Radio: The Opening of Guantanamo

LenhertIn January 2002, the first prisoners from America’s war on terror arrived at a new hastily-built detention facility at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The camp’s first commander, Major General Mike Lehnert, recalls the challenges he faced in opening what would become one of the most notorious prisons in the world. Should he resign in protest or stay as a corrective? One thing he did was make every soldier under his command read The Geneva Conventions.

Listen to this excellent 10-minute interview.

As Maj. General Lehnert explains:

“Of all my initial guidance from superiors, perhaps the most disturbing was the decision by the Administration that the detainees would be afforded none of the protections of the Geneva Conventions. I thought that the Geneva Convention’s stricture to treat detainees humanely until they had been tried by an Article V Tribunal made sense. My personal decision was to run the facility in accordance with the Geneva Convention wherever possible. Although some of the people in the facility could be the ‘worst of the worst,’ that didn’t absolve us from the responsibility to treat them humanely.”

Force-feeding at Gitmo: ‘What you have said in darkness, shall be proclaimed in light’

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A “feeding chair” at Guantanamo.

Today there will be a public witness in front of the White House at noon to demand the closing of Guantanamo and a restoration of the rule of law. As Ramadan starts, there are 106 prisoners on hunger strike and at least 45 are being force fed.

Luke 12:3 seems appropriate here:  “Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.”

Below is a note from the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in D.C. and Witness Against Torture:

“Where is the world to save us from torture? Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness? Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?”  Adnan Latif, Yemeni Guantanamo prisoner held for ten years without ever having been charged with a crime and cleared for release on four separate occasions, found dead in his cell on September 8, 2012.

July 12 will be day 156 of the Guantanamo hunger strike. As many as 120 prisoners are now participating in the hunger strike. The military admits that 45 are being forcibly fed by tubes snaked through their noses twice a day because they have lost so much weight.

Prisoners have appealed to doctors not to participate in this forced feeding. Obama, who knows force feeding is condemned by the AMA and the United Nations, said on May 17, as he once again promised to close Guantanamo, “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are?”

Apparently it is. And as Andy Worthington says, “We wait and we wait and still nothing happens.” Instead an additional 125 U.S. troops were recently sent to the prison to “contain” the situation.

On July 8 U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed a Syrian detainee’s request to end force-feeding saying she lacks jurisdiction to rule on conditions at the prison. However, she condemned the military’s practice of force-feeding detainees as “painful, humiliating and degrading” and said President Obama has the authority to stop it.

The vast majority of the 166 men have been held for more than 11 years without any charge or fair trial, with no end to their detention in sight although 86 have been cleared for release for years. Nearly two months has passed since Yemeni officials seeking the repatriation of the 56 Yemenis cleared for release agreed to set up a rehabilitation center to help reintegrate them. But nothing has happened since Obama lifted his ban on their repatriation.

Finally, word of the resistance actions is making it to the men at Guantanamo, and making an enormous difference to them. An attorney for several men at Guantanamo recently wrote Witness Against Torture to say:

I was at GTMO all week meeting with clients. I wanted to share with you the following words from . . . Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni national who has been in U.S. custody without fair process since 2002.

Moath was one of the very first prisoners to reach GTMO, where the U.S. military assigned him Internment Serial Number (ISN 028). He has been on hunger strike since February and the U.S. military is now force-feeding him. Moath shared the following during our meeting, translated as accurately as I could from the Arabic:

“I recently had an interesting conversation with one of the Navy officers in charge of my force-feeding here at Guantanamo. He told he was here to make sure I was treated humanely as I was being force-fed. So I answered through the interpreter, saying:

‘What I am enduring now is torture and the American people will tell you as much. Humanitarian organizations, various human rights bodies, as well as American groups such as Witness Against Torture and Doctors Without Borders have all declared that what is taking place at Guantanamo is a violation of human rights and that it amounts to torture.’

The officer’s face changed and he walked away.”

The men at GTMO are fully aware of your work and their eyes literally tear up when I describe the various protest actions you and your fellow activists have undertaken in solidarity with their plight. To say they are grateful would be an understatement.

