Will Obama Create A Framework To Regulate Drone Strikes?
By Eli Epstein | November 27, 2012 2:33 AM EST
While everyday Americans questioned what impact Mitt Romney's tax and health care policies would have on their lives, President Barack Obama and his administration prepared for a different type of transition.
According to the New York Times, Obama and his team accelerated efforts to establish clear standards and principles for its “kill list,” the informal practice of targeting terrorists, some U.S. citizens, with unmanned drones. The president and those around him did not want to leave “amorphous” policies to his successor.
While the campaign may have lost some urgency with Romney's loss, the White House still plans to go ahead and draft formal rules that the administration hopes will resolve internal disagreements about American drone programs.
Since the U.S.'s first targeted killing in 2002, the CIA has launched 300 drone strikes, which have killed 2,500 people. Outside of the White House, opponents argue that many of those killed have been civilians. The U.S. government has adamantly refuted these claims, stating that many accounts are exaggerated.
Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistan-born analyst at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., tells the Times that its imperative for the U.S. to be open about its drone program if it wants to beat back claims that it's killing innocent civilians. “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.
While drone strikes remain classified, the president has spoken on record about regulating them.
“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 in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making,” Obama told Jon Stewart on a Jan. 18 episode of “The Daily Show.”
Obama readily admits that drones are a tricky issue and one that a commander-in-chief can get carried away with.
“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 told author Mark Bowden.
Inside Obama's inner circle, tensions simmer over whether remote-control killing should be used more consistently or only as a last-resort measure.
While the CIA and Defense Department have lobbied for wider latitude with drone strikes, Justice and State Department officials, in addition to the president's counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, have attempted to regulate the attacks more closely.
Prior to the September 11 attacks, the U.S. routinely condemned targeted killings by the Israeli government against suspected terrorists. Since 2002 however, both Obama and George W. Bush have justified U.S. drone strikes as critical to ensuring national security.
Under Obama, drone operations have evolved from strikes against known al Qaeda leaders to CIA attacks on Taliban forces in Afghanistan in Pakistan and other Islamists in Yemen. Opponents argue that drone incursions into foreign lands jeopardizes a nation's sovereignty.
“We don’t say that we’re the counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but we are,” Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Times.
To contact the editor, e-mail: