President Barack Obama outlined today a future for American counter-terrorism that looks beyond the decade-long fight against Al-Qaeda.
In a wide-ranging speech this afternoon at the National Defense University in Washington, Obama announced new restrictions for targeted killings, committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and signaled a narrowing of the nation's global anti-terrorism war.
He defended America's use of drones to strike international targets as both legal “under domestic law, and international law” and a just response to the September 11, 2001 attack on New York City.
“And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America's legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Obama said in the speech, which was televised and streamed online live.
“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”
Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged the deaths of four Americans — including suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki — and in the speech today, Obama detailed new policy guidelines that restrain the use of unmanned aircraft to attack areas that are not considered war zones.
It was the first time that the president has framed the legal guidelines for drones within and outside of war zones. Much of America’s use of drones is considered classified, but the president said he would consult with Congress about the possible creation of an “independent oversight board” to monitor drone strikes
“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” Obama said.
The president also re-committed to closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a promise he initially made while running for president in 2008.
He cast blame on Congress for preventing the administration “from closing a facility that should never have been opened,” by passing laws that banned detainee transfers to civilian prisons in the United States.
Heckling from an audience member caused the president to go “off script,” in his own words, as he explained his administration's goals for Guantanamo.
The woman could be heard yelling, “You are the Commander in Chief, you can close Guantanamo!”
Obama, visibly annoyed by the repeated interruptions, said he was open to debate on the issue.
“The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said and obviously she wasn't listening to me in much of what I said, but these are tough issues,” Obama said.
Throughout the speech, Obama returned to a theme of constraining the tools that the government uses — be they drones, Guantanamo or national security leak investigations.
Referring to the recent news that the Department of Justice monitored Associated Press and Fox News phones and e-mails, the president signaled renewed support for a “shield law” that would protect journalists from indictment for publishing leaks.
“A free press is also essential for our democracy,” Obama said.
“I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.”
Read his full prepared remarks HERE.
Graham Kates is deputy managing editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers. He can be found on Twitter, @GrahamKates.