire national security team, so I especially want to thank Ash and his team at DOD.  This plan has my full support.  It reflects our best thinking on how to best go after terrorists and deal with those who we may capture, and it is a strategy with four main elements.

First, we’ll continue to securely and responsibly transfer to other countries the 35 detainees -- out of the 91 -- that have already been approved for transfer.  Keep in mind, this process involves extensive and careful coordination across our federal government to ensure that our national security interests are met when an individual is transferred to another country.  So, for example, we insist that foreign countries institute strong security measures.  And as we move forward, that means that we will have around 60 -- and potentially even fewer -- detainees remaining.

Second, we’ll accelerate the periodic reviews of remaining detainees to determine whether their continued detention is necessary.  Our review board, which includes representatives from across government, will continue to look at all relevant information, including current intelligence.  And if certain detainees no longer pose a continuing significant threat, they may be eligible for transfer to another country as well.

Number three, we’ll continue to use all legal tools to deal with the remaining detainees still held under law of war detention.  Currently, 10 detainees are in some stage of the military commissions process -- a process that we worked hard to reform in my first year in office with bipartisan support from Congress.  But I have to say, with respect to these commissions, they are very costly, they have resulted in years of litigation without a resolution.  We’re therefore outlining additional changes to improve these commissions, which would require congressional action, and we will be consulting with them in the near future on that issue.

I also want to point out that, in contrast to the commission process, our Article 3 federal courts have proven to have an outstanding record of convicting some of the most hardened terrorists.  These prosecutions allow for the gathering of intelligence against terrorist groups.  It proves that we can both prosecute terrorists and protect the American people.  So think about it -- terrorists like Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square; and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon -- they were all convicted in our Article III courts and are now behind bars, here in the United States.

So we can capture terrorists, protect the American people, and when done right, we can try them and put them in our maximum security prisons, and it works just fine.  And in this sense, the plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo.  It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened.  This is about closing a chapter in our history.  It reflects the lessons that we’ve learned since 9/11 --lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.

So even as we use military commissions to close out the cases of some current detainees -- which, given the unique circumstances of their cases make it difficult for them to be tried in Article 3 courts -- this type of use of military commissions should not set a precedent for the future.  As they have been in past wars, military commissions will continue to be an option when individuals are detained during battle.  But our preferred option, the most effective option for dealing with individuals detained outside military theaters, must be our strong, proven federal courts.

Fourth, and finally, we’re going to work with Congress to find a secure location in the United States to hold remaining detainees.  These are detainees who are subject to military commissions, but it also includes those who cannot yet be transferred to other countries or who we’ve determined must continue to be detained because they pose a continuing significant threat to the United States.
We are not identifying a specific facility today in this plan.  We are outlining what options look like.  As Congress has imposed restrictions that currently prevent the transfer of detainees to the United States, we recognize that this is going to be a challenge.  And we’re going to keep making the case to Congress that we can do this is a responsible and secure way, taking into account the lessons and great record of our maximum-security prisons.

And let me point out, the plan we’re submitting today is not only the right thing to do for our security, it will also save money.  The Defense Department estimates that this plan, compared to keeping Guantanamo open, would lower costs by up to $85 million a year.  Over 10 years, it would generate savings of more than $300 million.  Over 20 years, the savings would be up to $1.7 billion.  In other words, we can ensure our security, uphold our highest values around the world, and save American taxpayers a lot of money in the process.

So in closing, I want to say I am very clear-eyed about the hurdles to finally closing Guantanamo.  The politics of this are tough.  I think a lot of the American public are worried about terrorism, and in their mind the notion of having terrorists held in the United States rather than in some distant place can be scary.  But part of my message to the American people here is we’re already holding a bunch of really dangerous terrorists here in the United States because we threw the book at them.  And there have been no incidents.  We’ve managed it just fine.

