In response to President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism speech given at the National Defense University last Thursday, the Miami Herald editorial board has published an editorial with well-founded points that should lead anyone to be restrained in their praise of his speech.
The editorial declares that the “best thing about President Obama’s speech on counterterrorism last week was that it revived a long overdue debate over reining in the powers of the presidency in wartime.” That may be one of the only aspects of the speech worth praising.
It also suggests that Obama sought to “strike a balance between the need to use force against persistent threats and the obligation to overhaul the structures put in place to respond to 9/11 — from the use of drones to the creation of the prison at Guantánamo Bay.” Anyone listening to the speech would have gotten that impression. Of course, the problem is, as the Herald editorial board acknowledges, “presidential authority has expanded dramatically in response to the threat.” (In fact, the question should be asked, what is the threat? Much of what government thinks is a threat is the result of hype or hysteria whipped up to serve the military industrial-complex.)
More importantly, the Herald points out that there were many questions that were left unanswered by the speech:
The 16-page policy guideline the president approved prior to the speech remains classified. And despite all the talk about transparency, the administration is still withholding from Congress legal opinions governing targeted killings.
Similarly, the president reaffirmed his commendable desire to close Guantánamo, but the steps he outlined suggest the prison will remain open for years.
The Herald—knowing full well what it will take to actually close Guantanamo because one of their own reporters, Carol Rosenberg, has extensively covered the prison—contends:
The decision to find a new envoy to deal with the complicated task of moving detainees out should have been taken earlier. It will take weeks, if not months, for a new appointee to be up and running. At the same time, the president stopped short of asserting unilateral transfer authority for the 166 detainees still on the island, meaning he’ll have to coax support from lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have thwarted his every effort to clear the prison. There is no reason to believe that won’t continue to be the case.
With regards to what Obama said on “the administration’s aggressive efforts to spy on reporters’ work,” the Herald labeled this the “most disappointing part of the president’s speech.” He defended the “needed to investigate national security leaks, but that’s not the issue.” What is at issue is the “overly broad scope of investigations” the Justice Department is launching into journalists’ data or records.
The Herald was not impressed with the measure announced by Obama—a review led by Attorney General Eric Holder into “existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters,” where he will also “convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review.” The newspaper mentions that Holder signed off on the search warrant that allowed the FBI to seize records of Fox News reporter James Rosen’s communications with State Department employee Stephen Kim.
Obama claimed he was “troubled by the possibility that such actions could put a chill on investigative journalism,” however, as the Herald put it, “If the president means what he says, he’ll have to ride herd on his own Justice Department to make sure such blatant violations of press freedom are never repeated again.”
It is a pretty unyielding editorial and deserving of praise. This is the kind of analysis that should be the standard response to official addresses or speeches from presidents. And, it is the kind of criticism necessary to keep pulling the president in a more humane and just direction instead of the reactionary, unlawful and barbarous direction that certain people in power—with the strong support of Republicans and even a good number of Democrats—remain committed to taking this country.