Obama to Give Speech on Drones, Gitmo 05/23 12:47
President Barack Obama is set to at least partially bring out into the open
some of the U.S.-directed drone program, a key component of counterterrorism
strategy, as he outlines the contours of the continuing threat to American
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is set to at least partially bring
out into the open some of the U.S.-directed drone program, a key component of
counterterrorism strategy, as he outlines the contours of the continuing threat
to American security.
On the eve of the president's speech at the National Defense University, the
Obama administration revealed for the first time that a fourth American citizen
had been killed in secretive drone strikes abroad. The killings of three other
Americans in counterterror operations since 2009 were widely known before a
letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Patrick Leahy acknowledged the four deaths.
The afternoon speech Thursday also is expected to reaffirm his 2008 campaign
promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects
have been held. The speech will announce the resumption of transfers from the
prison to other countries.
The administration is also likely to lift the ban on transferring detainees
to Yemen, which has been in effect since early 2010. It was not clear, however,
whether Obama would be that specific in his speech.
The White House said Wednesday that Obama's speech coincides with the
signing of new "presidential policy guidance" on when the U.S. can use drone
Drafts of the guidance reviewed by counterterrorism officials gave control
of drone strikes outside Pakistan and Yemen to the U.S. military, enshrining
into policy what is already common practice, according to two U.S. officials
briefed on the proposed changes. They spoke on condition of anonymity because
they were not authorized to discuss the changes publicly.
Chief among the speech's topics, officials said, is the administration's
expanded use of unmanned spy drones to kill hundreds of people in Pakistan,
Yemen and other places where terrorists have taken refuge.
Obama has pledged to be more open with the public about the scope of the
drone strikes. But a growing number of lawmakers in Congress are seeking to
limit U.S. authorities that support the deadly drone strikes, which have
targeted a wider range of threats than initially anticipated.
The president is expected to talk generally about the need for greater
transparency in the drone strikes and may allude to the desire to give greater
responsibility for those operations to the military. But he is likely to tread
carefully on an issue that involves classified CIA operations.
The speech comes amid growing impatience in Congress with the sweeping
authority it gave the president after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in
light of the targeting of suspected terrorists with lethal drone strikes.
Republicans and Democrats fear that they have given the president a blank
check for using military force worldwide.
Shifting the responsibility of some of the drone program from the CIA to the
military has given Congress greater oversight of the secretive program and
members say they want even more.
Under the draft guidance, the CIA drone program would remain up and running,
to target al-Qaida in Pakistan's tribal areas, with U.S. troops drawing down in
Afghanistan and concern rising that al-Qaida might return in greater numbers to
The military and the CIA currently work side by side in Yemen, with the CIA
flying its drones over the northern region out of a covert base in Saudi
Arabia, and the military flying its unmanned aerial vehicles from Djibouti.
Obama "believes that we need to be as transparent about a matter like this
as we can, understanding that there are national security implications to this
issue and to the broader issues involved in counterterrorism policy," White
House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday.
"He thinks (this) is an absolutely valid and legitimate and important area
of discussion and debate and conversation, and that it is his belief that there
need to be structures in place that remain in place for successive
administrations," Carney said. "So that in the carrying out of counterterrorism
policy, procedures are followed that allow it to be conducted in a way that
ensures that we're keeping with our traditions and our laws."
In a letter Wednesday to congressional leaders, Holder said only one of the
U.S. citizens killed in counterterror operations beyond war zones --- Anwar
al-Awlaki, who had ties to at least three attacks planned or carried out on
U.S. soil --- was specifically targeted by American forces. He said the other
three Americans were not targeted in the U.S. strikes.
The deaths of three of the four, including al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son,
Abdulrahman, were already known. Holder's letter revealed the killing of Jude
Kenan Mohammad, who was indicted by federal authorities in 2009 as part of an
alleged homegrown terror plot to attack the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico,
Va. Before he could be arrested, authorities said, Mohammad fled the country to
join jihadi fighters in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was actually carried out by the
military, using borrowed CIA drones.
.For months Congress has urged Obama to release a classified Justice
Department legal opinion justifying when U.S. counterterror missions, including
drone strikes, can be used to kill American citizens abroad.
Holder's letter said lethal force will be used only against targets who pose
"a continuing, imminent threat to Americans" and cannot feasibly be captured.
Several lawmakers declined immediate comment Wednesday on Holder's letter or
Human rights watchdogs, however, were not immediately appeased.
Human Rights First legal director Dixon Osburn welcomed the White House's
pledge for more transparency but remained "deeply concerned that the
administration appears to be institutionalizing a problematic targeted killing
policy without public debate on whether the rules are lawful or appropriate."
"The American public deserves to know whether the administration is
complying with the law, and Congress should debate the legal and policy
implications of our targeted killing operations," Osburn said in a statement.
In re-affirming his pledge to close the detention center at Guantanamo,
Obama will push in the speech for a renewed effort to transfer its 166
detainees to other countries.
Obama halted all transfers to Yemen after the failed Christmas Day 2009
bombing attempt of an airliner over Detroit. The convicted bomber, Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, trained in Yemen.
Congress and the White House have sparred since Obama took office in 2009
over the fate of the suspects and whether they can be brought to trial on U.S.
soil. In the meantime, the detainees have been held for years with diminishing
hope that they will charged with a crime or be given a trial.
An aide to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon,
R-Calif., said lawmakers remain concerned that detainees who are released would
rejoin the terror fight. The staff member was not authorized to discuss the
issue on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity.
This week, the Pentagon asked Congress for more than $450 million for
maintaining and upgrading the Guantanamo prison. More than 100 of the prisoners
have launched a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention, and the
military earlier this month was force-feeding 32 of them to keep them from
starving to death.
Obama was expected to make the case that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has
decimated al-Qaida's core, even as new threats emerge elsewhere.
Against the backdrop of last month's deadly double-bombing at the Boston
Marathon, administration officials said Obama will highlight the persistent
threat of homegrown terrorists --- militants or extremists who are either
American citizens or have lived in the U.S. for years. The two Chechen-born
suspects in the Boston attacks were raised in the United States and turned
against America and its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan only in recent years,
investigators have said.
Obama will try to refocus an increasingly apathetic public on security
issues as his administration grapples with a series of unrelated controversies
stemming from the attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, the IRS'
targeting of conservative groups and government monitoring of reporters.
Critics say his national security policies have given foreign allies mixed
signals about U.S. intentions in some of the world's most volatiles areas.
Like the quandaries of drone strikes and Guantanamo, the rise of homegrown
terrorism is nothing new. The Obama administration included homegrown threats
in its National Security Strategy in 2010. However, such threats have increased
as the power of al-Qaida's central leadership has ebbed --- especially after
Osama bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani hideout by U.S. special forces two