And in Congress, I recognize, in part because of some of the fears of the public that have been fanned oftentimes by misinformation, there continues to be a fair amount of opposition to doing closing Guantanamo.  If it were easy, it would have happened years ago -- as I wanted, as I have been working to try to get done.  But there remains bipartisan support for closing it.  And given the stakes involved for our security, this plan deserves a fair hearing.  Even in an election year, we should be able to have an open, honest, good-faith dialogue about how to best ensure our national security.  And the fact that I’m no longer running, Joe is no longer running, we’re not on the ballot -- it gives us the capacity to not have to worry about the politics.

Let us do what is right for America.  Let us go ahead and close this chapter, and do it right, do it carefully, do it in a way that makes sure we’re safe, but gives the next President and, more importantly, future generations, the ability to apply the lessons we’ve learned in the fight against terrorism and doing it in a way that doesn’t raise some of the problems that Guantanamo has raised.
I really think there’s an opportunity here for progress.  I believe we’ve got an obligation to try.

 President Bush said he wanted to close Guantanamo despite everything that he had invested in it.  I give him credit for that.  There was an honest assessment on his part about what needed to happen.  But he didn’t get it done and it was passed to me.  I’ve been working for seven years now to get this thing closed.  As President, I have spent countless hours dealing with this -- I do not exaggerate about that.  Our closest allies have raised it with me continually.  They often raise specific cases of detainees repeatedly.

I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next President, whoever it is.  And if, as a nation, we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it?  Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years, another 20 years, another 30 years?  If we don’t do what’s required now, I think future generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and of justice, and our best American traditions was clear.

So, again, I want to thank Secretary Carter.  You and your team did an outstanding job, and you’ve shown great leadership on this issue.  With this plan, we have the opportunity, finally, to eliminate a terrorist propaganda tool, strengthen relationships with allies and partners, enhance our national security, and, most importantly, uphold the values that define us as Americans.  I’m absolutely committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo.  I’m going to continue to make the case for doing so for as long as I hold this office.  But this is a good moment for everybody to step back, take a look at the facts, take a look at the views of those who have been most committed to fighting terrorism and understand this stuff -- our operatives, our intelligence officials, our military.  Let’s go ahead and get this thing done.

Thanks very much, everybody.


President Barack Obama Weekly Address February 20, 2016 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama 
 Weekly Address
The White House
February 20, 2016

Hi, everybody.  This week, we made it official—I’m going to Cuba.

When Michelle and I go to Havana next month, it will be the first visit of a U.S. president to Cuba in nearly 90 years.  And it builds on the decision I made more than a year ago to begin a new chapter in our relationship with the people of Cuba.

You see, I believe that the best way to advance American interests and values, and the best way to help the Cuban people improve their lives, is through engagement—by normalizing relations between our governments and increasing the contacts between our peoples.  I’ve always said that change won’t come to Cuba overnight.  But as Cuba opens up, it will mean more opportunity and resources for ordinary Cubans.  And we’re starting to see some progress.

Today, the American flag flies over our embassy in Havana, and our diplomats are interacting more broadly with the Cuban people.  More Americans are visiting Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years—Cuban-American families; American students, teachers, humanitarian volunteers, faith communities—all forging new ties and friendships that are bringing our countries closer.  And when direct flights and ferries resume, even more of our citizens will have the chance to travel and work together and know each other.

American companies are starting to do business in Cuba, helping to nurture private enterprise and giving Cuban entrepreneurs new opportunities.  With new Wi-Fi hotspots, more Cubans are starting to go online and get information from the outside world.  In both our countries, there’s overwhelming support for this new relationship.  And in Cuba today, for the first time in a half century, there is hope for a different future, especially among Cuba’s young people who have such extraordinary talent and potential just waiting to be unleashed.

My visit will be an opportunity to keep moving forward.  I’ll meet with President Castro to discuss how we can continue normalizing relations, including making it easier to trade and easier for Cubans to access the Internet and start their own businesses.  As I did when I met President Castro last year, I’ll speak candidly about our serious differences with the Cuban government, including on democracy and human rights.  I’ll reaffirm that the United States will continue to stand up for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly and religion.

