All In   |  April 30, 2013

Obama blasts congressional inaction on Guantanamo hunger strike

President Obama blasted congressional inaction in a wide-ranging news conference Tuesday by re-igniting the call to close Guantanamo particularly in light of the growing crisis there in the form of a hunger strike.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> in with chris hayes " start right now.

>>> good evening. from new york i'm chris hayes . thank you for joining us. truly amazing stuff to cover tonight. how wild conspiracies are causing an absolute gun frenzy in this country and how washington politicians are legitimate m legitimizing them. and a state so out of control, citizens are willing to go to jail to protest the laws. you might remember this bit of comedy from the white house correspondents dinner on saturday night when president obama joked about the criticism of not working with republicans more.

>> maureen dowd said i could solve all my problems if i were just more like michael douglas in "the american president ." i know michael's here tonight. michael, what's your secret, man? could it be that you were an actor in an aaron sorkin liberal fantasy? some folks still don't think i spend enough time with congress . why don't you get a drink with mitch mcconnell , they ask. really? why don't you get a drink with mitch mcconnell .

>> today the president sent washington reporters scrambling with the surprise announcement of a press conference, his first since march and took a more serious tone, though the theme was familiar, repeatedly asked about the first hundred days of his second term and his failure to avert the sequester or passing gun bill, the president disabud reporters that he has some sort of magic power that he refuses to use that will alter public behavior.

>> you seem to suggest somehow these folks over there is no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. that's their job. the point is that there are common sense solutions to our problems right now. i cannot force republicans to embrace those common sense solutions.

>> there was not a whole lot new about all that until an amazing moment. the question turned to the issue of guantanamo and this is where the president made news today where he spoke the most passionately and expressed the most palpable frustration. as we have reported on this program, there is a growing crisis in the facility in the form of a hung are strike. yesterday we learned it is getting worse. 100 of the 168 detainees or two third of the prison population are now starving themselves. 21 of those detainees have lost so much weigh, they have been approved for feeding tubes. detainees are strapped to chairs and force fed and now 40 medical reinforcements have been sent to the facility including nurses and specials. the white house has not wanted to talk about guantanamo . the president's message was clear -- gitmo must be closed.

>> i think it is critical for us to understand that guantanamo is not necessary to keep america safe, 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 needs to be closed.

>> after a follow-up question about force feeding the detainee, the preds said emphaticalemfa -- president said emphatically he did not want those people to die.

>> the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individual who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are. it is contrary to our interests and it needs to stop. i think for a lot of americans the notion is out of sight, out of mind. all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? why are we doing this? we've got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country. nothing's happened to them. justice has been sfrd. -- served.

>> so if the president is going to take another run at guantanamo , then that is news because he has tried before. congress blocked president obama 's official policy on gitmo , which is to transfer some detainees to maximum security facilities in the united states . there are 86 detainees of the 166 cleared for transfer to a detention facility in another nation. congress has restricted such transfers. however, congress has also granted the pentagon the powers to waive such restriction, a power the pentagon has not yet used in a single case. so as the president called everyone on the carpet for their complacency today, he also raised the question whether his administration will try to do more within its power to get at least some of these detainees out of guantanamo .

>> i'm going to go back at this. i've asked my team to review everything that's currently being done in guantanamo , everything that we can do aministratively and i'm going to reengage with congress to try to make the case that this is not something that's in the best interests of the american people .

>> the president may not have some ridiculous super natural power to impose his will on congress , but when it comes to the moral and legal crisis in guantanamo , he is far from powerless. joining me tonight from washington , former national security council spokesman for the obama administration . i want to begin with you. what was your reaction to hearing this from the president today? surprise? frustration? hope?

>> chris, it was encouraging. it was an important statement. but president obama has made important statements before. and so what we need now is action to follow those very principled words. as he recognized it is not sustainable to hold over 100 people without charge in no man's land in perpetuity, particularly as the united states starts winding down the war in afghanistan , defeating al qaeda . what war are we talking about anymore? it is morally wrong and unjust. as someone who has been down to the base and has seen what is happening to these men right now, the answer is not we're going to keep people alive by strapping them into chairs and force feeding them. there are steps that president obama can take on his own starting now.

>> so that is yet, right? you talked to the white house today, howard.

>> yes.

>> did they give you a sense of what the content of what those steps, affirmative steps, my look like?

>> i asked them and got an explanation to the assistant of the national security adviser. she said they're going to appoint a new person at the state department to take over the role of looking through these cases. that's something they had let lapsed.

>> david freed had overseen this, overseen deals to get about 40 or so folks transferred. he had left and not been replaced.

>> the fact that they hadn't replaced them showed where their actions were. secondly, they said we admit that the pentagon hasn't done enough to look through on a case-by-case basis for possible waivers that the congress gave the administration power to do. and she said they're going to start doing that very actively. so i think the proof is going to be in the administrative actions, and the key that the president used that caught your eye and mine was the word administrative. he complained the whole time he can't get anything through congress --

>> but that's a given.

