President Barack Obama Thursday laid out new guidelines for drone strikes abroad and launched a new bid to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, seeking to rein in a “boundless” US war on terror.
In a major policy speech, Obama said the United States faced a new threat from “diverse” terror franchises and the growing threat of home-grown radicals, after putting Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan on the path to defeat.
“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” Obama warned at the National Defence University, seeking to reframe US counter-terrorism posture more than a decade after the September 11 attacks.
“Neither I, nor any President can promise the total defeat of terror … what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger,” Obama said.
Specifically, Obama said he would lift a personal moratorium on transferring Guantanamo Bay inmates to unstable Yemen, and said he would appoint a new senior envoy to oversee transfers.
He also called on the Pentagon to designate a site on US soil to hold military tribunals for terror suspects now at Guantanamo Bay, and said Congress must work with him to close a facility that has stained the US image abroad.
The new effort to close Guantanamo, to try to honour a promise that Obama broke in his first White House term, comes with 103 of the remaining 166 inmates on a hunger strike.
In a rare public discussion of the US covert drone program, Obama said that targeting terrorists with unmanned aerial vehicles was a legal, effective and just military tactic.
But he revealed he had signed a new presidential policy directive “insisting on upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability.”
The guidance includes requirements that a target must pose a continuing “imminent” threat to Americans, and says lethal action can be used only if a suspect cannot feasibly be captured, and there is a legal basis for acting.
It also requires the “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed,” according to a White House fact sheet.
The rules for targeting suspects in places like Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan would follow the same criteria as those used for attacks on US citizens who have aligned themselves with foreign terror groups.