Digital Report: President Obama Delivers National Security Speech

President Barack Obama details counterterrorism priorities, addresses heckler during speech.
10:04 | 05/23/13

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Transcript for Digital Report: President Obama Delivers National Security Speech
This is a special report from ABC news. I'm Tanya Rivero in New York with this ABC news digital special report hello to. Those of you watching on Yahoo! and Hulu as well as The president is speaking now for. Forms we're going to listen and 91. Standing guard in the earliest days of the republic. And contemplating the future warfare here in the 21 century. For over two centuries. The United States has been bound together by that. Founding documents -- define who we are as Americans and served as -- compass to every type of change. Matters of war and peace are no different. Americans are deeply ambivalent about war. But having fought for our independence. We know a price must be paid for free. From the civil war to our struggle against fascism. On through the long twilight struggle of the Cold War. Battlefields have changed and technology has evolved but our commitment. To constitutional principles. -- -- every war. And every war. Has come to an end. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall. A new dawn of democracy took cold. Abroad and a decade of peace and prosperity arrived here at home and for a moment it -- at that point percent through would be a tranquil time. And then on September 11 2001. We were shaken out of complacency. Thousands were taken profits. There's clouds of fire and -- and -- descended upon the sun filled morning. This was a different kind of war. No armies came to our shores. -- our military was not the principal target. Instead a group of terrorists came to kill as many civilians as they could. And so our nation went to war. We have now been at war for well over a decade. -- will review the full history. What is clear is that we quickly drove al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan but then shifted our focus and began a new war in Iraq. -- this -- Significant consequences for fight against al-Qaeda. Our standing in the world and to this day our interests in a vital region. Meanwhile we've strengthened our defenses. Hardening targets just tightening transportation security. Giving law enforcement new tools to prevent terror. Most of these changes were sound. Some cause inconvenience. But some like expanded surveillance -- difficult questions about the balance that we strike between our interest in security. And our values of privacy. And in some cases I believe we compromise our basic balance. By using torture to interrogate our enemies. And detaining individuals in a way -- -- cover. To the rule of law. So after I took office. We stepped up war against al-Qaeda but we also sought to change its course. We relentlessly targeted. All qaeda's leadership. We ended the war in Iraq. And brought nearly a 150000 troops -- We pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan. Then -- -- start training of Afghan forces. We unequivocally ban torture. Affirmed our commitment to civilian courts. Worked to align our policies with the rule of law. And expanded our consultations with congress. Today Osama bin Laden is -- -- most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large scale attacks on the United States. And our homeland is more secure. -- of our troops are in harm's way and over the next nineteen months they'll continue to come home. Our alliances -- strong and so is our standing in the world. In some. We are safer because of our efforts. I make no mistake our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From -- -- to Boston we have been tragically reminded of that truth. We have to recognize that. The threat has shifted and a ball from the one that came to our shores on -- out. What a decade. Of experience now to draw wrong. This is the moment. To ask ourselves hard questions. About the nature of today's threats. And how we should confront. These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war. Helping to explore our deficits and constraining our building to nation build here at all. Our service members. And their friends. Who sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7000 Americans a -- ultimate sacrifice. Many more left a part of themselves on the battlefield. Or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects. The decisions that we are making now. Will define the type of nation and world that we leave -- our children. So America's at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle. Or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of warning that no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst. Of continual warfare. Neither -- nor any president. Can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lives in the hearts of some human beings. More stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can't do. What we must do. His dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold. All the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy we have to make decisions based not on fear. But on harder and what's. That begins with understanding. The current threat that we face. Today the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. And pockets -- is on the path to defeat. The remaining operative spend more time thinking about their own safety been plotting against us. They did not directly attacks in -- Gaza or Boston. They've not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11. Instead what we've seen is the emergence. Of various al-Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen -- Iraq. From -- area to North Africa. The threat today as more diffuse -- Al qaeda's affiliates. In the Arabian Peninsula. -- to wait Pete the most active and plotting against our home. And while none of HUAP's efforts approach the scale of nine elevenths. They have continued to plot acts of terror like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2000 and much. Unrest in the Arab world is also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya. And Syria. But here -- there are differences from -- out. In some cases we continue to confront state sponsored networks like. Hezbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Other of these groups are simply collections of local malicious or extremists. Interest -- seizing territory. And while we are vigilant for signs for these groups may pose a transnational threat most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where there base. And that means will face more localized threats. Like from what we song -- God's. -- the BP oil facility in Algeria in which local operatives. Perhaps in loose affiliation with regional networks. Want periodic attacks against western diplomats. Companies. And other soft targets. -- resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations. And finally we face -- real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it's -- sure -- temple and Wisconsin. A plane flying into a building in Texas or the extremists who killed a 168 people -- the federal building in Oklahoma City. Americans confronted many forms of violent extremism. In our history. Deranged or alienated individuals. Often US citizens or legal residence. Can do enormous damage. Particularly when inspired by a larger notions. Of violent Jihad. That pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood and the bombing. Of the Boston Marathon. So that's the current right. -- people. -- less capable al-Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorists. We have to take these threats seriously and do all we -- to confront them but as we shape our response. We have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before -- -- -- In the 1980s we lost Americans to terrorism and our embassy in Beirut. That our marine barracks in Lebanon. -- cruise ship at sea at a Disco in Berlin. And on a pan am flight. Flight one -- three over -- In the 1990s we lost Americans to terrorism of the World Trade Center. And our military facilities in Saudi Arabia and that our embassies in Kenya. These tax roll brutal mayoral deadly. And we learned that left unchecked. These threats can -- But it -- we have smartly and proportionally. These threats may not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11. Moreover we have to recognize that these threats don't arrives in the back. Most. Though not all of the terrorism we faced is fueled by common ideology. -- belief by some extremists but islamists and conflict with the United States and the west -- that violence against western targets including civilians is justified in pursuit. A larger calls. Of course whose ideology is based on a -- For the United States is not at war with -- -- And this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims. Who -- the most frequent victims of terrorist attacks. Nevertheless this ideology persists. In an age when. Ideas and images can travel the globe in an instant. Our response to terrorism can't. Depend on military or law enforcement along we need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills. The battle of ideas. So what I want to discuss here today is the components of such a comprehensive. Counterterrorism strategy. First. We must finish the work of defeating al-Qaeda and its associated forces. In Afghanistan we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility. For that country secured. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government. To train security forces and sustain a counterterrorism force which insures that al-Qaeda can never again establish a safe haven. To launch attacks against us. -- -- For beyond Afghanistan. We must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror. But rather as a series of persistent targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases this -- -- -- partnerships with other countries. Already thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen we are supporting security forces -- to reclaim territory from a QAP. -- In Somalia we -- a coalition of African nations push -- Bob. Out of its strongholds. And Molly were providing military aid to French led intervention. To push back al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and help people Molly. Reclaim the future. Much of our best counterterrorism cooperation result in the gathering and sharing of intelligence. The arrest. And prosecution of terrorists. That's -- Somali terrorists apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now. In a prison in New York. That's how we work -- European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark. To Germany to United Kingdom. That's -- intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped to stop a cargo plane from being blown up for the Atlantic. These partnerships work. But despite our strong preference for the detention. And prosecution of terrorists. Sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain foothold. In some of the most distant and unforgiving places on -- They take refuge in. Remote tribal regions. They hide in caves. And walled compounds. They train in empty dozens. And rugged mountains. In some of these places such as parts of Somalia and Yemen. The state only has the most tenuous reach into the territory. In other cases the state lacks the capacity or will. To take action. And it's also not possible for Americans simply deploy a team of special forces to capture. Every terrorist. Even when such an approach may be possible. There are places where would -- -- profound risks to our troops and local civilians. Where a terrorist compound. Cannot be breached without triggering a firefight with surrounding tribal communities for example to pose no threat to us. Times one putting US boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis. To put another way our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden. Cannot be the -- The risks in that case -- immense. The likelihood of capture. Although that was our preference was remote. Given the certainty there are folks would. -- resistance. The fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties or. Embroiled in extended firefight. -- a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our special forces. But it also dependent on some walk. And it was supported. By. Massive infrastructure in Afghanistan. And even -- the cost of our relationship with pockets. And the backlash among the -- -- public over. Encroachment on their territory was so severe that we are just now beginning to rebuild. This important partnership. So -- is in this context. -- the United States has taken lethal. Targeted action. Against al-Qaeda and its associated forces. Including whip remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drops. As was true in previous armed conflicts. This new technology raises profound questions. About who was targeted -- -- About civilian casualties and the risk of creating new enemies. About the legality of such strikes under US and international law. About accountability. And morality. Let me address these questions. To begin would. Our actions are -- fact. Don't take my word for. