November 25, 2012
Scott Shane reports in this morning’s edition of the New York Times that in the weeks leading up to the November 6, 2012 general election, the Obama administration accelerated work on what is, in essence, a rule book defining how and when unmanned drones could or should be used to kill foreign terrorists or other individuals on the various U.S. government “kill lists.”
From my reading of the article, work on the Rule Book was not completed prior to the election, and it is not clear if the Obama administration will finish the document now that the president has won a second term in office.
The entire question of when drones should be used to target and eliminate known or suspected terrorists, as the article points out, is (and always has been) a very contentious issue inside the Obama administration. The CIA and the Pentagon want no restrictions on the employment of drones to attack targets overseas, while the State Department and the Justice Department want to limit drone strikes.
A big part of the problem is that many foreign governments, most of whom are close allies of the U.S., behind-the-scenes do not accept the U.S. government’s assertion that the use of drones to kill foreign terrorists and other enemies of the U.S. is acceptable under international law. A State Department official who recently left his post for a better paying job in the private sector admitted that there is deep concern at State and Justice that sooner or later, a court in the U.S. or in The Hague will issue a ruling on the question of the legality of these missions, which many in Washington fear will go against the U.S. government position that these strikes are legal.