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05/23/2013

Obama's speech: drones, Gitmo and transparency U.S.-style.

Obama
(Photo by John Gurzinski/Getty Images)

Drones will used -- but the program scaled back. Guantanamo will stay open -- but steps taken to close it. And the war on terror that is no longer called the war on terror will some day be over.

That's the Coles Notes (American translation: CliffsNotes) on what is expected in President Barack Obama's speech a 2 p.m. today -- the first major national security speech in his second term. My Washington colleague Mitch Potter outlined some of the anticpated issues, as details began to leak last night.

Most significant was the admission that the U.S. has killed four American citizens in drone strikes. Critics of the CIA-led drone program -- which according to the New York Times will soon transfer authority to the military -- have long demanded answers on this issue.

The deaths in Yemen were no secret. We tracked the story of 15-year-old American Abdulrahman al Awlaki last year in Sanaa. Jeremy Scahill's latest book Dirty Wars, covers their deaths in incredible detail.

Drones
A woman adjusts a sign attached to a mock drone at the gates of Fort McNair at the National Defense University in Washington on Thursday. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

What will be interesting is if Obama ends the so-called "signature strikes." These constitute what Charlie Savage and Peter Baker describe in the Times as "attacks on groups of unknown men based only on their presumed status as members of Al Qaeda or some other enemy group -- an approach that administration critics say has resulted in many civilian casualties."

 

The other major issue addressed will be the stalled closure of Guantanamo. Will, as the Wall Street Journal has reported, the ban on returning detainees to Yemen be lifted?

There are rumours too that Obama will appoint a new Gitmo Czar. Curious, since he removed the last one who was widely believed to be the best man in Washington for the job. Here's a long profile on Daniel Fried in Foreign Policy ("Gitmo's Fall Czar." ) While he wouldn't say this to me, it was clear Washington had lost the political will to close Guantanamo. Has it come back?

While there are likely to be national security questions that still go unanswered even though word is Obama plans to talk for a "long" time, Canadians will find the transparency refreshing. We've been wrapped up in speeches from our own politicians -- a mayor accused of smoking crack and a Prime Minister in the midst of a scandal.

We're still waiting for those speeches.

As the CBC's Neil MacDonald so wonderfully laid out last night, politicians here don't say much.

Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm

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