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Obama to address Guantanamo prison, drone program

May 20, 2013 at 4:00 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- President Obama will address the U.S. secret drone program's legality and his pledge to shut the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a White House official said.

Obama will address them in a speech Thursday at the Defense Department's National Defense University in Washington -- a speech that will focus on how he intends to bring his counter-terrorism policies in line with the legal structure and values he promised in an address four years ago this week, the official told The Washington Post and other news outlets.

In that May 21, 2009, address, the president argued U.S. national security interests needed to conform with the nation's commitment to human rights and the rule of law.

"I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we cannot also keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values," he said at the National Archives and Records Administration.

But Obama has not always embodied those values in his counter-terrorism policies, rights activists say.

Days after taking office, he banned the use of harsh interrogation techniques critics called torture and ordered the closure of the Guantanamo detainment and interrogation facility, but he expanded the drone program and approved the 2011 drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric liked to al-Qaida -- the first U.S. citizen killed with an unmanned aircraft without charge or trial.

The Guantanamo military brig, established in January 2002 by President George W. Bush to hold detainees deemed tied to opponents of the "global war on terror," still holds 166 prisoners. More than half of them are on a hunger strike to protest conditions.

Obama said at a news conference April 30 he would try again to close Guantanamo, despite persistent congressional opposition.

"I continue to believe that we've got to close Guantanamo," Obama said. "I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."

Obama's address Thursday is intended to follow through on a promise he made in his State of the Union speech Feb. 12 to improve his candor and openness with the public about the administration's counter-terrorism policies, the official said.

Obama said in that address he planned "to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world."

The drone program has become the central part of White House efforts to combat terrorism, but the administration rarely acknowledges the program and Obama has said he will explain the legal underpinnings of drone use.

"While al-Qaida core has been significantly degraded as a result of our counter-terrorism operations, we continue to face a threat from al-Qaida and its affiliates," an official told The Wall Street Journal.

Obama "will review the state of the threats we face, particularly as the al-Qaida core has weakened but new dangers have emerged," the official who spoke with the Post said. "He will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones."

Obama was ready to give Thursday's speech earlier this month, but the administration put it off amid the Guantanamo hunger strike and more recently the Justice Department subpoena of phone records from Associated Press journalists.

The revised speech may address those issues, the Post said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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