The CIA will continue to work with the military on the program in Yemen and control the program in Pakistan, given the concern that al-Qaeda may return in greater numbers as US troops leave Afghanistan.
The guidelines will apply to strikes against both foreigners and US citizens abroad. Drone strikes will largely remain highly secret for the public. Congress has been briefed on every strike that drones have made outside Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama said, but those briefings are largely classified.
While civil rights groups welcomed some of Obama’s steps, they appeared largely unappeased.
“How good, really, is our system for targeting and reducing unintended casualties?” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University law school. “These three American citizens were not targeted, and their deaths were collateral damage.”
“The talk about being more transparent and preserving our liberties is talk. It’s rhetoric,” she said.
Obama was interrupted three times on Thursday by a woman from the anti-war group Code Pink, who appeared to be protesting both the drone program and the Guantanamo prison. The president acknowledged that the issues were worth being passionate about.
In seeking to close Guantanamo, many Republican lawmakers oppose Obama’s efforts to bring some of the detainees to the US to face trial and be held in maximum-security US prisons.
However, the new hunger strike by prisoners protesting their conditions and indefinite confinement has refocused Obama on efforts to close the center. He announced a fresh push to transfer approved detainees to their home countries and lift a ban on transfers to Yemen.