guantanamo detainee (illustrative)_311 reuters.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama outlined plans on Thursday
to limit the use of US drone strikes against extremists abroad and took steps
aimed at breaking a deadlock on closing the Guantanamo Bay military
In a major foreign policy speech after two weeks of fending off
domestic scandals, Obama limited the scope of what his predecessor, George W.
Bush, had called a global war on terror after the September 11, 2001,
"Our nation is still threatened by terrorists," Obama said at
Washington's National Defense University. "We must recognize however, that the
threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11."
Faced with criticism about the morality of using unmanned aerial vehicles to
wage war in distant lands, Obama said the United States will only use drone
strikes when a threat is imminent, a nuanced change from the previous policy of
launching strikes against a significant threat.
"To say a military tactic
is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every
instance," Obama said.
Under a new presidential guidance signed on
Wednesday, Obama said the Defense Department will take the lead in launching
drones, as opposed to the current practice of the CIA taking charge.
drone strike will only be launched when a terrorism suspect cannot be captured.
The United States will respect state sovereignty and will limit strikes to al-Qaida or associated targets, he said.
"And before any strike is taken,
there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the
highest standard we can set," said Obama.
The use by the United States of
armed drone aircraft to attack extremists has increased tensions with countries
such as Pakistan and drawn criticism from human rights activists. Obama acted in
line with a promise to be more open about the issue.Greater security
Obama has faced pressure from both supporters and opponents to allow greater
scrutiny of the secretive decision-making process guiding drone use. He said
earlier this year he wanted to be more open about the issue.
shift came after the Obama administration acknowledged on Wednesday that four
Americans abroad had been killed in drone strikes since 2009 in
counter-terrorism operations in Yemen and Pakistan, including militant cleric
Obama defended those operations, saying when a US
citizen goes abroad to wage war against the United States, his citizenship
should not be a shield.
But in recognition of a debate within Congress
about whether strikes could be launched within the United States, Obama said it
would not be constitutional to do so.
Faced with congressional
opposition, Obama has been frustrated by his inability to carry out a 2008
campaign pledge to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A hunger strike by
103 of the 166 detainees has put pressure on him to take action.
is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a
facility that should never have been opened," Obama said.
While he cannot
close it on his own, he did announce some steps aimed at getting some prisoners
out. He lifted a moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen out of respect for
that country's reforming government.
He called on Congress to lift
restrictions on the transfer of terrorism suspects from Guantanamo and directed
the Defense Department to identify a site to hold military tribunals for
"Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to
justice in our courts and military justice system," he said.
He said he
would pick a senior US envoy to handle detainee transfers, a position that has
vacant since January.
The speech offered Obama a chance to change the
subject after dealing with controversies about his handling of attacks in
Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed, Internal Revenue Service
scrutiny of conservative groups, and government targeting of journalists in leak
Obama included the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his speech, saying that the United States was trying to solve the conflict in part because it could help “reshape attitudes” that foster extremism.
“We are working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians — because it is right, and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region,” Obama said.
Among other terrorist threats, Obama mentioned Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, which he called a “state sponsored network” that engages “in acts off terror to achieve political goals.”