President Obama's speech on national security has drawn mixed reaction. In his speech president outlined his administration's views on issues that included drone warfare, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and efforts to combat violent extremism. He also expressed opposition to "boundless global war" as a pillar of American foreign policy
The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence panel, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, dismissed the speech as rewarding detainees at Guantanamo who are carrying out hunger strikes. "The President's speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory," Chambliss said in a written statement. "Today's speech sends the message to Guantanamo detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home, even to Yemen."
Chambliss' comments referred to the president's proposed changes to detention policy, which included asking the Department of Defense to find a place to conduct trials of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay inside the United States, lifting a moratorium on transferring Gitmo detainees to Yemen, and attempting to transfer all of the prison's detainees that have been cleared for departure back to their home countries as part of an ultimate plan to shut down the Cuban site.
Human rights groups said moving toward a smaller, more transparent drone program would be a positive step, but called on the president to do more.
"The president still claims broad authority to carry out target killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency," Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "We continue to disagree fundamentally with the idea that due process requirements can be satisfied without any form of judicial oversight by regular federal courts."
Medea Benjamin interrupts Obama's speech
During the Guanta'namo Bay portion of his speech, Code-Pink founder, Medea Benjamin, took President Barack Obama head-on. She demanded that the president close the Guantanamo Bay prison immediately.
On at least three occasions, Benjamin engaged the president, ultimately forcing him off script. At one point, Obama told the peace activist: "Why don't you sit down, and I will tell you exactly what I'm going to do... about Guantanamo." But soon Benjamin was back on her feet again, definitely not satisfied with Obama's plan to send detainees to other countries.
Dennis J Bernstein spoke to Benjamin right after she was released from federal custody, during a live broadcast on Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints Show. Benjamin said what she really wanted to tell the president if she had a little more time, the significance of the ongoing hunger strike by the detainees at Guantanamo, and why she believes the president should be tried for war crimes based on his extra-legal drone policy.
Rob Kall wrote a short article to point out that even when the President literally said, she's "Worth paying attention to" the cameras all stayed on Obama. They didn't shift to show a view of Medea. They didn't show her being hauled away. They didn't give her the attention she deserved, that even the president acknowledged. That includes NBC/MSNBC.
The media didn't show that a lot of people in the audience cheered when Medea said that Obama could shut down Guantanamo now, Kall said adding: "Thanks goodness for Medea Benjamin. She sets an inspiring example of how to stand up to power and make our voices heard. She is a true hero," Kall said.
CAIR Hopes President's Words Translate into Action
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization said today that it hopes President Obama's comments in a speech on national security policy, which expressed opposition to "boundless global war" as a pillar of American foreign policy, are translated into concrete reforms.
While the CAIR welcomed the president's pledge not to sign any legislation designed to further expand the existing Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), which grants the president authority to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban in response to the September 11 attacks, CAIR noted that the administration's interpretation of the existing AUMF is so broad it effectively treats the entire globe as a single battlefield.
"Inaction alone is not enough to walk back the decade-long expansion of executive authorities which have produced devastating and counterproductive war abroad and civil liberties violations at home," said CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas. "The Obama Administration must abandon its bloated interpretation of the existing AUMF to turn his words into meaningful actions."