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden's compound we found that but he wrote we could lose the reserves. To enemy's air strikes. We cannot fight airstrikes would explosives. Other communications from Al -- operatives confirm this as well. Dozens of highly skilled al-Qaeda commanders trainers bomb makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots. Have been disrupted the would have targeted international aviation. US transit systems European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put these strikes have saved lives. Moreover. America's actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law and international law the United States is at war -- al-Qaeda. The toll bonds and their associated forces. We regret. War with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could. If we did not stop them first. So this is a just war. A war waged proportionally. In last resort and in self defense. And yet as our fight enters a new phrase. America's legitimate claim of self defense. Cannot be the end of the discussion. To -- military tactic is legal. Or even a factor. There's not to say it is wise. Or moral in every instance. For the same progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that how. -- risk abusing. That's why -- over the last four years. My administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists. Insisting -- clear guidelines. Oversight and accountability that is now codified. And presidential policy guidance that I signed yesterday. In the Afghan war theater. We must scramble continue to support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 4014. And that means we will continue to take strikes against high value al-Qaeda targets but also against forces there are massing to support attacks on coalition forces. But by the and the point porting. We will no longer have the same need for Force Protection. And the progress we've made against core al-Qaeda will reduce the need for -- -- strikes. Beyond. The Afghan theater. We only target al-Qaeda and its associated forces. And even -- the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists our preference is always to detain. Interrogate and prosecute. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose. Our actions are bound by consultations with partners and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals we act against terrorists who pose a continuing. An imminent threat to the American people. And when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike -- -- There must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured. The highest standard we can -- On this last point is critical because much of the criticism about drone strikes. Book here at home and -- brought. Understandably senators on reports of civilian casualties. There's wide gap. Between US assessments of such casualties and non governmental reports. Nevertheless. It is -- -- fact. That US strikes have resulted in civilian casualties. A risk that exists. In every war. For the families of -- civilians no words or legal construct. Can justify their -- For me in those in my chain of command. Those deaths will -- us as long as we let. Just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred to -- conventional fighting in Afghanistan. In Iraq. But as commander in chief I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks. Would invite far more civilian casualties. Not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad but also in the very places. Like some and Kabul and Mogadishu's. -- terrorists seek a foothold. Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians and and the death -- from -- acts of terrorism against Muslim dwarfs any estimate. The civilian casualties from drone strikes. So doing -- not an option. Where foreign governments cannot. Or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory. The primary alternative to targeted lethal action. Would be the use of conventional military options. As our party said even small special operations. Carry enormous risks. Conventional air power -- missiles are far less precise than -- And are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage. And invasions of these territories. Lead us to be viewed as occupying armies. Unleash a torrent of unintended consequences. Are difficult to contain. Result him. Large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict. So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground. Is less likely to result in civilian deaths. Or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world. The results would be more US deaths more black -- down. More confrontations -- local populations and an inevitable mission creep in support of such rates. That could easily escalate in the new wars. Yes the conflict -- -- al-Qaeda like all armed conflict. Invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us. And not the people may -- -- We are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss -- -- -- Our efforts must. Be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations. In Vietnam hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle -- border. In Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the extraordinary courage and discipline of our troops thousands of civilians have been killed. So -- conventional military action. Nor waiting for attacks to occur. Offers moral -- part. And neither does a sole reliance. All law enforcement in territories -- have no functioning police for security services. And indeed have no functioning all. Members not to say but the risks. Are not real. Any US military action in for -- Risks creating more enemies. And impacts public opinion overseas. Moreover