Obama to Urge Trump to Close Gitmo, Shun Waterboarding

President Barack Obama speaks to law enforcement officers from around the country at the Advancing 21st Century Policing Briefing in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex, July 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama speaks to law enforcement officers from around the country at the Advancing 21st Century Policing Briefing in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex, July 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama on Tuesday was expected to defend his prosecution of the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and also urge the Trump administration to follow his lead on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and shunning harsh interrogation techniques, the White House said.

In his final address as president on counter-terrorism, Obama "will be wrapping up his record on national security" in a visit this afternoon to MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, home to U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command, said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

Obama's first priority was to express his gratitude to the troops for their contributions to carrying out what Rhodes called a "different model of counter-terrorism" than that put in place under the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Obama's strategy was to cut deployments and rely on partnering in smaller U.S. contingents in train, advise, and assist roles with local forces, Rhodes said. When Obama came to office, there were about 180,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now there are about 15,000 total, Rhodes said.

The better course was to have "partners on the ground that will have to secure these places for themselves," Rhodes said.

In addition, Obama will renew his argument for closing the detention facility at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where 59 prisoners now remain. During the campaign, Trump suggested that he would expand "Gitmo" to take in "some bad dudes" captured in the future.

Rhodes said that Obama would also seek to influence Trump on observing the "rule of law" by trying terror suspects in the federal courts rather than in military commissions, and by shunning a return to waterboarding and torture in the interrogation of terror suspects.

When asked if Obama had regrets, Rhodes pointed to the civil war in Syria, where Obama's diplomacy has failed to bring about a cease-fire and the ouster of Syrian regime President Bashar al-Assad.

The civil war in Syria, where some 400,000 people have been killed by an estimate earlier this year from a United Nations envoy, is "something he reflects on all the time," Rhodes said of Obama.

The president has "tried every manner of diplomatic initiative" in Syria, but "at no time has there been a clear plan where we could see that it would make things better" to take military action other than the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Rhodes said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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