democracynow May 23, 2013
http://www.democracynow.org – The Obama administration has admitted for the first time to killing four U.S. citizens in drone strikes overseas. Three died in Yemen: the Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. A fourth, Jude Kenan Mohammed — whose death was not previously reported — was killed in Pakistan. In a letter to Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that all but the attack on the elder al-Awlaki were accidental, saying the other three “were not specifically targeted.” The admission came on the eve of a major address in which President Obama is expected to defend the secret targeted killing program and announce modified guidelines for carrying it out. We’re joined by Jeremy Scahill, author of the new book, “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield,” and co-producer of the upcoming documentary film by the same name.
President Barack Obama HECKLED During Foreign Policy Speech BY Protester Medea Benjamin
President Barack Obama was heckled during a major foreign policy speech Thursday when talking about closing Guantanamo Bay. According to multiple reports, the heckler was Code Pink protester Medea Benjamin.
Benjamin shouted at least three times and interrupted Obama’s speech. The second time she interrupted, Obama got irritated.
“Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also me being able to speak. And you listening,” Obama said to applause.
Obama conceded, however, that she had a point.
“It’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are?”
Obama heckler speaks out after interrupting speech
RTAmerica – May 23, 2013
President Obama’s speech Thursday on national security wasn’t just a one-sided affair. The president paused multiple times when Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin shouted out, literally stopping Obama in his place and forcing him to respond. Benjamin was demanding answers for the drone strikes that killed four American citizens as well as the end to holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Benjamin is a well-known anti-war protester recognized around the world, and she joined us to talk about why she couldn’t remain silent during the president’s speech.
‘There is no justification to Gitmo’: Barack Obama’s speech on counter-terrorism
RussiaToday – May 23, 2013
President Barack Obama has given a speech – justifying and outlining changes to the national defence policies of the United States. The address is seen as an opening up of America’s security policies. Obama has discussed the legality of drone strikes and the future of the Guantanamo prison.
“That Woman Is Worth Paying Attention To”: Medea Benjamin Explains Why She Disrupted Obama’s Speech
democracynow – May 24, 2013
http://www.democracynow.org – Less than 24 hours after she interrupted President Obama’s major speech on the future of the secret drone war and Guantánamo, CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin describes why she repeatedly interrupted Obama’s address. Benjamin, the author of “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control,” criticized Obama for failing to explain why a U.S. drone in Yemen killed the teenage U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in 2011. “I was very disappointed, he said that his policy is to capture and not kill, that’s just not true. I know personally of many incidents where it would have been very easy to capture people like the 16-year-old Tariq Aziz in Pakistan who was in Islamabad in a well-known hotel, but instead was killed by a drone strike two days later,” Benjamin says. “I think the president is really justifying the use of drones, which will continue to happen under his administration and be passed on to the next.”
Yes Mr President, This Is Who We Are
TheRealNews – May 24, 2013
Michael Ratner and Paul Jay analyze President Obama’s defense of his drone and Guantanamo policies – a policy based on continuing US dominance in the Middle East; Obama’s speech was interrupted by Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin.
Fact Sheet: The President’s May 23 Speech on Counterterrorism
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 23, 2013
In a broad and comprehensive address at National Defense University, President Obama laid out the framework for U.S. counter-terrorism strategy as we wind down the war in Afghanistan. The President provided the American people with an update on how the threat of terrorism has changed substantially since September 11, 2001, as Al Qaeda’s core in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been decimated, and new threats have emerged from al Qaeda affiliates, localized extremist groups, and homegrown terrorists. The President also discussed our comprehensive strategy to meet these threats, including waging the war against al Qaeda and our counter-terrorism efforts more broadly. The following are some of the policy highlights from the President’s speech:
Responding to the Threat: Targeting Terrorists and Leveraging Effective Partnerships
Our response to terrorism cannot depend on military or law enforcement alone. We need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills and ideas. First, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces. In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for security and work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counter-terrorism force that ensures al Qaeda can never again establish a safe-haven to launch attacks against us or our allies.
Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence and the arrest and prosecution of terrorists.
Standards for Taking Lethal Action
Despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain a foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth. In this context, the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones. As was true in previous armed conflicts, this new technology raises profound questions – about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality. The President’s speech addressed many of those questions.
Our actions are effective. Dozens of highly skilled core al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers, and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. These strikes have saved lives.
America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.
Over the last four years, the Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance the President signed on May 22, 2013. As a part of that effort, the President has indicated a preference that the U.S. military should carry out the use of force in active warzones, and beyond.
Oversight and Authorities
We insist on strong oversight. Since the President took office, the Administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Congress is briefed on every targeted strike we take, including the one instance when we specifically targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This week, the President authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, in part to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. In his speech, the President stated for the record that he does not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
When a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens — and when neither the U.S. nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should not serve as a shield.
Going forward, the President has asked his Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions beyond Congress, including the potential for a special court in the judicial branch, or an independent oversight board within the executive branch.
In his speech, the President also stated his intention to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing. The President will engage Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.
Beyond the Use of Force: Diplomatic Engagement and Assistance
Our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism from North Africa to South Asia. Our security and our values demand that we make this effort. But, success requires sustained engagement, which will require resources. Foreign aid amounts to less than one percent of our budget and it is fundamental to our national security. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan that offer an alternative to extremism, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists. Going forward, we will need to support democratic transitions in the Arab World; support the Syrian opposition and isolate extremists; and resolve conflicts in places like the Middle East.
The United States cannot carry out this work if we do not have diplomats serving in dangerous places. Over the past decade, we have strengthened security at our Embassies abroad, and we are implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board that found unacceptable failures in Benghazi. The President has called on Congress to fully fund efforts to bolster security, harden our facilities, improve intelligence, and facilitate a quicker response time from our military if a crisis emerges.