our laws constrain the power of the president. Even during wartime. And I've taken an oath to defend the constitution of the United States. The very precision of drone strikes and unnecessary secrecy. Often in -- in such actions. Can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny. That a troop deployment invites. You can also leave -- president and his team to view drone strikes as a cure all. For terrorism. The for this reason I've insisted on strong oversight. Of all. Legal action. After I took office my administration began briefing all strikes outside. Of Iraq and Afghanistan to be appropriate committees of congress. Let me repeat that. Not only did congress authorized the use supports. It is briefed on every strike but America -- Every -- That includes -- one instance where we targeted. A targeted an American service. On moral law the chief of external operations for AQAP. This week I authorized the classification of this action. And the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes to facilitate transparency. And debate on this issue. And to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims that have been made. For the record. I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government. To target and kill any US citizen. -- a -- or what -- -- -- without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over US -- But when a US citizen goes abroad to wage war against America. And is actively plotting to kill US citizens. And went. Neither the United States nor -- partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot. His citizenship should know more serve as a shield -- a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team. That's who I'm -- he wants. He was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two US bound -- reports. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. -- Farouk -- Blumenthal the Christmas Day bomber went to Yemen in 2009. -- -- hosted him. Approved his suicide operation helped him take a martyrdom. Video to be shown after the attack. In his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American -- I would have detained and prosecuted a locking. If we captured him before he carried out a plot but we could. And as president I would have been derelict in my duty had -- not authorize the strike. It took him out. Of course the targeting of many American. Raises constitutional issues that are not present in other strikes. Which is why my administration submitted information about a -- into the Department of Justice months before or what he was killed. And briefed the congress. Before the strike as well. But the high threshold that we've set for taking legal lethal action applies to all potential. Terrorist targets regardless of whether or not there are American citizens. This threshold respects -- inherent dignity. Of every human life. -- the decision to put our men and women in uniform in harm's way. The decision to use force against individuals or groups. Even against a sworn enemy of the United States. Is the hardest thing -- do was present. But these decisions must be made. Given my responsibility to protect the American people. For going forward. I've asked my administration to review proposals to extend oversight complete collections. Outside of war zones. The go beyond our reporting to congress. Each option has virtues in theory but poses difficulties in practice. For example the establishment of a special court. To evaluate and authorize Liu who legal action. Has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process. But raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial report. Another idea of it's been suggested the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch. -- those problems but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy. In -- national. Security decision making without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. But despite these challenges I look forward. To actively engage in congress to explore these and other options for increased oversight. I believe our prevent the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion we need to have about. A comprehensive. Counterterrorism strategy because for all the focus on the use of force. Force alone cannot make us -- we cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes -- And in the absence of -- strategy the reduces the wellspring of extremism. A perpetual war. Through drones -- special forces or troop deployments. Well prove self defeating. And Alter our country and troubling -- So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts defeat extremists. From North Africa. To salvation. As we've learned this past decade. This is a vast and complex undertake. We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred. Moreover -- two countries are alike. And some won't -- go chaotic change before things get better. But our security and our values demand that we make the effort. This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. Because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as -- rebuke to violent extremists. We must strengthen the opposition in Syria while isolating extremists elements. Because and of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorists. We are actively working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians because it is right and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region. And we must help countries modernize economies. Upgrade education. And encourage entrepreneur warship. Because of American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with people's hopes. Not simply their fears. Success on all these fronts. Require sustained engagement. But it will also require resources. I know that foreign aid. Is one of the least popular expenditures. That -- -- that's true for Democrats and Republicans. I've seen the poll. Even though it amounts to less than 1%. Of the federal budget infect lot of folks think it's 45% -- People on the streets. -- the 1%. Still -- -- popular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security -- And it's fundamental to any sensible long term strategy to battle extremists. Moreover foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars. That our assistants might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war. We