May 23 - President Barack Obama unveiled new guidelines to limit drone strikes against extremists abroad, but said he would have been ''derelict'' not to authorize the strike that killed militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) President Barack Obama outlined plans on Thursday (May 23) to limit the use of U.S. drone strikes against extremists abroad and took steps aimed at breaking a deadlock on closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison. In a major foreign policy speech after two weeks of fending off domestic scandals, Obama limited the scope of what his predecessor, George W. Bush, had called a global war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Faced with criticism about the morality of using unmanned aerial vehicles to wage war in distant lands, Obama said the United States will only use drone strikes when a threat is imminent, a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against a significant threat. Under a new presidential guidance signed on Wednesday, Obama said the Defense Department will take the lead in launching drones, as opposed to the current practice of the CIA taking charge. "Any drone strike will only be launched when a terrorism suspect cannot be captured. The United States will respect state sovereignty and will limit strikes to al Qaeda or associated targets, he said. "Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the highest standard we can set," said Obama. The use by the United States of armed drone aircraft to attack extremists has increased tensions with countries such as Pakistan and drawn criticism from human rights activists. Obama acted in line with a promise to be more open about the issue. Obama has faced pressure from both supporters and opponents to allow greater scrutiny of the secretive decision-making process guiding drone use. He said earlier this year he wanted to be more open about the issue. His policy shift came after the Obama administration acknowledged on Wednesday that four Americans abroad had been killed in drone strikes since 2009 in counter-terrorism operations in Yemen and Pakistan, including militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Obama defended those operations, saying when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against the United States, his citizenship should not be a shield. But in recognition of a debate within Congress about whether strikes could be launched within the United States, Obama said it would not be constitutional to do so.