Re-entering the Drone Debate

Readers will know that I spend a disproportionate amount of my time focused on Iran. The reasons for that are clear enough: the U.S. has skirted the border of a war with Iran for the past decade (if not much longer, as veteran observers of the Iran-Iraq War will note), and for the first time since the Islamic Republic’s founding, the chance exists for the U.S.-Iran to overcome its posturing and develop at least tepid relations with each other. That – in and of itself – is reason to exert one’s efforts almost single-mindedly to Iran.

But that has been far from my sole interest. While in law school, I studied public international law and U.S. national security law, and I was very invested in the debates surrounding the U.S.’s “global war on terror” – a war that rages on 12 years following its inception. One of those debates dealt with the U.S.’s “targeted killing” program, which first begun under the Bush Administration but sharply escalated during Obama’s term. Those familiar with the legal scholarship and debate on the U.S. drone program will, no doubt, know just how fraught and tense that debate is: there remains a gaping hole in our understanding of whether law constrains the U.S. in its fight against transnational terror groups, what law (if it did apply) would apply to U.S. conduct in this ‘war’ and where, and whether there can be any meaningful sanction for U.S. conduct that violates identified law. That, too, is reason alone to flock to the debate, and that is just what I did while in law school and continued to do sporadically (time-permitting) thereafter.

Thankfully, I’ve just recently been given the opportunity to revisit the debate, thanks to LobeLog (the foreign-policy blog of IPS News). I’ve been contributing to the blog ever more frequently, tasked with writing about the Obama Administration’s “targeted killing” program, and I wanted to let readers know about it. Below, I excerpt and link to three pieces I’ve published at LobeLog this month in the case readers are interested.

Here I discussed the latest Human Rights Watch report regarding a U.S. drone strike on an alleged Yemeni wedding procession:

“Despite successive rounds of official statements regarding the drone program — the latest being President Obama’s May 2013 speech at the National Defense University — the White House’s legal rationale for drone strikes remains murky at best. Also, a wide chasm continues to divide the Administration’s policy on targeted killings (e.g., the promise that civilians will go unharmed in strikes) from what is actually taking place in the field. The White House has, to this day, refused to offer the legal rationale for individual strikes, as human rights groups have requested, and have not publicly released internal reviews of strikes which have allegedly gone awry. This has made it impossible to adequately assess the Administration’s compliance not only to international legal norms, but also to its own ‘targeted killing’ policy.”

Earlier I wrote about news that the Obama Administration is debating whether to place another U.S. citizen on the ‘kill list’:

“News broke that the Obama Administration is considering targeting a U.S. citizen located in Pakistan with lethal force. This quickly restarted the debate over what legal authorities the President has to do such, what policies the Administration has put in place to ensure that the targeted individual, in fact, poses a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons,” and whether the legal criteria being employed for targeting meets international law standards.”

Finally, I wrote about news that there has been a long drought in U.S. drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas:

“It is unclear whether this development will continue in the months ahead. Good reasons, however, suggest so, as the war in Afghanistan draws down and U.S. (potentially) loses access to bases in the country and human intelligence sources.”


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