[Vision2020] Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy

Art Deco art.deco.studios at gmail.com
Sun Nov 25 08:12:02 PST 2012

  [image: The New York Times] <http://www.nytimes.com/>

November 24, 2012
Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy By SCOTT

WASHINGTON — Facing the possibility that President
not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the
weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted
killing of terrorists by unmanned
so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures,
according to two administration officials.

The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But with more than 300
drone strikes and some 2,500 people
killed<http://www.longwarjournal.org/pakistan-strikes.php>by the
Intelligence Agency<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/central_intelligence_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org>and
the military since Mr. Obama first took office, the administration is
still pushing to make the rules formal and resolve internal uncertainty and
disagreement about exactly when lethal action is justified.

Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control
killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the
United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied
governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling

Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of
drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense
Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry
out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the
president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O.
have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.

More broadly, the administration’s legal reasoning has not persuaded many
other countries that the strikes are acceptable under international law.
For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely
condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most
countries still object to such measures.

But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two
administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war
with Al Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its
enemies wherever they are found.

Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is
setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed
drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to
investigate American drone strikes.

The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last
summer after news reports on the drone
started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed
some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for
compiling “kill lists” and approving strikes. Though national security
officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president
and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action
that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win
the presidency.

“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said
one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate
about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave
an “amorphous” program to his successor, the official said. The effort,
which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won,
will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.

Mr. Obama himself, in little-noticed remarks, has acknowledged that the
legal governance of drone strikes is still a work in progress.

“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place,
and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not
only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the
decisions that we’re making,” Mr. Obama told Jon Stewart in an appearance
on “The Daily Show”<http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-october-18-2012/exclusive---barack-obama-extended-interview-pt--1>on
Oct. 18.

In an interview with Mark Bowden for a new book on the killing of Osama bin
Laden, “The Finish<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/books/review/the-finish-the-killing-of-osama-bin-laden-by-mark-bowden.html?pagewanted=all>,”
Mr. Obama said that “creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight
checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge for me
and my successors for some time to come.”

The president expressed wariness of the powerful temptation drones pose to
policy makers. “There’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think
that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security
problems,” he said.

Despite public remarks by Mr. Obama and his aides on the legal basis for
targeted killing, the program remains officially classified. In court,
fighting lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties
Union<http://www.aclu.org/>and The New York Times seeking secret legal
opinions on targeted killings,
the government has refused even to acknowledge the existence of the drone
program in Pakistan.

But by many accounts, there has been a significant shift in the nature of
the targets. In the early years, most strikes were aimed at ranking leaders
of Al Qaeda thought to be plotting to attack the United States. That is the
purpose Mr. Obama has emphasized, saying in a CNN interview in
drones were used to prevent “an operational plot against the United
States” and counter “terrorist networks that target the United States.”

But for at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the C.I.A.’s
success in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed
at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who
fight with the Taliban against American troops in

In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed
militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of
those killed were wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.

“Unless they were about to get on a flight to New York to conduct an
attack, they were not an imminent threat to the United States,” said Micah
a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is a critic of the
strikes. “We don’t say that we’re the counterinsurgency air force of
Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but we are.”

Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are
unknown. In an online video
January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as “a targeted,
focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” But for
several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to
“personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military
have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown

Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a
known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place.
But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for
instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups.
Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama
administration, with some officials questioning whether killing
unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.

Many people inside and outside the government have argued for far greater
candor about all of the strikes, saying excessive secrecy has prevented
public debate in Congress or a full explanation of their rationale. Experts
say the strikes are deeply unpopular both in Pakistan and Yemen, in part
because of allegations of large numbers of civilian casualties, which
American officials say are exaggerated.

Gregory D. Johnsen, author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and
America’s War in
argues that the strike strategy is backfiring in Yemen. “In Yemen, Al Qaeda
is actually expanding,” Mr. Johnsen said in a recent talk at the Brookings
Institution <http://www.brookings.edu/events/2012/11/13-yemen>, in part
because of the backlash against the strikes.

Shuja Nawaz <http://www.acus.org/users/shuja-nawaz>, a Pakistan-born
analyst now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the United States
should start making public a detailed account of the results of each
strike, including any collateral deaths, in part to counter propaganda from
jihadist groups. “This is a grand opportunity for the Obama administration
to take the drones out of the shadows and to be open about their
objectives,” he said.

But the administration appears to be a long way from embracing such
openness. The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among
agencies over the last several months is so highly classified, officials
said, that it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by

Art Deco (Wayne A. Fox)
art.deco.studios at gmail.com
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