(CBS NEWS) -- President Obama on Thursday will deliver a major speech on his
counterterrorism policies, addressing everything from drone strikes and
the status of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, to continuing efforts to
fight al Qaeda and the legal framework for the continuing "war on
In the substantive speech to be delivered at
the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Mr. Obama will
announce plans to restart transfers of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to third
countries. Before their transfer, the prisoners would have to be
cleared for release, and the U.S. would have to be satisfied that an
oversight and monitoring program is in place. The president will lift
the prohibition on potential transfers to Yemen, but Congress may
attempt to block this move.
Broadly speaking, Mr. Obama
is delivering this speech because he "is very concerned about the need
to put an architecture in place that governs counterterrorism policy for
now and into the future," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on
"The President will provide the American people with an
update on how the threat of terrorism has changed substantially since
9/11, as Al Qaeda's core in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been decimated,
and new threats have emerged from al Qaeda affiliates, localized
extremist groups, and homegrown terrorists," added a White House
official in a written statement.
"The President will discuss our
comprehensive strategy to meet these threats, including waging the war
against al Qaeda and our counter-terrorism efforts more broadly," the
According to CBS News national
security analyst Juan Zarate, "The threat from terrorism in 2013 -- al
Qaeda-directed or otherwise -- is different than what we faced in 2001
and needs to be grappled with directly. This implicates serious
questions about targeted killings; long-term, preventative detention;
and how we define the threat and the underlying ideology that has
inspired al Qaeda's adherents."
addressing these issues -- even without making significant policy
changes -- Mr. Obama's speech could have a significant impact across the
globe, said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings
When it comes to U.S. detention and drone
policies, O'Hanlon said, "The international perceptions are so wildly at
odds with the basic facts, he could do some big damage limitation."
For instance, O'Hanlon said, media reports on the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay
often overshadow the fact that the U.S. has made "huge progress" in
reducing the prisoner population there down to 10 or 20 percent of its
"Our American political debate obscures
that fact because we're so insistent on criticizing each other on
partisan lines, by way of what we have or haven't done," he said. "The
actual storyline is more positive."
At the same time,
O'Hanlon said that Mr. Obama must acknowledge in his speech that plans
to restart transfers won't apply to all of the remaining prisoners.
"There's still going to be detainees left there, and he shouldn't ignore their fate in his speech," he said.
Some are hoping for bolder declarations from the president.
Mary Ellen O'Connell, professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame, told CBSNews.com that as U.S. combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next year, it's time for a complete change of course.
president really needs to bring an end to Guantanamo, to drone strikes,
to military commissions by the time the U.S. is out of Afghanistan,"
she said, or else risk creating the "bizarre situation where we're out
of Afghanistan and yet still carrying on these kind of wartime actions."
transfers of Guantanamo prisoners to Yemen could be a "very
significant" start, O'Connell said, given the Yemenis at the detention
center represent the biggest group of cleared prisoners and that the
move could bring an end to the hunger strike.
also said that ideally, the president would announce the end of CIA
involvement in drone strikes or the end of drone strikes outside of
In a letter to congressional leaders
sent Wednesday, the administration did acknowledge that the U.S. has
killed four American citizens in drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.
O'Connell called that a good step, given that "the administration's never formally acknowledged what is common knowledge."
she said, "If that's all the president's' going to say tomorrow [on
drone strikes], there are going to be a lot of disappointed people and
groups around the world, especially Pakistan, where they're expecting
the president to say we're going to end attacks in that country."