In response to this moving statement, WAT members Jeremy Varon and Datt Daloisio wrote: “Our eyes fill with tears as we contemplate the significance of what Moath shared: that our actions — however inadequate we feel them to be — help the men at Guantanamo resist assaults on their dignity and confront their persecutors, with added confidence in the justice of their position and the world’s concern for their plight. There can be no greater affirmation of the value of our efforts, nor greater motivation for us to work harder.”

Guantanamo: ‘If I Had My Way, I’d Tear This Building Down’

Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay Indefinite Detention Center, January 2012
Blind Willie Johnson had it right back in 1927 when he sang, “If I had my way, I’d tear this building down.” The U.S. concentration camps on Guantanamo Bay turn 10 years old on Wednesday. As Americans — and as people of faith — we should tear those buildings down.

I’m not naive about who some of the prisoners are being held there. But if there’s one thing the U.S. does extremely well, it’s prisons. We’ve got lots of them. There’s no reason why the men and boys held at Guantanamo can’t be moved into stateside prisons – military or civilian – and held accountable under a clear rule of law.

I want to be part of the civilian team of Americans — with families of international victims — who come to Guantanamo this year with hammers in our hands. It is time to dismantle these concentration camps.

Read below for Abraham’s haggling with God about punishing the innocent with the guilty and further down read Murat Kurnaz’ reflections five years after his release from Guantanamo.

Abraham approached the Lord and asked, “Are you really going to destroy the innocent with the guilty? If there are fifty innocent people in the city, will you destroy the whole city? Won’t you spare it in order to save the fifty? Surely you won’t kill the innocent with the guilty. That’s impossible! You can’t do that. If you did, the innocent would be punished along with the guilty. That is impossible. The judge of all the earth has to act justly.” –Genesis 18:23-25

I left Guantánamo Bay much as I had arrived almost five years earlier – shackled hand-to-waist, waist-to-ankles, and ankles to a bolt on the airplane floor. My ears and eyes were goggled, my head hooded, and even though I was the only detainee on the flight this time, I was drugged and guarded by at least 10 soldiers. This time though, my jumpsuit was American denim rather than Guantánamo orange. I later learned that my C-17 military flight from Guantánamo to Ramstein Air Base in my home country, Germany, cost more than $1 million.

When we landed, the American officers unshackled me before they handed me over to a delegation of German officials. The American officer offered to re-shackle my wrists with a fresh, plastic pair. But the commanding German officer strongly refused: “He has committed no crime; here, he is a free man.”

I was not a strong secondary school student in Bremen, but I remember learning that after World War II, the Americans insisted on a trial for war criminals at Nuremberg, and that event helped turn Germany into a democratic country. Strange, I thought, as I stood on the tarmac watching the Germans teach the Americans a basic lesson about the rule of law.

How did I arrive at this point? This Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the detention camp at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I am not a terrorist. I have never been a member of Al Qaeda or supported them. I don’t even understand their ideas. ….

… a number of American and German intelligence documents from 2002 to 2004 [that] showed both countries suspected I was innocent. One of the documents said American military guards thought I was dangerous because I had prayed during the American national anthem.

Now, five years after my release, I am trying to put my terrible memories behind me. I have remarried and have a beautiful baby daughter. Still, it is hard not to think about my time at Guantánamo and to wonder how it is possible that a democratic government can detain people in intolerable conditions and without a fair trial.

New York Times (8 January 2012) Notes from a Guantanamo Survivor by Murat Kurnaz

What’s the Difference Between Justice and Lawlessness?

The assassination of Osama bin Laden may be President Obama’s darkest hour. In clear violation of international law, under the guise of secret treaties with Pakistan, and most likely after having been manipulated by CIA and Pentagon insiders into thinking he was making the best reasonable choice, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize issued an executive “kill order.”

Bin Laden was indicted on criminal charges related to the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and plans to attack US defense installations. An indictment is an formal accusation based on probable cause. A verdict is the formal finding of guilt or innocence by a jury after trial. But the difference between just punishment and lawlessness is a trial in a court of law.

The standing order in 1998 was to capture Bin Laden and bring him to trial. At some point, that order changed to an assassination order. When a suspected criminal is murdered rather than brought to trial, it’s called an “extrajudicial killing.” Justice can not be served because the system of justice has been circumvented.

