Dec 6, 2013
Three Questions Left Unanswered by Obama’s Counterterrorism Speech
Posted on May 24, 2013
By Bill Blum
In the midst of his carefully scripted counterterrorism address Thursday at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., President Obama encountered an unexpected speed bump in the form of Medea Benjamin, the highly animated 60-year-old co-founder of anti-war group Code Pink whose track record for crashing high-profile political events and heckling speakers has earned her the reputation of being the country’s most disruptive protester.
As Obama shifted the focus of his wide-ranging remarks from drone attacks to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, attempting to craft a new and more transparent legal framework for the war on terror and promising an ultimate end to it, Benjamin shouted, “You are commander in chief. You can close Guantanamo today!”
Obama tried to quiet Benjamin, but she persisted, demanding to know with regard to the use of drones if the president valued Muslim lives as much as American ones, and if he would apologize to “the thousands of Muslims that you have killed?” Finally, Benjamin was escorted from the auditorium by a security detail, yelling as she left, “Abide by the rule of law. You’re a constitutional lawyer.”
Although the major media thus far have treated Benjamin’s antics as an amusing sideshow, the questions she raised about the legal basis for the administration’s policies are anything but funny or anywhere close to being resolved. Indeed, far from succeeding as a reassuring second-term milestone, the president’s speech left at least three core issues in the war on terror entirely unsettled:
When Will Guantanamo Close?
In his speech, Obama reiterated his desire to close the facility, urging Congress to lift legal restrictions on repatriating those prisoners who have been cleared by the Defense Department to be returned to their homelands. He promised to bring the remainder to trial, either before civilian courts or military commissions.
As for how he might accomplish any of these goals, however, the president offered nary a clue, saying only that “ … once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.”
With no concrete plan for overcoming Republican opposition to closing Guantanamo—the president’s speech has been denounced as a “victory” for terrorists by GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee—and a court system that has thus far allowed Gitmo to withstand legal challenges, the nation and the world can expect the prison, as Chambliss puts it, to “stay open for business” indefinitely.
Who Will Oversee Future Drone Attacks?
In the Justice Department’s white paper on targeted killing that was leaked to NBC News in February, the administration laid out a specious justification for the president or other unspecified “informed, high-level” administration officials to order the execution of U.S. citizens abroad—and possibly within U.S. territory—deemed to be senior operational leaders of al-Qaida or forces “associated” with the terrorist network. Because America is at war, all that was needed for a kill order to proceed was evidence that a targeted individual was “continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.” The paper stressed that an attack need not be imminent or immediate, and the supporting evidence need never be made public.
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