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Defiant Obama slams Bush Guantanamo ‘mess’

Washington — President Barack Obama has vowed no retreat on closing Guantanamo Bay, branding the prison a "mess" and charging that Bush-era anti-terror tactics were rooted in fear and ideology.

Obama also raised the prospect of holding the most dangerous Al Qaeda detainees indefinitely in US "super-max" jails, in a Thursday speech designed to recapture the initiative in a row over his national security policies.

Hours after he spoke, the US Senate approved a 91.3-billion-dollar 2009 budget supplement to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through October 1 — but without funds to close the prison camp at the US naval base in Cuba, after days of acrimonious debate.

"The terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies — and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are," Obama said.

Obama took on critics on the right who believe "anything goes" in the fight against terrorism, and rebuked allies on the left who he said believed that in all cases transparency should triumph over national security.

Minutes later, former vice president Dick Cheney forcibly defended former president George W. Bush’s policies in his own nationally-televised speech.

Obama insisted he had been right to order the closure of the controversial "war on terror" prison by January 2010, saying it had stained the US image abroad.

"By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it," Obama said at the National Archives, where the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence documents are held.

"We are cleaning up something that is quite simply — a mess — a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges."

But Cheney, at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, vehemently justified the Bush approach, including harsh CIA interrogations derided by critics as torture and setting up Guantanamo outside the US legal framework.

He said he would "do so again in the same circumstances," while warning the Obama administration against launching a witch hunt targeting former Bush aides and CIA investigators.

Obama, however, took his own swipe at Cheney, who has been leading the Republican charge against his anti-terror policies.

"Some Americans are angry, others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November," he said.

Obama also rejected Bush administration tactics adopted after the September 11 attacks in 2001, saying they were the result of "fear rather than foresight."

"All too often, our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions," he added.

The president said his administration may seek to transfer some of the most dangerous Al-Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay to US top security jails.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday joined Republicans in a lopsided 90-6 vote to forbid transferring to US soil any of the 240 detainees held at Guantanamo, one day after the Senate voted to strip 80 million dollars Obama had requested to shutter Guantanamo from a 91.3-billion-dollar war spending bill.

"We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people," Obama said.

He rejected the notion, popular with many Democrats, that an independent truth commission should probe anti-terror abuses in the Bush era.

"I have opposed the creation of such a commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability," he said.

It was unclear whether Thursday’s speech would bolster support for Obama’s plans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said "Senate Democrats look forward to reviewing the details of the administration’s plan when it is released."

"It may cost you a few popularity points in Europe," said Reid’s Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but "figuring out what to do with these folks is quite complicated, and it’s better to do that in a timely fashion without the arbitrary deadline for closing Guantanamo."

Stephen Collinson/AFP/Expatica