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May 23, 2013

Today’s National Security Address a Step toward Transparency, Signals New Approach to Fighting Terror

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed President Obama’s pledge to pursue an exit strategy from the current armed conflict, to take concrete steps to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, and to provide greater transparency about the administration’s targeted killing program. The organization noted that the president’s plan, outlined today during a counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University, will require strong leadership from the president.

“We welcome President Obama’s reminder that our values and laws are our greatest assets in combating terrorism. Today, he began to spell out a strategy to operationalize that precept.  Most importantly, the president made clear that perpetual war is dangerous for our democracy, and that his objective is, ultimately, to repeal the authorization for the use of force that Congress granted after 9/11,” said Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino. “We welcome the president’s pledge that he will not sign into law any legislation that would expand the armed conflict.”

In addition to detailing his plan to bring armed conflict to an end and to reject any expanded Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) from Congress, the president announced today that he will appoint senior officials in the State and Defense Departments to bring down the number of detainees at Guantanamo, including through transfers of Guantanamo detainees to countries that can now include Yemen.  Human Rights First applauds the lifting of the ban on transfers to Yemen but notes that someone in the White House must still be tasked with managing the overall effort to close Guantanamo.  “We know from experience that ongoing, high-level engagement from the White House will be necessary to ensure that all agencies of government pursue this national security imperative with the sense of urgency that is required to deliver on the president’s commitment to close Guantanamo,” said Massimino.

Many of the steps announced in today’s speech reflect recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint How to Close Guantanamo, which details specific steps the Obama Administration should take to bring the number of detainees at Guantanamo down to zero. The announcement is also in step with growing calls from Congress to move forward with transfers and ultimately shutter the facility that costs taxpayers approximately $150 million annually.

In his speech, President Obama also promised greater transparency with regard to the U.S. targeted killing program and vowed to provide Congress with additional information about his administration’s legal framework for identifying and striking targets. The president also noted that some of the U.S. drone program will be transferred from the CIA to the Department of Defense in an effort to provide greater transparency. Human Rights First notes that the president’s plan reflects a much-needed shift toward greater transparency, one of the key recommendations documents in the organization’s blueprint How to Ensure that the U.S. Drone Program Does Not Undermine Human Rights.

“The president today took a first step toward realigning our nation’s actions with the rule of law when he announced the transfer of parts of the targeted killing program from the CIA to the Pentagon and promised to facilitate increased congressional oversight,” Massimino said.

Human Rights First notes that the administration’s commitment to transparency must go beyond the targeted killing program and should include support for releasing the Senate intelligence committee’s CIA torture report.

“The president can immediately make good on his commitment to transparency by voicing full-throated support for the release of the Senate intelligence committee’s CIA torture report,” said Massimino.

From June 3-5, Human Rights First will host some of the nation’s most respected retired military leaders in Washington, DC, where they plan to advocate for the CIA torture report’s release. The group will also speak with Congress and the administration to advance the President’s promise to shutter Guantanamo. Included in this group are admirals and generals who stood behind the president in the Oval Office when, on his second full day in office, he signed executive orders to close Guantanamo and ban torture.

“President Obama should waste no time in turning to the work of fulfilling these important promises,” concluded Massimino. “The administration’s path forward may not be easy, but it’s worth the fight.”

To speak with Massimino or for more information, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.

Press call with Human Rights First President and CEO  Elisa Massimino and our coalition of Retired Military Generals.

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