US President Barack Obama has made his final speech on national security. Addressing hundreds of troops at an air force base in Florida, the president said fighting terror should not come at the expense of civil rights.
In his final speech on national security as commander in chief of the US Armed forces, President Barack Obama defended his record on counterterrorism and avoiding large-scale troop deployments.
Speaking to troops at the MacDill Air Force Base, home to US Special Operations Command and Central Command in Florida on Tuesday, Obama said the fight against terror should not come at the expense of civil rights and US democratic traditions.
"We need the wisdom to see that upholding our values and adhering to the rule of law is not a weakness. In the long term, it is our greatest strength," he said to sustained applause.
Obama had banned extreme CIA interrogation techniques used on terror detainees as soon as he took office. "We prohibited torture everywhere at all times and that includes tactics like waterboarding," he said.
However, Obama regretted his inability to fulfill his pledge on the Guantanamo detention facility on the Caribbean island of Cuba, chastising Congress for refusing to let him close the center which he called a "blot on our national honor." Obama said the US was "wasting hundreds of millions of dollars to keep fewer than sixty people in a detention facility in Cuba."
"We prohibited torture everywhere at all times and that includes tactics like waterboarding," he said. "And at no time has anybody who has worked with me told me that doing so has cost us good intelligence."
Obama said the US must uphold its values by respecting the rights of Muslims and trying terror suspects in civilian courts.
"We can get these terrorists and stay true to who we are," Obama said. But he admitted that "violent extremism will be with us for years to come."
Obama highlighted the fact that most US troops had been withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan since he took over the presidency from George W. Bush in 2009. Under the Obama administration the number of troops in the two countries has been reduced from 180,000 to 15,000. This also includes the number of advisers in Syria.
"Instead of pushing all of the burden onto American ground troops, instead of trying to mount invasions wherever terrorists appear, we've built a network of partners," he said.
Obama said the strategy had been effective in pushing back the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) which he said had "lost control of major population centers. Its morale is plummeting. Its recruitment is drying up. Its commanders and external plotters are being taken out, and local populations are turning against it."
"We're a nation that believes freedom can never be taken for granted. And that each of us has a responsibility to sustain it, the universal right to speak your minds and to protest against authority, to live in a society that's open and free, that can criticize our president without retribution," Obama said.
jm/bw (AFP, AP)