Obama Oversimplifies Terror Cases in Renewed Call to Close Gitmo

Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains politically charged at home and abroad.


Part of the Guantanamo detention facility on the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2008.

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What is Guantanamo Bay? It is a detention facility. It is a venue for military commissions. It has become a buzzword that encapsulates America's visceral response to the September 11 attacks and resulting wars.

And critics, including the president, say it serves as a battle cry for Islamic extremists, highlighting what they consider institutional injustice in the West.

America's opinion of the terror prison in Cuba mirrors the political schism in the U.S., as hawkish proponents such as Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., say it is a "state of the art" facility to house "the meanest, nastiest killers in the world."

President Barack Obama renewed his inaugural campaign commitment on Tuesday to close the detention facility at the steamy sun-drenched base on the southeastern end of Cuba. Recent reported problems there, such as a supposed ongoing hunger strike involving a majority of the inmates, are unsurprising, he said.

[READ: Gitmo Detainees Claim Hunger Strike Abuses; Blocked from Meeting Lawyers]

Much of the debate comes down to legality. Ongoing trials at the base, known as "Gitmo," employ precedents and regulations both from federal courts and from military tribunals. Lawyers on both sides of the courtroom try to make sense of amorphous rules regarding detainees whose status as civilians or military combatants remains unclear.

U.S. News breaks down some of the president's statements on Tuesday and how they could shape the future of the prison.

"It is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama said. "It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists."

It costs roughly $800,000 a year to house a captive at the detention facility, according to the Miami Herald. Though some would say this is a worthwhile investment.

While speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in March, Chambliss lauded the new legal facility at Gitmo on what used to be an airfield. The air-conditioned courtroom is customized to secure as many as six high-profile detainees at once, and includes a soundproof viewing gallery for journalists and other observers.

"I have never seen a courtroom that compares to the courtroom we have now built at Guantanamo Bay. It is state of the art," Chambliss said. "These guys we took to Guantanamo, and particularly the guys who are still there, are the meanest, nastiest killers in the world."

"We're still gleaning information from those individuals today because of the rules of war," said Chambliss.

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on Defense Spending]

This point was the primary focus of recent pretrial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused "mastermind" of the Sept. 11 attacks, and four other alleged high-ranking al-Qaida officials. Defense lawyers argued the government continued to monitor private meetings with their clients in an attempt to gain further intelligence.

"The Guantanamo Bay facility was created to interrogate and detain detainees captured on the battlefield who were believed to have critical information about additional plans to attack the United States," says Daphne Eviatar, an expert on Guantanamo Bay with advocacy group Human Rights First. "The men have all been there so long at this point, cut off from their families, former associates and communities, that none of them could possibly have any more useful information to share with us. So I think at this point even those Americans who tolerated its creation 11 years ago can see that the detention center has long outlived its intended use."


U.S. News Reports From Guantanamo Bay:

  • A Terrorist's Defense: Fighting for Men Most Americans Hate
  • Most Pressing Question at Guantanamo: When Will it End?
  • Gitmo Detainee Lashes Out at Judge
  • Intelligence Agents Could Monitor Gitmo Detainee, Lawyer Meeting Rooms, Official Says
  • Wife of 9/11 Victim Finds Solace in Courtroom Minutia