Experts on US Drone Strike Policy

May 22, 2013 Updated: May 22, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter on May 22 that the U.S. killed 4 American citizens since 2009. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is giving a speech on May 23 which includes discussing counterterrorism.

Experts have discussed drone use by the United States for the last several years. Here are some thoughts:

-Robert Chesney, the Charles I. Francis Professor in Law at the University Texas School of Law and Matthew Waxman, law professor at Columbia Law School (on the Lawfare blog)

“One proposal that’s been floated for a while is to transition targeting operations from CIA to the Defense Department.  This would open up possibilities to be more publicly transparent in how we talk about targeting (without the need to maintain deniability, the government could explain its actions rather than declining comment). Moving targeting operations out of CIA’s hands doesn’t on its own resolve transparency concerns, however.  Such a move would need to be combined with more timely and granular congressional oversight of sensitive DoD operations (see a discussion of Rep. Thornberry’s proposal here).

“Whatever becomes of the oversight associated with overseas kill/capture missions, the President also could do much good by stating unequivocally that all strikes are governed by the law of armed conflict no matter who conducts them.  And he would do well to be more candid about collateral damage and the government’s efforts to minimize it even when strikes are not conducted by the military.”

-Bruce Riedel, director of The Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution (in a blog post)

“President Obama faces the challenge of defending his policies and explaining why they are needed. He must do this without further alienating an angry Pakistan and its newly elected civilian government which is struggling to find its own way to deal with the terror Frankenstein that threatens the world and Pakistan itself. It may be mission impossible.

“Obama significantly expanded drone attacks in 2009 and many dangerous terrorists have been eliminated by them. The price has been to further alienate the Pakistani people. His speech this Thursday is not likely to please many in Pakistan. The already very difficult U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship is at a crucial juncture with the first ever transition from one elected Pakistani civilian government to another in the country’s history after a full term in office. Reconciling our counter-terror mission with our interest in promoting democracy in Pakistan will not be easy. If it is impossible, then the fate of U.S. relations with the most dangerous country in the world is headed toward an even more deadly outcome.”

-J-ameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (to NPR last year)

“They are claiming the authority to kill any American citizen whom the president deems to be an enemy of the state, and that authority is not reviewable before the fact by any court and it’s not reviewed after the fact by any court.”

-Mary Ellen O’Connell, law professor at Notre Dame (also to NPR)

“Killing persons far from armed conflict zones must follow law enforcement rules to comply with fundamental human rights. The president cannot assert that the U.S. is in a worldwide war or use the interstate right of self-defense to do an end run around law enforcement principles.”

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