While much of the media was praising President Barack Obama’s speech on counter-terrorism and closing the military detention center at Guantanamo, others were hearing a reconfirmation of the neoconservative the war on terror, especially an expansion of the drone program and targeted assassinations:
But Obama’s speech appeared to expand those who are targeted in drone strikes and other undisclosed “lethal actions” in apparent anticipation of an overhaul of the 2001 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against al Qaida and allied groups that supported the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed “senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.
But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from “those who want to kill us” and “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat” to “all potential terrorist targets.”
According to the above article from McClatchy, in a fact sheet that was distributed by the White House, targeted killings would continue outside “areas of active hostilities,” and could be used against “a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.” If the president’s intent was to quell the criticism of charges by some legal scholars and civil and human rights groups, he fell more than a little flat, he outright failed.
During a panel discussion on MSNBC’s Up with Steve Kornacki, Buzz Feed corespondent Michael Hastings harshly shredded Pres. Obama speech sating that the president has bought into the Bush administration’s neoconservative world view:
“If you compare this speech to the speech he gave in Cairo, in 2009 or his Nobel Prize speech, you see almost a total rejection of the civil rights tradition that President Obama supposedly came out of… and just an embrace of total militarism,” Hastings said.
“That speech to me was essentially agreeing with President Bush and Vice President Cheney that we’re in this neo-conservative paradigm, that we’re at war with a jihadist threat that actually is not a nuisance but the most important threat we’re facing today,” Hastings continued.
The discussion continued on the ramifications of drone strikes on national security and US image with host Steve Kotnacki, Michael Hastings, Omar Farahstaff attorney in the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative; Perry Bacon, Jr., msnbc contributor; and Kiron Skinner, professor, Carnegie Mellon University.
In response to the president’s speech, the Miami Herald Editorial Board took him to task over the abuse of the power of his office and the need for congress to rein in the president during wartime:
The president attempted to strike a balance between the need to use force against persistent threats and the obligation to overhaul the structures put in place to respond to 9/11 – from the use of drones to the creation of the prison at Guantánamo Bay.
It’s about time. In the 12 years since the attack on the Twin Towers, presidential authority has expanded dramatically in response to the threat, but that does not mean it should be that way forever. It offends the constitutional foundation of American democracy for any chief executive to wield permanent, unchecked authority to order drone strikes anywhere in the world beyond our borders against anyone deemed a suitable target – including Americans – and past time to impose effective limits on such power. [..]
But the speech left many questions unanswered. The 16-page policy guideline the president approved prior to the speech remains classified. And despite all the talk about transparency, the administration is still withholding from Congress legal opinions governing targeted killings.
Despite the build up from the White House fed talking points to the news media, the president’s speech did little to reassure the public that he shifting away from perpetual war with no boarders.