Obama To Limit Drone Strikes, Restart Guantanamo Closure

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WASHINGTON, (UPI) —  The White House plans to send some Guantanamo Bay inmates back to Yemen in a new push to close the prison, officials said President Obama will say Thursday.

The president will also announce new limits to unmanned combat drone strikes, the officials said of the program that has been central to White House efforts to combat terrorism.

Obama’s 2 p.m. speech at the Defense Department’s National Defense University in Washington will lay out how he intends to bring his counter-terrorism policies in line with the legal structure and values he promised four years ago this week.

In a 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.

As part of the new phase of restrictive drone use — a reversal of the administration’s expansion of the program begun by President George W. Bush in 2004 — the administration formally acknowledged for the first time it killed four U.S. citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress in a letter the only specifically targeted American was Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric and al-Qaida member killed in a Sept. 30, 2011, drone strike in Yemen.

The other Americans were Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and al-Qaida propagandist Samir Khan, both killed in Yemen, and Jude Kenan Mohammad, killed in Pakistan.

Mohammad, 20, was a reputed member of a Raleigh, N.C., jihad group and was on the FBI’s most-wanted list for supporting terrorism.

A new “presidential policy guidance” Obama signed will sharply restrict instances when combat drones can be used in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which are not overt war zones, The New York Times reported.

The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies as well as U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists, the newspaper said.

The standard could end so-called signature strikes, the Times said. Signature strikes are attacks on unknown people whose behavior patterns, or intelligence “signatures,” suggest involvement in terrorist activities.

Administration critics, including some two dozen Democratic lawmakers, say signature strikes have resulted in many civilian casualties.

In his address Obama plans to renew his long-stalled effort to close the U.S. military prison within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, saying he’ll end a ban on sending detained suspected Yemeni terrorists back to Yemen, officials told several news organizations.

To that end, the president plans to reappoint a high-level State Department official to oversee an effort to reduce the prison population, officials said after White House spokesman Jay Carney alluded to the possibility Wednesday.

“I would say that one of the options is reappointing a senior official at the State Department to renew our focus on repatriating or transferring those detainees,” Carney told reporters.

Of 166 detainees held in Guantanamo, 86 have been cleared for transfer, including 56 from Yemen.

Transfers to Yemen could still be months away, an official told The Wall Street Journal.

Washington is also talking with Kabul about transferring Afghan detainees from Guantanamo, the Journal said. Human-rights advocates told the Journal they believed these detainees could be among the first transferred.

At least 102 Guantanamo detainees are on a hunger strike to protest their confinement and the slow pace of transfers.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who has led congressional efforts to block the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, told the Journal past Guantanamo detainees returned to the terrorist battlefield in Yemen.

“We know there is significant al-Qaida activity in Yemen,” she said. “I obviously have some serious questions about Yemen.”

Obama is expected to say Thursday he foresees an unspecified time when the “global war on terror” will all but be over, officials told the Times.

He will speak of a time when al-Qaida is so incapacitated wartime authority will end, the officials said.

A Pentagon official last week indicated the war on terror, triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, would likely continue for a decade or two, the Times said.

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  • Old Wolf

    I’ll believe that from Obama’s administration when I see it, get independent verification that it’s occurred, and probably about the time they create another ‘crisis’ that they claim to have come due to the closure of Guantanamo and the end of the drone strikes.