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State of the Union: Obama discusses counterterrorism operations

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 12, 2013.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama doesn’t refer to drones in his State of the Union speech, but he alluded to the targeted killing of suspected terrorists when he said, “where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.”

Obama said his administration is seeking to “forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations.”

Four years into the effort, no such framework yet exists for what remains a secret process run from the White House and the CIA.

“I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way, Obama added. “So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”

The administration is preparing what some officials have called a counterterrorism playbook to set guidelines for when a terror suspect may be targeted in a lethal drone strike, what the standard of evidence should be, and who gets input into the decision.

The administration also is examining whether and how to shift more lethal drone operations to the Pentagon from the CIA, which operates in greater secrecy than the military.

Obama officials also are considering whether a special court can be convened to review classified evidence before drone strikes are ordered, especially if the target is a U.S. citizen. Several Democrats in Congress have endorsed expanding judicial review of the targeted killings, but several GOP members warn that would encroach on executive authority to conduct war.

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