President Obama serves at the pleasure of the American people. How will we reflect on our own responsibility, authority, and culpability in the assassination of Osama bin Laden? How will we hold our government accountable?

Here are a few reflections:

“Osama bin Laden – as we all know – was gravely responsible for promoting division and hatred between peoples, causing the death of countless innocent lives, and of exploiting religions to this end. Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”–Vatican Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi on the killing of Osama bin Laden

“Here in the Easter season, we may think back to the final days of Lent, when we heard the Passion read on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and the Church asked us to place ourselves in the role of the chief priests and elders and of the mob that called for Christ’s death. It’s not uncommon, even, to find in Catholic devotional literature meditations in which we compare ourselves with Judas, not in the manner of the Pharisee in the parable of the Publican and Pharisee—’I thank you, Lord, that I am not like this man’—but as a means to recognize the ways in which we ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’

Viewed that way, it hardly needs to be said: When we rejoice in the death of another man, no matter how evil he may have been, our attention is not focused where it needs to be—on our own sinfulness, and our need for God’s grace.–Scott Richert, The Assassination of Osama bin Laden: A Catholic View

And from the Financial Times, an apt critique of America’s deteriorated freedoms:

Mr Obama has abandoned the most outrageous expedients that Mr Bush adopted. By executive order, for instance, he has forbidden waterboarding. But Mr Bush had already adjusted his policies, partly at the Supreme Court’s direction. The framework he left behind is essentially still in place: indefinite detentions, military tribunals, Guantánamo, the right to capture or kill, and the rest. Mr Obama is not just asserting the powers Mr Bush bequeathed, but, as in Abbottabad, is using them.

One could conclude that Mr Obama is an unprincipled tyrant – or that marrying liberal principles and the fight against terrorism is far harder than the president once believed and his critics still insist.

It would be hard to argue (and impossible to persuade the US public) that having located Osama bin Laden the US should have let the law take its course. What would that even mean? But if the fight against terrorism is not a war, the US raid on bin Laden’s compound (to say nothing of the drone strikes in Pakistan that Mr Obama has stepped up so dramatically) had no grounding in international law. These are extrajudicial killings.

Until international law recognises that the fight against terrorism is neither a conventional war nor an ordinary matter of law enforcement, it will continue to be honoured in the breach. US anti-terror law, in the meantime, needs repair in its own right. Stronger Congressional oversight is needed. More transparency is possible than current law provides. And limits on presidential authority should be imposed by law, not volunteered in reversible executive orders.

Most important, Congress needs to put time limits on the post-9/11 powers. Failure to do so in that first sweeping authorisation was a dereliction of duty. Ordinary wars end, and you know when they do. Fighting terrorism is not like that. Emergency powers were justified after 9/11, but allowing them in perpetuity is wrong. They should sunset at two-year intervals and be subject to Congressional renewal.

Jason Goroncy on Resisting Evil

New Zealander Jason Goroncy blogs down under at Per Crucem ad Lucem. I greatly appreciated his riffing off my earlier post Guantanamo: When Will it Get Foreclosed? and providing the deep theological framework necessary for understanding the times in which we live.

Jason is a Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament who teaches theology, church history, and pastoral care, and serves as Dean of Studies, at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the ministry training centre for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. He writes:

Vince Boudreau’s book Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia begins with these words:

There are times and places about which nothing seems more significant than the sheer energy and violence that states direct against basic freedoms. The snippets of information that filter from these dictatorial seasons – tales of furtive hiding and tragic discovery: hard times and uneasy sleep – describe lives utterly structured by state repression. Authoritarians bent on taking power, consolidating their rule or seizing resources frequently silence opponents with bludgeons, bullets and shallow graves, and those who find themselves in the path of the state juggernaut probably have trouble even imagining protest or resistance without also calculating the severity or likelihood of state repression. Such considerations surely influence whether individuals take action or maintain a frustrated silence, and will over time broadly shape protest and resistance. (p. 1)

My long interest in the people and politics of Burma, in particular, means that I think a lot about this kind of stuff, and particularly about how the community of God might witness to and in the midst of such situations where the abuses of authority birth such blatantly evil fruit and where the climate of hope has been beclouded in fear. [Rose Marie Berger’s recent post on Guantanamo: When Will it Get Foreclosed?, for example, recalled such fruit in another part of the world]. Certainly, all human relationships and institutions live under the constant threat of the abuse of power. And even a cursory reading of history will reveal that the Church too has been both victim and perpetrator of such abuse. (I am aware that already I have used the words authority and power interchangeably here. Certainly they are at least related, and the proper understanding and use of each will decide whether the ways being pursued bring the fragrance of life or the stench of death to a situation.)

