Out with the "global war on terror." In with more narrowly targeted counterterrorism policies that persistently zero in on violent extremists at home and abroad.
President Barack Obama on Thursday laid out a counterterrorism strategy for a post 9/11, post-war world that he said seeks to strike the right balance between providing security and safeguarding civil rights in an open society. He said that plan includes more oversight of U.S. drone strikes, shutting down the U.S. detainee center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and safeguarding press freedom.
Rejecting the notion of a boundless "global war on terror" as outmoded, Obama sketched a picture of future terror threats that looks more like the days prior to Sept. 11, 2001 — smaller in scale and more diffuse. He spoke of "lethal, yet less capable al-Qaida affiliates," homegrown extremists, and attacks on businesses and diplomatic outposts abroad. But he said that overall, the U.S. is safer and more secure.
Obama defended the use of airstrikes by unmanned drones to target terrorists as effective and legal. He announced new "presidential policy guidelines" that lay out when such strikes are appropriate, and predicted there will be less need for them by the end of 2014, as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan and al-Qaida poses less of a threat.
The guidelines include not using strikes when targeted people can be captured, using drones only when there is an imminent threat, and setting a preference for military control of the drone program. It is expected the CIA would still control the drone program in Yemen and Pakistan's tribal areas.
Obama said he was willing to look at other ways to further regulate the drone program outside of war zones beyond the current practice of reporting to Congress, including creating a special court system.
The president pledged a new push to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where 166 prisoners have been held for years with diminishing hope that they will be charged with a crime or given a trial.
Obama has long wanted to close Guantanamo, arguing that the indefinite detentions there run counter to the rule of law and are a recruiting tool for terrorists. He has been blocked by congressional resistance to bringing terror suspects to the United States. And the president imposed his own ban on transferring prisoners to Yemen after the Christmas Day 2009 bombing attempt of an airliner over Detroit. The bomber had trained in Yemen.
Obama urged Congress to lift its restrictions on detainee transfers from Guantanamo, asked the Defense Department to find a site in the U.S. to hold military commissions for some detainees, and appointed new envoys to work on transferring detainees elsewhere. He lifted his own moratorium on sending detainees to Yemen, so his administration can do a case-by-case review of those individuals.
Obama said Attorney General Eric Holder will review Justice Department policy on leaks investigations involving the news media, hoping to strike the right balance between protecting classified information and preserving a free press.
In recent weeks, the administration has acknowledged secretly seizing phone records from The Associated Press and reading the emails of a Fox News reporter in separate investigations about the publication of government secrets.
Obama said he didn't want to chill investigative journalism that holds the government accountable.