WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama laid out new guidelines for drone strikes on Thursday and launched a fresh bid to close Guantanamo, warning that a “perpetual” US war on terror would be self-defeating.
Obama told Americans their country was at a crossroads, and must move on from the counterterrorism policies deployed after the September 11 attacks to confront a new era of diverse global threats and homegrown radicals.
He argued that the idea of a “boundless” conflict everywhere radicalism took root, be it in Pakistan or Arab Spring nations or Somalia, was now obsolete.
“A perpetual war—through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments—will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways,” he said, seeking to shape his second term and his own political legacy in a major speech.
“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” Obama said, warning that some post-9/11 tactics like enhanced interrogation of terror suspects had “compromised our basic values.”
But he also mounted a firm defense of his covert drone war as legal and just and the best way to confront terrorism plots against Americans, though warned that undisciplined use of the tactic would invite abuses of power.
Obama said he had signed a new policy directive codifying guidelines for the use of US drone strikes because “to say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”
The guidelines state that drone attacks can only be used to prevent imminent attacks and when the capture of a suspect is not feasible and if there is a “near certainty” that civilians will not be killed.
The rules would follow the same criteria as those used for attacks on US citizens who have aligned themselves with foreign terror groups.
But the administration still has wide discretion to use a covert strategy condemned by some rights groups and civil libertarians.
On Wednesday, the administration said for the first time that it had killed Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen—and that three other US citizens also died in antiterror strikes abroad.
Obama also signaled a major new effort to close the Guan-tanámo Bay camp for terror suspects in Cuba, which he billed as harmful to US interests, too expensive and a relic of a past age of counterterrorism tactics.