could be training security forces in Libya. Maintaining peace agreements between. Israel and its neighbors. Feeding the hungry in Yemen. Building schools and Pakistan. And creating reservoirs of -- -- but marginalize extremists. Japan has to be part of our strategy. Moreover America cannot carry out this work if we don't have diplomats. Serving. In some very dangerous -- Over the past decade we have strengthen security at our embassies and I -- implementing every recommendation of the accountability review board. Which found unacceptable failures in -- -- I call on congress to fully fund his efforts to bolster security and hardened facilities. Improve intelligence and -- quicker response time from our military for crisis -- But even after we take these steps. Some here reduce small risks -- diplomats will warming this is the price of being the world's most powerful nation. Particularly as a wave of change watches over the Arab world. And in balancing the tradeoffs between security an active diplomacy. I firmly believe that any retreat. From challenging regions. Will only increase the dangers that we face in the long. And that's why. We should be grateful. To those diplomats were -- on the -- Targeted action against terrorists. Effective partnerships. Diplomatic engagement. And assistance. Through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large scale attacks on the homeland. And mitigate threats to Americans overseas. But as -- guard against dangers from abroad. We cannot neglect the daunting challenge of terrorism from within our borders. As I said earlier this threat is not new. But technology. And the Internet to increase its frequency. And in some cases if -- fell. Today a person can consume hateful propaganda. Commit themselves to a violent agenda and learn how to kill without leaving their home. To address this threat. Two years ago my administration did a comprehensive review and engaged -- law enforcement. And the best way to prevent violent extremism. Inspired by. Biology hottest is to work we have the Muslim American community which has consistently rejected terrorists. To identify signs of radicalization. And partner. -- law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work. When we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. In fact the success of American Muslims and our determination to guard against. Any encroachments on their civil liberties is the ultimate rebuke. To those who say the word war what is wrong. -- homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part. Because of -- proud commitment to civil liberties for all. Who call America home. That's why -- years to come we will have to keep working hard to strike be appropriate balance between our need for security. And preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authority is of law enforcement so we can intercept new types of communication. But also -- -- privacy protections to prevent abuse. That means that even after Boston. We do not -- deport someone or throw somebody in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints. On the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information. Such as the state secrets not. And that means finally having a strong privacy. And civil liberties board. To review those issues where our counterterrorism efforts and our values may come in the touch. -- Justice Department's investigation and national security leaks. Offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As commander in chief I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people on the field. To do so we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breached their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for democracy that's who we are. And I'm troubled by the possibility that leak investigations. May chill. The investigative journalism. That -- government accountable. Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must -- on those who break the law. That's why I've called on congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach. Not raise these issues with the attorney general who shares my concern so he's agreed to review existing. Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involved reports. And he'll convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I've directed the attorney general to report back to me by July 12. All these issues. Remind us that the choices we make about war can impact. And sometimes unintended ways. The openness and freedom. On which our way of life depends. -- why I intend to engage congress about the existing authorization to use military force. For a U -- To determine how we can continue to fight terrorism. Without keeping America on a perpetual wartime -- -- -- -- is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan war is coming to an empty coral 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 bugs that labels themselves al-Qaeda. We'll pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking our definitions are actions. We may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight. Fort continue to grant presidents. On -- powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engage in congress and the American people and efforts to refine. And ultimately repeal. -- -- -- -- -- 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 -- -- stand. That's what history advises. It's what our democracy demands. And that brings me to my final top. The detention of terrorist suspects. From a repeat one more time as a matter -- policy the preference of the United States is to capture. Terrorist suspects. What we do detain a suspect we -- target. And -- the suspect can be prosecuted we decide whether to try him in a civilian court or a military commission. During the past decade. The vast majority of those detained by our military were captured on the battlefield. In Iraq. We turned over thousands of prisoners as we ended the war. In Afghanistan. We have transitioned. Detention facilities to the Afghans as part of the process of restoring. Afghan sovereignty. So we bring that -- war detention to an end. And we are committed to prosecuting terrorists wherever we can't. The glaring exception. To this time tested approach. Is the detention center at Guantanamo back. The original premise for opening get -- That detainees would not be able to challenge their detention. Was found unconstitutional. Five years ago. In the meantime gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America. That -- -- the rule of law. Our allies won't cooperate with -- -- think of terrorists will end up at gitmo. During a time a budget cuts we spent a 150. Million dollars each year to imprison. 