The question Jason raises is this: How does the Church or Christians resist the Powers’ abuse as described by Boudreau? Do we take action or “maintain a frustrated silence”? And what are the “weapons of the spirit” with which God arms the friends of Jesus?

Jason explores the role of worship and deep relationship with those who are dispossessed in confronting the death-dealing forces in our world.

Read Jason’s whole post here.

Guantanamo: When Will it Get Foreclosed?

Demonstrators with Witness Against Torture march to the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on January 11, 2011. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Please keep in your prayers the fasters who are in prayer at the U.S. capitol between January 11-21 keeping vigil for the closing of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo. As an opening to their prayer vigil yesterday, they engaged in a little prophetic street theater in front of the Justice Department.

In August 2007, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, saying “As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”

In January 2009, one of President Obama’s first official acts was to sign an executive order promising to close Guantanamo within one year. “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he said.

Christians and others are taking the lead in holding President Obama accountable for his pledge.

A group of 173 human rights activists, each wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black hood and representing the remaining 173 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rallied in front of the White House on Tuesday to mark the ninth anniversary of the detention center’s opening and to protest the Obama administration’s inability to close it.

“Detainees, halt!” yelled Carmen Trotta, a volunteer with the group Witness Against Torture, who wore military fatigues as he gathered the protesters in Lafayette Park. “Turn left. Face the home of your captor.”

The rally and street theater were organized by a coalition of groups – including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows – that are calling on the administration to either try Guantanamo Bay detainees in federal court or release them.

“We believe in and promote the rule of law,” said Valerie Lucznikowska, whose nephew was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and who described the military detention center in Cuba as a “living stain on America.”

Last January 2010 passed and we now move into a second year of with 173 men and boys still held in an extrajudicial setting. Obama has learned that the issue “is complicated.” Indeed it is. But it must be done. America’s democracy requires that we “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”

Richard Killmer: Why Torture is Wrong

blackwater1Torture is an assault on human dignity — both the dignity of the victim and the inflicter. While the Obama administration has worked hard to try to reverse the abhorrent policies of the Bush administration on torture, there’s still a long way to go. The Guantanamo detention camp is still functioning. The “black sites” are still hidden and functioning around the world under shadowy CIA-leadership. Rogue dictators and militias still brutalize the innocent. In other words, the insidious underside of human sin is still dismembering people and their families in hidden cells around the world.

Richard Killmer, former head of the National Council of Churches, was profiled in the digital edition of U.S. News and World Report this week. Killmer now heads up the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a leading coalition of faith groups in the U.S. trying to dismantle the torture policies. Killmer was interviewed by Alex Kingsbury in the article The Morality of Torture. This is a great piece to distribute in your church bulletins. It’s short and to the point. It appeals to political conservatives and liberals – and has Bible. Here’s a quote:

Before 9/11, there was national consensus on the illegitimacy of torture. After all, it was President Reagan who made the country a signatory in 1984 to the United Nations Conventions Against Torture, which both banned the practice and called for universal jurisdiction for its prosecution. But the events of the intervening years have changed the nation to the point where Killmer’s message is now that of a radical. “I don’t know what has gone so wrong,” says Killmer, sitting in his modest office across the street from the Supreme Court. “Whatever the political or security issues are, they don’t change the basic moral fact that some things are always, always, always wrong.”

Read the whole article here.

Murder Most Vile: The Guantanamo “Suicides”

gitmo_bugFrom Jan. 11 – Jan. 22, Witness Against Torture is fasting, vigiling, and occasionally committing civil disobedience in various venues around Washington, D.C., to hold President Obama to his promise to close the extra-judicial prison camp at Guantánamo Bay and investigate torture by U.S. military, U.S. intelligence organizations, and U.S. defense sub-contractors.

