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Obama defends use of drones

Obama defends use of drones
Highlights

Code Pink activist confronts him on drones, Gitmo Up to 3,336 killed by drones in Pak since 2003: Activists Washington (Agencies): US...

  • Code Pink activist confronts him on drones, Gitmo
  • Up to 3,336 killed by drones in Pak since 2003: Activists

Washington (Agencies): US president Barack Obama has offered his most vigorous public defence of drone strikes, describing them as legal, effective and necessary. His remarks came as he sought to move America beyond the war effort of the past dozen years, defining a narrower terror threat from smaller networks and home-grown extremists, rather than the grandiose plots of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

obama

"Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror," he said in a speech at Washington's National Defence University. What we can do � what we must do � is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend."

Obama also implored Congress to close the much-criticised Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and pledged to allow greater oversight of the controversial unmanned drone programme.

But he plans to keep the most lethal efforts with the unmanned aircraft under the CIA's control. It is an awkward position for the president, a constitutional lawyer, who took office pledging to undo policies that infringed on Americans' civil liberties and hurt the US image.

"Now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions � about the nature of today's threats and how we should confront them," Obama said. His address came amid increased pressure from Congress on both issues. A rare coalition of bi-partisan politicians has pressed for more openness and more oversight of the highly-secretive targeted drone strikes. In Pakistan alone, up to 3,336 people have been killed by drones since 2003, according to the New America Foundation, which maintains a database of the strikes.

Obama was interrupted during a major speech on national security policy by Code Pink's Medea Benjamin, who shouted from the back of the auditorium about his administration's abusive policies of indefinite detention and drone warfare, leading the president to acknowledge her and even pause to let her finish.

Obama lamented efforts by Congress to prevent the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, saying it "never should have been opened." At this point, Benjamin, who had remained quiet for almost the whole hour, shouted at the President, reminding him that it is perfectly within his power to close the facility on his own.

"Let me finish ma'am," the President said, as he stumbled over the interruption to continue his prepared remarks. "I'm willing to cut that young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it's worth being passionate about," Obama said. "Is this who we are?" Obama asked in reference to his indefinite detention policies. "Is that something our Founders foresaw?"

Media spoke up again when Obama failed to more fully address the killing of Abdulrahman Awlaki, the 16-year old son of suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. What about him? Benjamin asked, as he paused to wait for her to be escorted out by security.

"Can you tell the Muslims that their lives are as precious as our lives?" Benjamin asked rhetorically as she was dragged out. "Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activity? Will you compensate the families of innocent victims you have killed?" "I love my country," she said. "I love the rule of law. The drones are making us less safe." Once she was fully escorted out, Obama said, "The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to."

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