WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Thursday will outline his strategy for closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, hoping to defuse a revolt by lawmakers over the fate of an internationally reviled symbol of Bush-era detainee policy.
In a much-anticipated speech, Obama will defend his still-emerging plan to shutter the detention camp at a U.S. naval base in Cuba as he tries to ease concerns that some terrorism suspects held there could be set free in the United States.
Obama will renew the pledge he made in his first days in office to close Guantanamo by January 2010 but will apparently stop short of providing details demanded by friends and foes alike on what will be done with the facility's remaining 240 prisoners.
He will say the United States had lost its way in the fight against terrorism under President George W. Bush and a new approach is needed to repair America's image abroad, an administration official said.
At the same time Obama is speaking, former Vice President Dick Cheney, an architect of Bush's detainee policy and a harsh critic of Obama's efforts to dismantle it, will be at a Washington think tank giving a speech partly titled Keeping America Safe.
Four months into his presidency, Obama suffered a stinging setback on Wednesday when the Senate, controlled by fellow Democrats, blocked the $80 million he had sought for the shutdown until he decides what to do with the facility's inmates.
Democratic lawmakers, worried that some of the prisoners could be jailed or even released in the United States, rebelled against Obama after opposition Republicans threatened to brand them as soft on terrorism.
In his speech, Obama will hold out the prospect that some detainees could when feasible be tried in U.S. courts but will also discuss options such as military commissions and transfer to other countries, the administration official said.
Despite his high public approval rating, Obama faces a major test of his leadership as he tries to quell a controversy that threatens to divert his attention from his declared top priority of rescuing the ailing U.S. economy.
LAYING OUT 'FRAMEWORK'
While most Democrats agree Guantanamo should be closed, they are demanding a detailed plan before approving funds to launch the process.
If the money is not released soon, it could be difficult for Obama to meet his January 2010 deadline for decommissioning the prison, which was authorized by President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and has long been condemned by international human rights groups.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama would lay out a framework for the decisions ahead on Guantanamo when he speaks at 10:10 a.m. EDT (1410 GMT) at the National Archives.
Gibbs said many of the details were still being worked out and the president had not yet decided whether any of the detainees would be sent to prisons inside the United States. European allies have been reluctant to accept more than a handful of the prisoners.
He insisted, however, that Obama would not make any decision that imperils the safety of the American people.
In the first days of his administration, Obama won praise internationally for banning harsh interrogation methods like waterboarding, or simulated drowning, which human rights group call torture, and for ordering an end to secret CIA jails overseas.
But he has recently faced criticism on the left and the right for new national security decisions, including blocking the release of photos of alleged detainee abuse and reviving military commissions created by the Bush administration to prosecute terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo.
Seeking to wrest back control of the debate, Obama planned to address those issues as well.