By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 05/23/13 10:51 PM EDT
During the speech, Obama said the U.S. drones program was legal and argued strikes had been effective in fighting extremists who launched the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
The president also outlined new actions designed to hasten the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison, argued that the amorphous “war on terror” should be redefined as a focused effort against a specific terror network and addressed outrage over government targeting in leak probes.
Obama’s speech is likely to rekindle fights over the war on terrorism, with some questioning whether the decision on drones will weaken the country’s fight against terrorism.
Republicans blast speech over Gitmo transfers: Republican lawmakers quickly panned Obama’s speech Thursday, and in particular his plans to restart transferring detainees out of Guantánamo Bay.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said that the speech will be “viewed by terrorists as a victory."
Chambliss took issue with Obama’s vow to lift the restrictions on transferring detainees to Yemen. He joined Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) at a reaction press conference.
"We knew five years ago that closing Guantanamo was a bad idea and would not work," Chambliss said in a statement. "Yet, today’s speech sends the message to Guantanamo detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home, even to Yemen."
While Yemen’s government promised to rehabilitate any detainees it receives on Thursday, the senators warned that Gitmo detainees sent there could rejoin terror groups fighting against the U.S.
“Anybody who would send people back to Yemen today is doing the people in Yemen a disservice as well as the United states," Graham said.
"The president of Yemen has been a better partner, things are getting somewhat better in Yemen. But I cannot believe ... that the conditions on the ground in Yemen — and three people attacked our consulate in Benghazi came form Yemen — are such that it would be good idea to release people held for years as terrorists back into Yemen."
Joint Chiefs to testify on sexual assault: There’s going to be quite a few stars packed into the witness table next month when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the service secretaries and the services’ top lawyers will all testify on sexual assault in the military.
The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Thursday that it was hosting the top military leaders in a rare joint appearance to discuss the various pieces of sexual assault legislation that have been proposed in Congress.
The opinions of the generals and admirals will be a key barometer for the various ways that lawmakers have proposed to tackle the rise in military sexual assaults, particularly for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) bill to take the decision to prosecute cases outside the chain of command.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) have already written a letter to Dempsey asking for his opinion on the plans in Congress to address sexual assault, Dempsey said last week.
Publicly, both Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week they were “open” to all legislation being proposed.
Afghans claim body of US torture victim found: Afghan officials on Thursday said they had discovered the body of a man they claim was tortured by an American special forces team member.
The Afghan national, Sayid Mohammad, was reportedly caught on tape being tortured by Zakaria Kandahari, an Afghan-American who was working as an interpreter for the special operations team stationed at the base.
Kabul claims Kandahari, who has not been seen since the video went public, played a role in the killings or disappearance of 15 Afghans in Wardak province.
The Pentagon has denied Kandahari is an American and says he is no longer working with U.S. military forces in Afghanistan.
In February, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave Wardak, alleging American troops had committed torture and abducted civilians during their time in the province.
Earlier this month, Maj. Gen Tony Thomas, the top commander of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan, denied any allegations of murder or torture of Afghan civilians by special forces teams in Wardak.
U.S. special operations forces have since handed control of Nerkh to the Afghan National Security Forces, while American special forces continue to operate inside the rest of Wardak province.
In Case You Missed It:
— Yemen promises rehabilitation for Gitmo detainees
— Chambliss says Obama speech 'victory' for terrorists
— Protestor interrupts Obama counterterror speech
— Sexual assault in military a 'disgrace' says Boehner
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