January 21, 2013
According to an article in this morning’s Washington Post, the Obama administration has decided to exempt the CIA’s unmanned drone ‘signature strike’ programs in Pakistan and Yemen from the almost completed guidelines drawn up by the White House that will dictate future targeted-killing operations.
The guidelines, which many here in Washington refer to as “The Playbook,’ have been drafted over the past year because the Obama administration wanted to strictly delineate and stringently regulate these highly controversial and highly classified operations. The document includes a detailed legal justification for the continued use of targeted killings that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, and detailed guidelines about how to nominate and approve the addition of names to the various ‘Kill Lists’ now in existence.
The most controversial aspect of this document is that, in effect, it institutionalizes the targeted killing programs and makes them part and parcel of U.S. government national security policy. And it may not last very long. As one of the president’s former national security officials pointed out to me several weeks ago, a new administration can, and probably will, scrap the entire document and write its own Playbook that could conceivably be even worse than this 1.0 version.
What bothers me is that this new policy was, as the Post points out, anathema to the U.S. government prior to 9/11. Previous administrations (both Democrats and Republicans) argued that targeted killings, as practiced by the Israeli government, for example, ran contrary to our nation’s traditions, with the Clinton administration even arguing that such behavior was illegal under international law.
It’s just an opinion, but just because we now have a policy document that regulates the process of secretly killing our enemies without due process does not make the policy right.