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.