President Obama spoke in unprecedented detail Thursday about the U.S. drone program, as he adamantly defended the lethal -- and controversial -- strikes as legal and necessary to national security.
The president for the first time personally acknowledged that U.S. drone strikes have killed several Americans overseas, only one of whom was targeted, after Attorney General Eric Holder made the information public a day earlier. Obama argued that the program operates under heavy constraints. He claimed the alternative, in some cases, is too risky or difficult -- as some areas where terrorists have taken refuge are remote and beyond the reach of the local government.
"It is in this context that the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against Al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones," he said.
Obama said the strikes are legal, as America is at war.
"Simply put, these strikes have saved lives," Obama said.
The president addressed the program in a speech on counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
He also was planning to speak in detail about his long-stalled effort to close Guantanamo Bay. He planned to say that the administration is looking for a site inside the U.S. to hold military commissions, while looking to transfer detainees outside of the prison camp once again.
In re-affirming his pledge to close the detention center at Guantanamo, Obama is pushing for a renewed effort to transfer its 166 detainees to other countries. Congress and the White House have sparred since Obama took office in 2009 over the fate of the suspects and whether they can be brought to trial on U.S. soil. In the meantime, the detainees have been held for years with diminishing hope that they will charged with a crime or be given a trial.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Thursday he's "open" to a presidential proposal on Guantanamo Bay but called for more than "talking points."
"This speech was only necessary due to a deeply inconsistent counter-terrorism policy, one that maintains it is more humane to kill a terrorist with a drone, than detain and interrogate him at Guantanamo Bay," he said in a statement, asking how the president would handle terrorists too dangerous to release but who cannot be tried.
"Podium platitudes cannot make up for solid answers to these questions," he said.
This week, the Pentagon asked Congress for more than $450 million for maintaining and upgrading the Guantanamo prison. More than 100 of the prisoners have launched a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention, and the military earlier this month was force-feeding 30 of them to keep them from starving to death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.