By David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- President Obama outlined new rules Thursday for drone
strikes and renewed efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
while calling on policy makers to re-think the battle against
The president discussed the war in Afghanistan,
the attack on Benghazi, and ongoing investigations of national security
news leaks, while questioning the concept of the "global war on terror"
that has prevailed since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
a decade of experience now to draw from, this is the moment to ask
ourselves hard questions about the nature of today's threats, and how we
should confront them," Obama said during his speech at National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
The president spent much of his long speech on two counterterrorism projects that have drawn sharp attacks from civil libertarians, drone strikes and the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Under a new set of rules he signed this week, Obama said drone attacks will be confined to known terrorists. "Before
any strike is taken," he said, "there must be near-certainty that no
civilians will be killed or injured -- the highest standard we can set."
speech came a day after the Obama administration revealed that drone
strikes have killed four Americans, all terrorist suspects, in
counterterrorism operations since 2009. Obama defended the plan to "take
out" American-born Anwar al-Awlaki, saying "he was continually trying to kill people."
also defended drone strikes, saying they "have saved lives" by
eliminating terrorists, and are a legal part of a "just war" against
There have been civilian casualties
that "haunt" him, Obama said, but that risk must be balanced against the
threat from terrorist groups that are specifically targeting civilians.
"Doing nothing is not an option," he said.
president also stressed that members of Congress have been apprised of
every drone strike, and that he is open to the possibility of some sort
of independent oversight, such as a special court or a review panel.
describing his plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Obama said he
is lifting his own moratorium of transferring detainees to Yemen. He
also said a new State Department official will be appointed to talk with
other nations about taking in prisoners.
Obama had pledged
to close the facility during his first year in office. But his efforts
ran afoul of congressional Republicans who opposed trials of terrorism
suspects in the United States, and of other countries that refused to
take some prisoners.
Some detainees at the prison, meanwhile, are in the midst of a hunger strike, protesting their conditions.
his speech, Obama called on Congress to lift some of those
restrictions, and to establish a facility in the United States for
detention and military trials of some Gitmo suspects.
Obama won applause from the crowd when he said, "there
is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from
closing a facility that should never have been opened."
The Gitmo discussion also drew the shouts of at least one protester, forcing Obama at one point to say: "Let me finish."
Obama later said the woman's protests reflected the fact that "these are tough issues."
The speech featured a number of presidential demands of Congress, including
more money for security of U.S. facilities overseas. The proposal flows
from the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. building in Benghazi that killed for
Americans, including ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
Republicans are investigating the Obama administration over Benghazi,
claiming officials tried to cover up the involvement of a terrorist
organization and were unprepared for such an attack.
Obama, meanwhile, urged Congress to approve a federal "shield law" that would help reporters protect confidential sources. The
proposal stems from a Justice Department seizure of records from the
Associated Press and Fox News in connection with investigations of news
Obama said he respects the need for investigative
journalism because it helps hold government accountable. He also said
the government has to strike a balance between press freedom and the
need to protect national security secrets.
In the meantime, Obama
said he asked Attorney General Eric Holder to review the Justice
Department guidelines on investigations that involve reporters. Holder
is scheduled to report back to the president by July 12.
Obama did not call predecessor George W. Bush by name, he did criticize
some Bush counter-terrorism proposals, including treatment of detainees
and what he called "torture." Obama said his administration changed
many of those policies, and has improved its relations with other
nations, particularly in the Muslim world.
The threat of
terrorism still exists, Obama said, citing Benghazi, the April bombings
at the Boston Marathon and the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.
But the nature of the terrorist threat has changed since 9/11, Obama said.
the al-Qaeda organization that carried out that attack has been
severely damaged -- including the death of leader Osama bin Laden during
a U.S-led raid into Pakistan in 2011 -- new threats come from al-Qaeda affiliates, localized extremist groups and home-grown terrorists.
these kinds of threats requires more than military action and law
enforcement, he said, citing better diplomacy with other nations,
intelligence sharing, more foreign aid and efforts to seek peace in the
"Force alone cannot make us safe," Obama said.
changes have made the 2001 war authorization that Congress passed after
9/11 nearly obsolete, Obama said, and he said lawmakers should
eventually repeal it.
"Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue," Obama said. "But this war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."
many ways, Obama's national security speech was a follow-up to his Feb.
12 State of the Union Address in which he pledged to be more open
regarding his counterterrorism policies.
That night, Obama
said that "in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress
to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of
terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and
balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American
people and to the world."