Nightly News   |  May 23, 2013

Obama refines counterterrorism strategy

Saying America has reached a “crossroads,” President Obama laid out clearer, more narrow guidelines for deadly drone strikes. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to that major address by president obama on counterterrorism and our use of force overseas. the president today issued new guidelines for drone strikes against suspected terrorists while making an impassioned defense of his policies. our white house correspondent peter alexander joins us from the north lawn . peter, good evening.

>> reporter: ann, good evening to you. today the president refined his idea that the so-called war on terror launched by the bush administration is no longer relevant instead presenting a much narrow definition of american counterterrorism. president obama today reframed the fight against terrorism and evolving threat now facing the u.s.

>> we must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror but rathers a series of persistent targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that target america . our nation is still threatened by terrorists from benghazi to boston we have been tragically reminded of that truth.

>> reporter: in defense of america's secret war the president laid out clear and narrow guidelines for drone strikes arguing they are legal and carefully considered.

>> before any strike is taken there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured. the highest standard we can set.

>> reporter: but there's a check on the president's power.

>> it's briefed on every strike that america takes. every strike.

>> reporter: and that they work.

>> simply put these strikes have saved lives.

>> reporter: to make his policies more transparent the president is transferring more control of the drone program from the cia to the pentagon. he renewed his pledge to shut down the camp at guantanamo bay . ending the ban on sending detainees to yemen. calling for some to be moved to civilian prisons. the move would save the u.s. $1 million a year. 103 inmates stage an extended hunger strike .

>> the president after months of being uncomfortable where he was in the national debate wanted to take control of the narrative and consolidate these issues over guantanamo and drones and put himself where he wants to be.

>> i know the politics are hard. but history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it.

>> reporter: that judgment voiced by an anti-war activist who disrupted the president.

>> why was he killed.

>> reporter: at one point rendering the commander-in-chief speechless for 30 second.

>> the voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. these are tough issues. and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.

>> reporter: also today on the topic of national security leaks the president said he's asked attorney general eric holder to conduct a 45 day review of the justice department guidelines for investigations that involve journalists. ann?

>> all right. peter alexander .