[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] delivered a speech [text] Thursday on US counterterrorism policy and efforts, outlining plans to restrict the use of unmanned drone strikes and to renew efforts to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder]. In Obama’s first major speech on counterterrorism since his re-election, he addressed the war on terror: “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue, but this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” Rather than introduce new sweeping policies, Obama’s speech reaffirmed his national security priorities. On drone strikes, the president noted that the US will only use drone strikes when a threat is “continuous and imminent,” a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against any “significant” threat. Moreover, the Defense Department [official website], as opposed to the CIA, will now take charge of launching lethal drones. The president addressed the criticism on drone strikes, noting that the tragedy civilian casualties will haunt him, but he must weigh the alternatives. He defended the use of drones when unable to capture individual terrorists. Regarding Guantanamo, Obama stressed that he cannot close the facility on his own, but is taking steps at getting prisoners out. Of significance, he lifted a moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen. He also called on Congress to lift restrictions on the transfer of terrorism suspects.
The Obama administration’s counterterrorism projects have been highly criticized. Earlier this month Pakistan declared US drone strikes are illegal [JURIST report] and directed Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry [official website] to introduce a resolution against such attacks in the UN. Last month JURIST Guest Columnist David Frakt of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law argued that the Obama administration should release those detainees [JURIST op-ed] held at Guantanamo Bay who have already been declared to not be a danger to the US. Also last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for US authorities to close down the Guantanamo prison camp [JURIST report], emphasizing the continued indefinite incarcerations of many detainees as a clear violation of international law. In March a federal appeals court judge in the US reversed [JURIST report] a ruling on CIA drone strikes and held that the CIA must respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] claim filed by the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] requesting records on the CIA’s drone program.