Even as we guard against dangers from abroad, we cannot neglect the daunting challenge of terrorism from within our borders. This threat is not new, but technology and the Internet have increased its frequency and lethality. To address this threat, the President’s Administration did a comprehensive review in 2011. The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the American Muslim community, which has consistently rejected extremism. Our communities must work together to understand the signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work when we respect that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American fabric.
A Balance Between Security and Civil Liberties
Thwarting homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part because of our proud commitment to civil liberties for all who call America home. That’s why we must keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement so we can intercept new types of communication, and build in privacy protections to prevent abuse. That means that even after Boston we do not deport someone or throw someone in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the State Secrets doctrine. And that means finally establishing a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counter-terrorism efforts and our values come into tension.
As the President said in his speech, we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. That is why the President has called on Congress to pass a media shield law that guards against government over-reach. And the Attorney General will review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organization to hear their concerns as a part of that review. He will report back to the President by July 12.
President Obama has tried to close Guantanamo, and transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. In his speech, the President called on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Guantanamo. He has asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions, and he is appointing new, senior envoys at the State Department and the Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to negotiate the transfer of detainees to third countries. The President announced we will lift the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. When possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist judicial review be available for every detainee.
Fact Sheet: U.S. Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 23, 2013
Since his first day in office, President Obama has been clear that the United States will use all available tools of national power to protect the American people from the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its associated forces. The President has also made clear that, in carrying on this fight, we will uphold our laws and values and will share as much information as possible with the American people and the Congress, consistent with our national security needs and the proper functioning of the Executive Branch. To these ends, the President has approved, and senior members of the Executive Branch have briefed to the Congress, written policy standards and procedures that formalize and strengthen the Administration’s rigorous process for reviewing and approving operations to capture or employ lethal force against terrorist targets outside the United States and outside areas of active hostilities. Additionally, the President has decided to share, in this document, certain key elements of these standards and procedures with the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold the Executive Branch accountable.
This document provides information regarding counterterrorism policy standards and procedures that are either already in place or will be transitioned into place over time. As Administration officials have stated publicly on numerous occasions, we are continually working to refine, clarify, and strengthen our standards and processes for using force to keep the nation safe from the terrorist threat. One constant is our commitment to conducting counterterrorism operations lawfully. In addition, we consider the separate question of whether force should be used as a matter of policy. The most important policy consideration, particularly when the United States contemplates using lethal force, is whether our actions protect American lives.
Preference for Capture
The policy of the United States is not to use lethal force when it is feasible to capture a terrorist suspect, because capturing a terrorist offers the best opportunity to gather meaningful intelligence and to mitigate and disrupt terrorist plots. Capture operations are conducted only against suspects who may lawfully be captured or otherwise taken into custody by the United States and only when the operation can be conducted in accordance with all applicable law and consistent with our obligations to other sovereign states.
Standards for the Use of Lethal Force
Any decision to use force abroad – even when our adversaries are terrorists dedicated to killing American citizens – is a significant one. Lethal force will not be proposed or pursued as punishment or as a substitute for prosecuting a terrorist suspect in a civilian court or a military commission. Lethal force will be used only to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively. In particular, lethal force will be used outside areas of active hostilities only when the following preconditions are met:
First, there must be a legal basis for using lethal force, whether it is against a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.
Second, the United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.
Third, the following criteria must be met before lethal action may be taken:
- Near certainty that the terrorist target is present;
- Near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed;
- An assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation;
- An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons; and
- An assessment that no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.
Finally, whenever the United States uses force in foreign territories, international legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally – and on the way in which the United States can use force. The United States respects national sovereignty and international law.
U.S. Government Coordination and Review
Decisions to capture or otherwise use force against individual terrorists outside the United States and areas of active hostilities are made at the most senior levels of the U.S. Government, informed by departments and agencies with relevant expertise and institutional roles. Senior national security officials – including the deputies and heads of key departments and agencies – will consider proposals to make sure that our policy standards are met, and attorneys – including the senior lawyers of key departments and agencies – will review and determine the legality of proposals.
These decisions will be informed by a broad analysis of an intended target’s current and past role in plots threatening U.S. persons; relevant intelligence information the individual could provide; and the potential impact of the operation on ongoing terrorism plotting, on the capabilities of terrorist organizations, on U.S. foreign relations, and on U.S. intelligence collection. Such analysis will inform consideration of whether the individual meets both the legal and policy standards for the operation.
Other Key Elements
U.S. Persons. If the United States considers an operation against a terrorist identified as a U.S. person, the Department of Justice will conduct an additional legal analysis to ensure that such action may be conducted against the individual consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.
Reservation of Authority. These new standards and procedures do not limit the President’s authority to take action in extraordinary circumstances when doing so is both lawful and necessary to protect the United States or its allies.
Congressional Notification. Since entering office, the President has made certain that the appropriate Members of Congress have been kept fully informed about our counterterrorism operations. Consistent with this strong and continuing commitment to congressional oversight, appropriate Members of the Congress will be regularly provided with updates identifying any individuals against whom lethal force has been approved. In addition, the appropriate committees of Congress will be notified whenever a counterterrorism operation covered by these standards and procedures has been conducted.
 Non-combatants are individuals who may not be made the object of attack under applicable international law. The term “non-combatant” does not include an individual who is part of a belligerent party to an armed conflict, an individual who is taking a direct part in hostilities, or an individual who is targetable in the exercise of national self-defense. Males of military age may be non-combatants; it is not the case that all military-aged males in the vicinity of a target are deemed to be combatants.