Obama addresses drone strikes, steps to close Gitmo

US President Barack Obama delivered a speech May 23 on US counterterrorism policy and efforts, outlining plans to restrict the use of unmanned drone strikes and to renew efforts to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. In Obama’s first major speech on counterterrorism since his re-election, he said: “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue, but this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” But rather than introduce new sweeping policies, Obama’s speech reaffirmed his national security priorities.

On drone strikes, the president said that the US will only use such strikes when a threat is “continuous and imminent,” a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against any “significant” threat. Moreover, the Defense Department, as opposed to the CIA, will now take charge of launching lethal drones. The president addressed the criticism on drone strikes, saying that the tragedy of civilian casualties will haunt him, but he must weigh the alternatives. He defended the use of drones when unable to capture individual terrorists.

Regarding Guantánamo, Obama stressed that he cannot close the facility on his own, but is taking steps at getting prisoners out. Of significance, he lifted a moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen. He also called on Congress to lift restrictions on the transfer of terrorism suspects.

The Obama administration’s counterterrorism projects have been highly criticized. Earlier this month, Pakistan declared US drone strikes are illegal, and directed its Foreign Ministry to introduce a resolution against such attacks in the UN.

From Jurist, May 24. Used with permission.

Note that the Obama administration has adopted an Orwellian definition of the word “imminent.” Also note that many drone strikes are already being carried out by the Defense Department, not the CIA.

  1. US citizens killed by drones

    Along with Obama's speech, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Congress acknowledging that four US citizens have been killed by drone strikes: Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen in September 2011; Awlaki's son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also in Yemen a few weeks later; and Jude Kenan Mohammad in Pakistan that same year. Although Holder said that only one, the elder Awlaki, had been taregted, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated that the younger Awlaki's death was justified, and that he "should have had a more responsible father." (NPR, CBS, May 22)

  2. US bombs Pakistan —again

    Pakistani Taliban militants have chosen a new deputy commander to replace their second-in-command, Wali-ur-Rehman, who was killed in a US drone strike in the North Waziristan region May 29. The new number two in Tehreek-e-Taliban, Khan Said,had served as Wali-ur-Rehman’s own deputy. He isa said to have massterminded the 2011 attack on a naval base in Karachi. (Reuters, May 30)

  3. US bombs Yemen —again
    Without giving further details, BBC News reports June 1 that seven “suspected al-Qaeda militants” (presumably meaning AQAP) were killed in two US drone strikes on a pair of moving vehicles in southern Yemen. An exact location is not given, nor the names of the presumed militants. There is no mention of civilian casualties, but of course the line between civilians and combatants in such circumstances is blurred at best.

  4. Ex-drone operator ‘haunted’ by deaths
    NBC’s Open Chennel on June 6 features an interview Brandon Bryant, a former drone operator with the Air Force, who worked from bases in Nevada, New Mexico and Iraq, remotely “flying” drone missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he participated in missions that killed more than 1,600 people, and is suffering from PTSD despite never having actually been in combat…