President Barack Obama prepares to take the stage as he is introduced at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., May 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama prepares to take the stage as he is introduced at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., May 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama defended the use of drones in the war against terrorists overseas, but said that the war on terror has to come to an end like all wars, and called again for the close of Guantánamo, a promise he didn’t fulfill because of the Congress’ opposition.

To hear a US president say that it’s time to think in put an end to the “War on Terror” is a major issue after all this years. He has to count with the Congress again to restrict, change or put an end to the Authorization to the Use of Military Force against the terrorists overseas. Let’s see if this will to end the war on terror is effective and doesn’t finish like the wish about Guantánamo with the president campaigning for the close of the facility with a lot of reasons (see the quotes below) and nothing done.

He recognized the civilian casualties of the drone attacks as a result of a risk that exist in every war and said that those deaths will haunt him as long as he lives, just like the civilians dead in conventional wars. He explain that Congress was briefed about every strike.

About the drones he said:

“America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat.  And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.

Now, this last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes — both here at home and abroad — understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties.  There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports.  Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war.  And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss.  For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred throughout conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives.  To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties — not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold.  Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.  So doing nothing is not an option.”

About the end of the war he said that the levels of risk of a terrorists attacks are now like pre 9/11 and because of that, he said:

“I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.

The AUMF  is now nearly 12 years old.  The Afghan war is coming to an end.  Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self.  Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.  Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.

So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.  And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.  Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue.  But this war, like all wars, must end.  That’s what history advises.  That’s what our democracy demands.”

About Guantánamo, he explained that

“The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  The original premise for opening GTMO — that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention — was found unconstitutional five years ago.  In the meantime, GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.  Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO.

During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people — almost $1 million per prisoner.  And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep GTMO open at a time when we’re cutting investments in education and research here at home, and when the Pentagon is struggling with sequester and budget cuts.

As President, I have tried to close GTMO.  I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries or imprisoning them here in the United States.”

Later, after he was interrupted by a young woman on the audience he said:

“I know the politics are hard.  But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it.  Imagine a future — 10 years from now or 20 years from now — when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country.  Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike.  I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about.  Is this who we are?  Is that something our Founders foresaw?  Is that the America we want to leave our children?  Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

 

 

About Olga Brajnović

Journalist. In my fifties. I've worked for 26 years in a newspaper in Spain. I worked for two years as a stringer and correspondent in the US, and went as a special envoy to other places like the Balkans. Sea lover. Avid reader. Classic Music enthusiast.

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Americas, Middle East, World and Politics

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