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Has Obama Presented a New Plan to Fight Terror or More of the Same?

Obama admits "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare” -- but fails to offer way out.

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But the guidelines include a good deal of wiggle room, such as on whether they apply only to Al Qaeda and associated forces or to terrorists more generally.  It includes a significant reservation, asserting “these new standards and procedures do not limit the President’s authority to take action in extraordinary circumstances when doing so is both lawful and necessary to protect the United States or its allies.” And it commits to notifying Congress only when “a counterterrorism operation covered by these standards and procedures has been conducted.” Given that Senator Ron Wyden (D-WA) has asked for over a year for a list of all the countries we’ve used lethal force, it seems there may be lethal operations outside these guidelines.

The rollout of new guidelines suggests the Administration has answers (though a report today from the  Daily Beast suggests the Administration doesn’t even know whether it will end strikes targeted at patterns, rather than individuals).

But in spite of all the lip service to new transparency, neither the President or his aides had answers for CodePink’s Medea Benjamin, who interrupted the President’s speech calling to remember Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year old American citizen son of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed two weeks after his father in October 2011.

In Eric Holder’s  letter yesterday declassifying the names of the four Americans we’ve killed with drones, he explained only that Abdulrahman and two others were “not specifically targeted.” In a briefing prior to the speech, a senior Administration official hemmed and hawed when asked about Abdulrahman, refusing to explain why he was killed. “I don’t want to get into the details of each of those instances.  What I will say generally is that there are times when there are individuals who are present at al Qaeda and associated forces facilities, and in that regard they are subject to the lethal action that we take.  There are other instances when there are tragic cases of civilian casualties and people that the United States does not in any way intend to target — because, again, as in any war, there are tragic consequences that come with the decision to use force, including civilian casualties.”

Obama, though, just paused while Benjamin cried out about the younger Awlaki.

Ultimately, he turned her ability to raise concerns about the teenager killed by a drone strike as another form of strength.

I’m going off script as you might expect here. The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. [Applause] Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.

Later, he even hailed Benjamin as he recited a list of Americans who represent resilience. “A citizen shouting her questions at the President.”

She may be resilient, but we still don’t have answers.

For all the answers Obama did offer today—some convincing, others not so much—ultimately some of the big questions remain.

Marcy Wheeler blogs on law, national security, and civil liberties at She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy.

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