Obama Lays Out Strategy for 'New Phase' in Terror Fight


"His citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team," Obama said. "That's who Anwar al-Awlaki was, he was continuously trying to kill people."

The revelations come at a time when the U.S. has already begun drawing down the number of drone attacks it carries out, which a senior administration official said today is partially a result of a monthslong process of refining the requirements for carrying out a strike.

Obama's liberal allies have also not forgotten his 2008 campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay.

Obama said that he remains committed to closing the facility but he urged Congress to repeal its restrictions on transferring detainees away from the prison, and he called on lawmakers to close it.

"No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States-- ever," Obama said. "Given my administration's relentless pursuit of al Qaeda's leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened."

But, speaking with ABC News, Andrea Parsow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, said that by not moving immediately after taking office to close Guantanamo, Obama may have missed his window in 2008 when there was some bipartisan support for closing the prison.

"I think he was convinced by his advisers that doing so would be a politically risky move at the time. But by not acting, he opened up the space to make things like closing Guantanamo political," Parsow said.

With pressure to close the prison mounting, critics of the administration are unlikely to be satisfied by today's speech.

For more than 100 days, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been on a hunger strike and some are now being fed through tubes, which has only further outraged opponents of the prison.

In the speech, Obama also addressed two scandals that have dogged the administration, particularly in the past several weeks: the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and reports that the Justice Department seized phone records of several journalists in the course of investigating leaks of classified information.

Obama reiterated his pledge to implement the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board, which found "unacceptable failures" in Benghazi. And he also expressed concerns that the Justice Department's investigation of leaks may have gone too far.

"I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable," Obama said. "Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law."

The speech featured a litany of items Obama would like added to Congress's agenda, from repealing the "authorization to use military force" (signed into law just after 9/11 and authorizing the use of the armed forces against those responsible for the attacks) to the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

But at the same time, little time remains before Obama is perceived as a "lame duck," effectively limiting the amount of sweeping policy he can affect from the Oval Office.

"If you're going to get anything done in your second term it's really got to be in the first year, because the next year is an election year. That's what's really dictating it," said Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

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