466 people. Almost a million dollars for president. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another 200 million to keep gitmo open. At a time -- were cutting investments in education and research here at home and when the Pentagon they're struggling with sequestered budget cuts. That's president I have tried to close gitmo I transferred 67 detainees to other countries. Before congress impose restrictions to effectively prevent us from. Either transferring detainees to other countries or imprisoning them here in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all under President Bush some. 530. Detainees were transferred from gitmo with congress to support. When I ran for president the first time. John McCain supported closing gitmo this is a bipartisan issue. No person has ever escaped one -- our super Max or military prisons here in the United States. Ever. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism. Or terrorism related offenses including. Some folks who are more dangerous than most gitmo -- -- During our presence. And 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. The mission should have never been opened. Today good. And it's -- One of them. So today it once again. -- today it. I'm -- -- member you're gonna the government spent -- about a dozen. My -- does it. And why don't July amid doesn't -- And wanted to sit around and I'll tell you exactly what I'm editor. Thank you member. Thank you. You should let me finish my sentence. Today. -- once again call on congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from gitmo. I have. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I'm appointing a new senior -- At the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I'm lifting the moratorium on -- transfers to Yemen so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible. We will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where where you. Where appropriate we will bring -- terrorists. To justice. In our courts and our military justice system. And we will insist the judicial review be available for every detaining. Now ma'am -- -- -- let me finish. Let me let let me finish -- Now there's there's -- part of free speech is you being able to speak but also you listening. And -- being able to -- Even after we take these steps one issue will remain. -- how to deal would those gitmo detainees who we know have participated. In dangerous plots or attacks. But who cannot be prosecuted for example because -- evidence against them has been compromised. Or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing gitmo I'm confident that this legacy problem can be resolved consistent with our commitment to the rule of law. And I know the politics -- heart. But history will cast a harsh judgment. On this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who failed and imagine a future ten years from now -- twenty years from now. When the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged. -- no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country. -- of the current situation. For real force feeding detainees were all being held on hunger strike. I'm willing to. Cut the young -- -- interrupted me some slack because. It's worth being passionate about. Is this who we are. That's something our founders -- all. Is that the America we want to leave our children. Our sense of justice is stronger than that. We have prosecuted scores of terrorists in our courts. That includes Umar -- -- to all who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit. And five -- Shahzad who put a car bomb in Times Square. It's in a court of law that we will try. Adults are trying to who's accused of bombing. The Boston Marathon. Richard Reid the shoe bomber. Is as we speak serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison here in the United States. In sensing read. Judge William Young told him the way we treat you is the measure of -- -- liberty. -- -- When weighing. We went. He went on to. We went off. And we're addressing their -- You know I think that. The I don't -- off script as you might expect -- The -- of that woman. Is worth paying attention to. -- -- -- -- -- Obviously I do not agree. Would much of what she said. And obviously she was listening to me. In much of what -- said. But. These are tough issues. And the suggestion that we can gloss over them. Is wrong. There when that. Judge. Sentence mr. Reid the shoe bomber. You want to point. To the American flag that flew in the courtroom. That flag he said. Wolf -- there long after this is all forgot. That flag still stands for freedom. It's America we face down danger is far greater than -- cut. By staying true. To the values -- founding. And by using our constitutional compass we have overcome slavery and civil war and fascism. And comments. -- just these last few years as president. I've watched the American people bounce back from painful recession. Mass shootings. Natural disasters like the recent tornadoes that devastated Oklahoma. These events were heartbreak. They -- our communities to the court. But because of the resilience. Of the American people. These events could not come close. To breaking this. I think of Lauren Manning the nine elevenths survivor who had severe burns over 80% of her body. Who said that's my reality I put a band aid on it literally and I move -- I think of the New Yorkers who filled Times Square the day after. An attempted car bomb. As if nothing event. I think of -- proud Pakistani parents who after their daughter was invited to the White House. Wrote to us we have raised an American. Muslim daughter to dream big and never give up because it does -- -- -- of all the wounded warriors rebuilding their lives. And helping other vets to find jobs. I think for the runner. Planning to do the 2014 Boston Marathon who said next year you're gonna have more people than ever. Determination is not something. To be -- with. That's who the American people are. Determined. And not to be messed with. And now we need a strategy and -- politics. The reflects. This was only and -- Our victory. Against terrorism won't be measured -- surrender ceremony. At a battleship. -- a statue being pulled to the ground. Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school. Immigrants coming to our shores. Fans taking in a ball game. A veteran starting a business. A bustling. -- -- -- A citizen. Shouting her concerns that a president. Require determination. That strength of character and bond -- fellowship. That reputation of fear. That is both our sword and our shield. And long after the current messengers -- pay to have faded from the world's memory. Alongside the brutal best spots and deranged mad men and ruthless demagogues who -- history. The flag of the United States. Will still -- From small town cemeteries. To national monuments. The distant outposts abroad. And that flag will still stand for -- Thank you very much -- by god bless -- -- -- And the -- -- President Obama speaking at national defense university in Washington. He has made a major national security address outlining the administration's updated counterterrorism strategy. Including a reduced use of drone strikes in a renewed effort to close at 100 -- bay prison for now we're gonna bring an ABC news of -- Klein in Washington -- -- at the White House and Willie Martinez and that pentagon and all of you thanks for being here. Merry minister what you were you surprised by the heckler in the audience and how long she -- allowed to continue. It's funny usually -- and they managed to get -- out of the room fairly quickly but that that was quite shocking actually she was right in the middle of the president's remarks about. His desire to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay she started it sounded like heckling him about doing just that he said you let me finish my -- give me a moment give me a moment. This -- he did accurately and say you know this isn't as an important part of this process and that you know that kind of outrage from the public is coming. It needs to be hurt him -- seem to handle it gratefully -- your thoughts on the heckler. Well I gotta bring out that this is -- US military base here in Washington DC this is fort McNair an army base. Go home to National Defense University. I think tank. Wherever we're military officers go to school. Where civilians top civilian officers also get their education on national security strategy. And so basically the definition of a hand -- audience and here you have somebody who it. Who speaks their mind about the president making this major policy announcement I think that's amazing that this is that. I guess that's just free speech -- he says they're never gonna ask you President Obama announced. Shutting down gitmo but he had promised this before in his first campaign in 2008. The prison has remained open however all this time so why the urgency now. Because he's trying to reset the clock on so many of us counterterrorism policies and if you look at that interaction without -- He seemed as frustrated that she was around failure to close get -- and I think. -- that he turned that around -- had actual interaction there which is absolutely extraordinary for an official presidential speech this isn't a campaign event. This is -- Luis had a hand picked audience but he does it seem like he was sort of owning an argument and channeling that frustration is that -- You have a right to be upset about this because these are serious issues. He is personally frustrated about the failure to close gitmo and he wants to keep working -- it seems like their strategy now is it just. Continued to find ways to channel people that are held at gitmo. Into it into regular civilian or military commissions he talked about this new directive that would find a location in the United States. To have military commissions I can't wait for the fight in congress about whose district. That doesn't get them. Being here I have because congress has been the main sticking point trying to keep gitmo open all along but he knows that this is a big -- source of frustration he ran against -- As for as a presidential candidate in 2008 and he knows that this is a State's failure of his own administration tonight -- -- -- by now. And Mary -- asking that sometime -- the president mentioned the captives have started a hunger strike -- are actually being. Forcefully fat -- that they would not die how you think that that hunger strike has influenced the president's decision here. The White House -- say not at all they needed this is something the president has always wanted to do it as Rick mentioned as a -- he ran on in 2008 as they say this is always been a priority of his now as -- -- we heard him. And talk about. Wanting to transfer some detainees back to their home country wants this style through the US court system as well but but he really focus on what he can do it now he says it's up to congress he can't act on the -- and this is something that -- that they need to get involved. -- I wanted to get to the drone strikes with you. The president didn't did that lay out a very act by elaborate argument for their effectiveness and why they were legal. But he did say he's planning to limit them going forward what is that plan right now the drone program is controlled by the CIA is that correct -- going to change. It's you had -- -- it has a very Long Beach that we heard from the president it was a very pale very oblique references is actually taking place. But right now it is the drone program or her Pakistan and Somalia and in. Yen in him. The plan is and we heard this from presidential advisors before the president well this afternoon they said that he. Preference. Is that the US military conduct the strikes. Keyword here preference they -- the preferred option it doesn't mean they are the only option. The so that's been some -- -- what we've been talking about here are hearing here depending on. Is that what they're considering is a very slow rollout of this shift. What potentially you're gonna see is. Yemen being the first place where -- -- the -- takes place in Pakistan a much more sensitive area of course a lot of political sensibilities in that country. -- -- -- CA continues with no longer lasting