>> that's a given. let's see who he picks because there's a balance between the risk of that and the risk that we're losing the diplomatic war around the world.

>> tommy, you were just nodding your head when pardiss was giving a litany of the moral crisis that was guantanamo , you were spobs person for the nsc. what is your sense of who bears responsibility for this and do you think this is a stain on the u.s. at this point and on the administration ?

>> short answer is yes. i mean, i think that this talk of all these executive actions we may or may not be able to take to close guantanamo makes me a little bit nervous because the provisions in the defense authorization bill that made it impossible to use funds to transfer individuals to the united states that, made it incredibly difficult for the administration to transfer people overseas to other countries, and by the way, those countries aren't exactly wild about having individuals transferred to them make them incredibly difficult. it rendered the facility completely useless because we can never send anybody there again because god forbid they're innocent, there's no way to get them out. at some point along the way this went from an issue where republicans and democrats agreed it was in our national security interest to close the facility. republicans started to see this as a way to attack the president's national security record and i think it's shameful. and it's sad but congress needs to move on this to make any meaningful action.

>> that's the line is that congress needs to move on it and it is true there have been these restrictions put in place. i want to lay them out and then i want to you respond to tommy.

>> the secretary of defense in consultation with the head of the state department can sign waiver. but they have to stipulate to a whole variety of things, basically saying there is a low risk of this person "returning to the battlefield," assuming the person was on the battlefield to begin with, which in many cases is probably not the case. we cannot stipulate, we don't have the work product coming from the intelligence community that will sign a waiver to do this. it is on congress 's doorstep.

>> there are steps that allows the second to certify -- before these restrictions went into place, the united states transferred dozens of people. it sent six people back it yemen . the sky did not fall. there were arrangements the secretary of state made in consultation with host countries. there are dozens of people, our clients included, who are living in portugal, albania, cape verde , who are living there, rebuilding their lives without incident. the administration knows how to do this.

>> can i say that we sent our justice reporter, ryan riley down to guantanamo twice in the last few months and i spoke with him this afternoon. he said the conditions there are just awful. they've closed every common facility. people are isolated, people are dying or close to dying. we need to remember that as we watch a game of political hot potato here that both the administration and the congress are complicit in. i think the person i spoke to at the national security office this afternoon was frank in saying that they hadn't done enough, that the administration had not done enough to push the envelope on the waivers. they admit that. they had to admit that once the president said he was going to look at administrative measures again. well, what are they? they got to do that.

>> and it is absolutely not enough at this point to just look at these cases again. there isn't time for that, as howard was saying. there is a crisis at guantanamo right now the administration spent from 2009 to 2010 reviewing those cases and making decisions and that resulted in --

>> it's almost the decision they couldn't carry them out.

>> people who want to see guantanamo closed and are sympathetic to the president, their read is if the president could wave a magic wand , he would do that but he's hemmed in by congress and crucially the politics. is that your read on it, that they are worried they'd send someone back to yemen and lindsay graham takes to the microphone and it becomes a huge opportunity for everyone to demagogue and the politics of this become terrible?

>> first of all, lindsay graham 's title should be demagogue, not senator. that's all he does these days. it is awful and has no place in this debate. yes, the administration did transfer a number of individual to european countries . in candor, that was some of of the lowest hanging fruit, the safe individual, those who were inopen se innocent or posed no threat. yemen , there was a self-imposed restriction because of instability. the good news is things are getting better , there's more security, we're working better with their forces. but it is a real concern, the idea of transferring 56 hardened individuals, maybe some aren't hardened but 56 individual from gitmo back to yemen with that recidivism risk. it's also a huge onerous position on the secretary of defense to sign a waiver provision basically saying i have a magic eight ball and i can tell threw is no recidivism threat in the future. the president today was clearly angry. he want his administration to do more and that's a good thing. that's a good sign for everyone.

>> can you just respond to that, pardiss? members inside the intelligence community and people inside the white house don't want to let go of the fact that if you don't have enough to try someone, you cannot keep them. and, yes, there may be some risk. we don't know what people do in the future but that is risk that you just have to suck it up and take.

>> i think that is absolutely right. there is no one in the administration who is going to be able to guarantee that this people or anyone never commits an act that threatens the united states , its citizens or allies, which is the restriction that's written in. no one is going to be able to guarantee that and we are making the problem worse by keeping guantanamo open. i just have to say president obama said himself the costs of keeping the prison open are greater than the complications of closing it. i think with yemen we've got to stop looking at that problem as sort of a class of people and look at people individually and make case-by-case determinations of who can be transferred. thank you very much. one of the guys leading the charge to gut financial reform is also leading a cadre of wall street lobbyists down a luxury ski slope in park city , utah. that's next. only