I’ll meet with members of Cuba’s civil society—courageous men and women who give voice to the aspirations of the Cuban people.  I’ll meet with Cuban entrepreneurs to learn how we can help them start new ventures.  And I’ll speak directly to the Cuban people about the values we share and how I believe we can be partners as they work for the future they want.

We’re still in the early days of our new relationship with the Cuban people.  This transformation will take time.  But I’m focused on the future, and I’m confident that my visit will advance the goals that guide us—promoting American interests and values and a better future for the Cuban people, a future of more freedom and more opportunity.

Thanks everybody.  And to the people of Cuba—nos vemos en La Habana.


President Obama Holds a Press Conference (Video)

The President on the Passing of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (Video/Transcript)

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good evening, everybody.  For almost 30 years, Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia was a larger-than-life presence on the bench -- a brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions.

     He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape.  He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.  Justice Scalia dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy:  The rule of law.  Tonight, we honor his extraordinary service to our nation and remember one of the towering legal figures of our time.

     Antonin Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey to an Italian immigrant family.  After graduating from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School, he worked at a law firm and taught law before entering a life of public service.  He rose from Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel to Judge on the D.C. Circuit Court, to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

     A devout Catholic, he was the proud father of nine children and grandfather to many loving grandchildren.  Justice Scalia was both an avid hunter and an opera lover -- a passion for music that he shared with his dear colleague and friend, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  Michelle and I were proud to welcome him to the White House, including in 2012 for a State Dinner for Prime Minister David Cameron.  And tonight, we join his fellow justices in mourning this remarkable man.

     Obviously, today is a time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy.  I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time.  There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.  These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone.  They’re bigger than any one party.  They are about our democracy.  They’re about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life, and making sure it continues to function as the beacon of justice that our Founders envisioned.

     But at this moment, we most of all want to think about his family, and Michelle and I join the nation in sending our deepest sympathies to Justice Scalia’s wife, Maureen, and their loving family -- a beautiful symbol of a life well lived.  We thank them for sharing Justice Scalia with our country.
God bless them all, and God bless the United States of America.


President Barack Obama Weekly Address February 13, 2016 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama as Delivered
Weekly Address
The Illinois State Senate
February 13, 2016

Hi, everybody.  I’m speaking to you today from Springfield, Illinois.

I spent eight years in the state senate here.  It was a place where, for all our surface differences in a state as diverse as Illinois, my colleagues and I actually shared a lot in common.  We fought for our principles, and voted against each other, but because we assumed the best in one another, not the worst, we found room for progress.  We bridged differences to get things done.

In my travels through this state, I saw most Americans do the same.  Folks know that issues are complicated, and that people with different ideas might have a point.  It convinced me that if we just approached our politics the same way we approach our daily lives, with common sense, a commitment to fairness, and the belief that we’re all in this together, there’s nothing we can’t do.
That’s why I announced, right here, in Springfield that I was running for President.  And my faith in the generosity and fundamental goodness of the American people is rewarded every day.

But I’ll be the first to admit that the tone of our politics hasn’t gotten better, but worse.  Too many people feel like the system is rigged, and their voices don’t matter.  And when good people are pushed away from participating in our public life, more powerful and extreme voices will fill the void.  They’ll be the ones who gain control over decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic crisis, or roll back the rights that generations of Americans have fought to secure.

The good news is there’s also a lot we can do about this, from reducing the influence of money in our politics, to changing the way we draw congressional districts, to simply changing the way we treat each other.  That’s what I came back here to talk about this week.  And I hope you check out my full speech at

One thing I focused on, for example, was how we can make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now.  Here in Illinois, a new law allows citizens to register and vote at the polls on Election Day.  It also expands early voting, which makes it much easier for working folks and busy parents.  We’re also considering automatic voter registration for every citizen when they apply for a driver’s license.  And I’m calling on more states to adopt steps like these.  Because when more of us vote, the less captive our politics will be to narrow interests – and the better our democracy will be for our children.

Nine years after I first announced for this office, I still believe in a politics of hope.  And for all the challenges of a changing world; for all the imperfections of our democracy; choosing a politics of hope is something that’s entirely up to each of us.

Thanks, everybody.