role there one of the things that you're gonna see. Is that as if when the military to military does take control over certain strikes and I'm not saying all because again the words when he's -- preferred. What's gonna happen is that the CIA is gonna maintain the targeting of the individuals that that -- -- me -- after. All right and -- -- ask you this next question the Justice Department has said that it has a legal opinion that justifies these target killings. Have we learned anymore about that -- our opinion. We're going to be hearing more from the administration is in fact is going to be in a task force -- charged with some of these issues. And I think generally you saw the president today I think again use careful language when he talked about. He doesn't think that president should ever be in a position of of using -- targeted strike to kill an American citizen without due process. But he didn't say necessarily wouldn't happen ever and in fact. The administration just yesterday outlined four cases where an American citizen. Was killed in a drone strike none of them -- received trials now they were suspected terrorists we understand that he talked about the case about oral Lockheed. Who have it was a terrorist leaders border into Mexico but clearly the White House is still struggling with as we saw the president here basically. Look for ways to put new controls in his own administration on this and to try to bring some some formalities legal framework around -- that has been quite murky he knows that there isn't a process that's been in place in the past that he inherited a lot of these things from his. Predecessor he expanded the drones program quite significantly but now he's looking good to have a legal structure that backs that up. So -- you know many people it's expected that the number of drone strikes ordered by this administration to continue at the same. -- there hadn't been much indication that they were going to change course of why the change in policy now. What does Lilly mansion -- change -- -- strikes are used but it also provides more transparency to the issue is important for the president he feels very strongly that national security interest shouldn't be any kind of conflict. With the rule of law and this change gives an opportunity to really sort of bring the secret war out of the shadows and -- and address some of the criticism that his administration has been facing these targeted killings absolutely and blew it last night a letter sent from attorney general Eric Holder to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy gave the names. Of the four Americans targeted and killed in the drone program and go through that -- Three of the four killings that took place in Yemen were already pretty well known the deaths of radical Muslim cleric Anwar -- locking his son popular -- -- And -- any American -- near Condit who was working with some of the fourth man. Jude Kenan Mohamed who was killed in the tribal areas of Pakistan. -- indicted for an alleged terror plot at the marine base in Quantico Virginia but apparently fled before he'd be detained -- was known. About this one now the White House is saying isn't the only Americans targeted but how many others have been killed by the drones do we have specific not. -- well this is as specific as in and -- them. Stated obviously the information we had not heard about and actually Jim on its case is reflective. Why there is an increase in the number CIA John strikes in recent years under the Obama administration. That's because they want -- would be shifted away from what we've targeted killings in other words. That targeted strikes. They they knew who they were following the news that look good looking for that precise moment when they could launch their missiles. And again kinda have minimal cash it has really casualties as a result. They develop this other process called signature strikes which meant. There is targeting. Visual signatures. In the drones obviously having cameras -- -- pick up suspicious activity. Men in the riding in a vehicle they get out they have. Harm is with them weapons. If there is a gathering in its no known to be erratic at the home of a radical. Extremist. It and they could become targets that activity could become a target so -- -- was killed. In one of those signature strikes me they weren't targeting him that's one of the things that holder. -- came out and ticket -- information. -- so -- as the administration is shifting away from. We're gonna see less incidences of this mountain -- and it's unclear how many others it may be. But this is precise information as -- get right now is of those for America. Absolutely enamored I want to ask you I mean obviously the technology around these drone strikes have gotten. More precise but why exactly hasn't become so prevalent in this White House the use of the contracts. Because it's viewed as at a time -- winding down wars it's viewed as a good. Kind of easy option to go in there and can press the buttons and program something to go target something. Without a lot of boots on the ground without having to put American lives at risk is becoming more tempting. Option I believe that this administration because the fact that they are trying to wind down the wars and in Iraq and Afghanistan. So when you going to place like Pakistan as we mentioned very sensitive when you go into that country for any reason it is if there's good reason to do -- I think also the president as he addressed. He talked about the dispersal of al-Qaeda fact that -- on the run -- -- places they are. Increasingly in in harder to find places harder to reach places not places where you have government control. By virtue of how this war -- evolved by virtue of politics around this we have seen a pretty dramatic expansion unless -- leaders. And now there is going to be more transparency says the president's all right. Rick Klein Mary -- and Louis Martinez all in Washington thanks to all of you for being with us today. And for more analysis of the president's national security address go to And Tanya Rivero in New York in this has been an ABC news digital special report. This has been a special report from ABC news --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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