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Obama: Continued Vigilance Critical in Protecting American People

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2009 – The United States must remain vigilant to defend against terrorists and other potential threats such as Iran, President-elect Barack Obama said this morning on ABC News’ “This Week.”

Obama said his top priority as president will be ensuring the American people are safe. “Homeland security always has to be our number one priority,” he said. “We are going to have to stay vigilant. That is something that does not change from administration to administration.”

Iran will be among the big security challenges Obama said he will have to confront. “We have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah, but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” he said.

The president-elect also expressed concern that the terrorist bombings in Mumbai, India, in November could spark copycat attacks. “So we are going to have to be vigilant in terms of our intelligence, we are going to have to make sure that we are more effective in terms of anticipating some of these issues and we have got to continue putting pressure on al-Qaeda,” he said.

Obama said he believes the United States has made progress in improving security, “but those dangers are still there, and those dangers are not immediately going to go away.”

He noted the difficulty of defending against unconventional threats. “If you have small group of people in today’s world with today’s technology who are intent on doing harm and are willing to die, that is something that is always going to be a challenge,” he said.

While critical of some interrogation practices, Obama said he recognizes the importance of good intelligence for national security. “My general view is that our United States military is under fire and has huge stakes in getting good intelligence,” he said.

“And if our top Army commanders feel comfortable with interrogation techniques that are squarely within the boundaries of rule of law, our constitution and international standards, then those are things that we should be able to.”

Obama also reiterated his commitment to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The challenge, he said, is to do it in a way that adheres to the law and spirit of the law but doesn’t release people “intent on blowing us up.”

“I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution,” he said.

“That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values.”

Obama said the closure won’t likely happen during his first 100 days as president. “I think it's going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do," he said.

Closing the facility “is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize,” he said.

"Part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication,” he said. “And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it's true.”

So the challenge, he said, is “how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."

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