Science

President Obama To Address Use Of Military Drones On Thursday

By Michael Mayday , May 20, 2013 09:19 AM EDT

President Barack Obama will address the legal justification for his administration's use of drones and other counterterrorism practices in a speech on Thursday.

The announcement comes at an awkward time for the administration, which finds itself amid a storm of controversy thanks to ongoing criticism over the Department of Justice's (DOJ) secret investigation of Associated Press journalists and the Internal Revenue Service's discriminatory targeting of anti-tax nonprofit organizations.

The administration is also under pressure for its ongoing use of the Guantanamo Bay military detention center, where prisoners are participating in a mass hunger strike and renewed criticism over the administration's handling of the Benghazi, Libya, attack on a C.I.A. compound last year.

The Washington Post, first to report the story, says Obama planned to give the speech earlier in May, but it was delayed by the above scandals.

Obama's use of armed drones has been the source of rampant, and bipartisan, criticism due to its secretive nature. The administration hasn't ever clearly outlined its legal reasoning for its use of drones in targeted killings, causing some lawmakers to worry if the White House believes it has the power to conduct such strike on American soil.

It is known that the administration has targeted, and killed, two American citizens in Yemen. One, Anwar al-Awlaki, was a local figurehead for al-Qaeda. The other was his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was trying to find his father. The administration said it has conducted due process with regards to those attacks, and others, though it has refused to explain how.

It's unclear if the speech will touch on the domestic use of drones –– a growing concern for both privacy and drone advocates –– but it should clarify the federal government's powers as the war in Afghanistan winds down and military drones return stateside.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for example, possesses 10 Predator B drones, and according to this CNET report, and has outfitted them to track cellphone signals and civilians carrying firearms.

Civilian use of drones is currently restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration to nonprofit and research use only. Government agencies, such as the DHS and local police departments can use them as well. But Congress has charged the FAA with the task of outlining and implementing the rules for civilian drones by 2015. The rules are expected to address a variety of concerns over civilian drones, not least of which are privacy worries.

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