Yesterday President Obama gave a powerful speach on his administration's approach to foriegn policy. It was somewhat overshadowed by a protester who ironically was calling on the President to do much of what he was spelling out in his speech such as closing GITMO
"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," Obama said at National Defense University, according to text of the speech as prepared for delivery. "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 are cutting investments in education and research here at home."
He is directing the Department of Defense ... "designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis."
Speaking of the DoD, he also revealed to us a major shift in the government drone program
Faced with criticism about civilian casualties in attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles, Obama said the United States would only use these drone strikes when a threat was "continuing and imminent," a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against a significant threat.
Under new presidential guidance signed by Obama on Wednesday, the Defense Department will also take the lead in launching lethal drones, as opposed to the current practice of the CIA taking charge.
Perhaps most significant in his speech was this statement:
“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.”
Basically, Mr. Obama is calling for the end of the AUMF
Most importantly, Obama announced that he intends to work closely with Congress to “refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Passed in the aftermath of 9/11, the AUMF gave the president broad authority to carry out military action against “those nations, organizations, or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 2001 attack.
“Groups like [Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula] 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,” Obama said. “Unless we discipline our thinking and 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.”
Rachel Maddow spoke of this in detail last night -- and it is truly worth revisiting. Steve Benen -- her ace blogger -- dissected its importance
It also rare in modern times that a President is requesting his powers be legally removed by Congress. There has long been a slippery slope to Presidential powers, most visibly felt after September 11, 2001.
"The AUMF is now nearly twelve 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 and 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."
This is no small moment. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the United States adopted a war footing -- and never stopped. What Obama is describing here is a fundamental shift.
As of yesterday, The President has asked Congress to revise or remove the AUMF. He is limiting his drone operation and bringing it under the umbrella of the DoD as opposed to the dark area of the CIA. These are big things. I believe that as of May 23, 2013 we took our first step into a post-post-9/11 world. From a 2012 policy review published by Stamford University:
Whether it has been Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln sidestepping Congress and suspending habeas corpus to enable the arrests of scores of Confederate sympathizers, or that great liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt placing his imprimatur on the internment in camps of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, presidents have often used their power as military commander-in-chief in ways profoundly at odds with constitutional protections of the individual. (...)
The nation had barely begun when Congress in 1798 passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, during a time when the Federalist-led government worried both about an actual French invasion and the French Revolution introducing destabilizing ideas into the new American Republic.
Among other things, the acts made it a crime for anyone to criticize the government. This was seven years after the states ratified the First Amendment, which protected the rights of U.S. citizens to make such criticisms. (...)
The crises at hand were World War I, which was winding down, and communism, which was on the rise. Like Adams' law, it was eventually repealed, but not before U.S. citizens had been prosecuted and imprisoned.
During the Vietnam War, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon authorized large-scale government violations of the privacy of U.S. citizens.
Both men pushed the FBI and CIA, through COINTELPRO and other covert programs, to spy on and harass anti-war protesters, civil rights leaders, journalists, scholars and others considered insufficiently loyal to the government's prosecution of the unpopular Southeast Asian war. (...)
While Obama has reversed some of the most controversial Bush "war on terror" policies like waterboarding, the current president has vastly expanded the use of drone strikes. Journalist Tom Junod dubbed Obama's tenure the "Lethal Presidency."
John Yoo, the Bush administration lawyer who became well-known for his legal memos justifying torture, also justified the use of drones in targeted killings, like one in Yemen in 2002 of a U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, identified by U.S officials as an al-Qaida operative.
It would appear that yesterday one President stepped forward to reverse this trend. Let's hope Congress will as well. Yesterday was important. Despite protestation, yesterday was a big fucking deal.
It has been in this manner that, over the last 100 years, the scope of the presidency has grown: Enterprising chief executives innovate new pathways of power, are met with little resistance, and thus the innovations soon become norms. Most presidents since tr have contributed to this process, regardless of party or ideology. No president or political movement has ever reversed the trend, nor really ever tried..