In the midst of this, Scott Horton’s mind-blowing expose on the Guantánamo prisoner “suicides” that occurred in 2006 was finally published in the March 2010 issue of Harper’s. Here’s the opening:

The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle
When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

(Read the whole story here.)

Horton had barely released his damning account of homicides of prisoners at Camp Delta and the extensive cover up when The Official Response began gearing up in the media.

Colonel Michael Bumgarner, the former Camp America commander who has testified that the deaths of the three prisoners were suicides, commented to Associated Press reporter Pete Yost, “this blatant misrepresentation of the truth infuriates me” (Magazine Raises Questions Over 3 Detainee Deaths.) And the Justice Department is coming down with double-speak too.

But Horton isn’t backing down. For every counter-attack from the military and defense department, he just posts more evidence up at Harper’s. You can watch Horton’s interview with Keith Olbermann here.

I hate to go all 1990s on you, but “This is what democracy looks like.”

Witness Against Torture: A Different Orange Revolution

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Witness Against Torture, along with a number of other groups and individuals, launched a months of public demonstrations calling for the swift closing of the U.S. Guantanamo prison camp. Above, friend and Catholic Worker, Art Laffin stands in front of the White House. The orange jump suits are similar to what is worn by prisoners held at Guantanamo.

guantanamoOne of the speakers at yesterday’s opening event was Mohammed Sulaymon Barre. Barre was released from Guantanamo on December 20, 2009, and returned to his family in Somaliland. Mr. Barre had fled Somalia during the civil war in the early 1990s. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees granted Mr. Barre refugee status in Pakistan where he lived and worked freely for many years prior to his detention. In November 2001, soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities came to Mr. Barre’s house in the middle of the night and arrested him. He is believed to have been sold to the United States for bounty at a time when the United States was offering sizable sums for the handover of purported enemies. Once in the custody of U.S. forces, Mr. Barre was sent to the U.S. military base at Bagram, where U.S. guards abused him and coercively interrogated him before transferring him to Guantánamo. He was never charged with any crime.

Mohammed Sulaymon Barre made this statement this morning:

“I say to the torturers of Guantanamo, their leaders, and the politicians and people of power who back them in Washington: is it not time that you should awaken from your slumber? Is it not time that you should realize what you are doing and acknowledge the mistakes you have made? Time has passed, and time passes quickly. Hurry up and close this prison that has become a blot of shame upon all of America. Do it fast. Do it quickly.

“Closing this place should not mean just the transfer of these men to other prisons. That would only make things worse. Closing it should mean the release of these men and transferring them to where they can be safe.

“And that is not enough. There should be an appropriate and reasonable apology. “To those who say that they fear that those men, when released, would join enemy groups and therefore we should keep them in prison indefinitely, I say: don’t you know that keeping these detainees in prison is the very thing that feeds the animus against the United States? I say to those who believe in these notions: the thing you fear is the very thing you cause by your wrongful actions. This is what constitutes the real threat to the national security of the United States, not the closing of the prison and the release of detainees.  Peace be upon you.–Mohammed Sulaymon

Follow and support the Witness Against Torture events here.

Obama Defends Closing Guantanamo and Cleaning Up Bush-Cheney Mess

breakingthesilence_dianna_fCleaning up the Bush-Cheney mess will take some time and take careful and responsible work by this new administration. They must be guided by humanitarian principles and the clear separation of powers and protection of citizen’s rights outlined in the Constitution.

If you haven’t preached a sermon on what’s wrong with torture, I suggest you get on it! (Read Back to Basics: T is for Torture to understand why we need to teach from the pulpit that torture is a sin.)

Preach with the lectionary in one hand and President Obama’s national security speech in the other. Consider using Psalm 1, if you’re using the Revised Common Lectionary:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

Or Ephesians 1:20-21, on this Christ who was tortured, if you are using the Ascension readings:

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

Following is an exerpt from the text of President Obama’s speech this morning on national security issues, as released by the White House.

We’re currently launching a review of current policies by all those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers — especially when it comes to sensitive administration — information.

Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the “state secrets” privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It’s been used by many past Presidents — Republican and Democrat — for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that’s why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before, there must be proper oversight over our actions.

On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it’s uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don’t know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.

Read his whole speech here.