In advance of Barack Obama‘s counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University in Washington Thursday, senior White House officials briefed reporters on the meat and potatoes of the president’s address. If you don’t have the time to watch the entire speech (you can livestream it here), this is your perfect Cliff Notes guide:
On closing Guantanamo: All those Democratic lawmakers writing letters to the president will be pleased: He’s taking their advice. The president will reiterate his call to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and take up a number of steps to accelerate this process that were recommended this week. Those include: Designating a location in the United States to conduct military commissions to try Guantanamo detainees, lifting his self-imposed moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, and appointing a State Department and Pentagon envoy to personally oversee the transfer of detainees to other countries. "He will reiterate his call for the closure of Gitmo" and emphasize its "cost to our reputation," said a White House official.
On court oversight of armed drone strikes: The president will not wholly endorse the establishment of new powers for federal courts to oversee drone strikes, but he will tell the public he supports a dialogue about how to constrain the executive branch’s ability in this area. Officials specifically mentioned an authority patterned after the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which oversees surveillance of suspected foreign spies. "He will indicate that he is open to working with Congress to review those options," said one White House official.
On codifying drone policies: The president is expected to discuss a new policy guidance he signed limiting the use of lethal drone strikes to targets who pose a "continuing, imminent threat to Americans" and cannot otherwise be captured. A drone strike will require "near-certainty" that civilians will not be killed, and the president will convey his preference that the U.S. military carry out drone strikes as opposed to the CIA. When asked how this policy differed from earlier policies, a senior official dodged, saying the administration was simply codifying best practices for drone strikes that have evolved over the years.
The end of the war on terrorism: Finally, the president will say that the so-called War on Terror "will come to an end at one point," after the administration’s "focused effort" against al Qaeda and its affiliates is won. A White House official added that the president rejects the notion of a "global war on terror," noting that terrorism is a tactic that can never be completely rid from the world.