Obama's "Limiting" His Drone Strikes?
By Dennis Loo (5/23/13)
In today's NYT, the lead in to the lead article states "A day after admitting the killing of four Americans in drone strikes, the president will announce new limits on the program of targeted attacks. Mr. Obama also plans to renew his effort to close Guantánamo prison." The article itself is headlined: "Obama, in a shift, to limit targets of drone strikes."
When one proceeds to actually read the article, however, the news regarding drones is that he is transferring control over some of the drone strikes to the Pentagon and out of the CIA's direct control. How is giving some of the drone strikes to the military rather than the paramilitary CIA a "limit" on the use of drones?
The article goes on to cite AG Holder's letter in response to Sen. Rand Paul's complaints about the drone program after Holder stated that the POTUS regarded it as perfectly possible that he would drone to death American citizens: "Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose 'a continuing, imminent threat to Americans' and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted." It is not clear from the article what role if any this letter from Holder plays in Obama's speech today. Perhaps Obama will cite this in his speech? In any case, as I've written previously about this letter from Holder, this is a semantic distinction only.
The article further states:
Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies.
A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists.
He's going to "sharply curtail" drone attacks on countries like Pakistan. Note that this policy guidance in which he says he's going to do this remains "classified," meaning it's not available for anyone in the public and most or all of Congress either.
Officials said they would make a fresh push to transfer detainees to home countries and lift the ban on sending some back to Yemen. The president plans to reappoint a high-level State Department official to oversee the effort to reduce the prison population.
In other words, Obama is going to undo what he had previously done, which was to put a ban on repatriating Yemeni prisoners to Yemen and closing the office that co-ordinated the release of prisoners. That he has decided to do this now is a good thing, but he would not have done these things absent the prisoners' hunger strike and the pressure that has been brought to bear on him, including our full-page ad that is appearing in The New York Times today demanding immediate closure of GTMO. Apparently, he realized that Congress was not blocking him after all, which is what he falsely said was the problem in his last press conference.