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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Drone Use: Now it is "official"

The Obama administration formally acknowledged for the first time Monday its use of drone strikes against terrorism suspects, lifting but not removing the shroud of secrecy that surrounds the nation’s expanding use of targeted killing operations overseas.
A bit of hair-splitting here after the State Department legal adviser already spoke of "lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles" and President Obama "informally" in a webchat:
“I want to make sure that people understand that drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama replied. “For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates.”

The perception that “we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly,” Obama said, is incorrect. “This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.”

“I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones,” Obama added.
Some analysis here.  I have went back and forth with some people online about this general system and continue to have three thoughts: policy-wise, I'm not a big fan; legally, not the same as "assassination,"  overall it is acceptable but the details might be a problem (e.g., openness of means used to choose targets; court review beforehand when U.S. citizens are involved); and, opposition regarding "unlimited" power and such here is overblown hyperbole (redundancy for emphasis), though it has a germ of truth factually (limits on presidential policy in respect to military force tends to be prudential and pragmatic, generally speaking).

The use of computerized long distance warfare in the 21st Century is not surprising or illegitimate by definition, Congress and the courts authorized use of military force against Al Qaida and its supporters (and not just in Afghanistan), U.S. citizens can be targets in such military conflicts and so forth.  Such use of force is by nature and habit will tend to be largely secret, even if it is an open secret. Overall, the more openness and basic detail provided, including (no reason why this cannot be aboveboard) the Administration's legal and policy views on this subject, the better.

Chris Hayes had a segment on this subject on Saturday and the human rights attorney on to discuss the matter ultimately focused on the need for special care and careful review of the use of drones.  The practice, present in the Bush Administration though he focused more on other (much more lethal writ large) means to kill people, will continue to be controversial and at best an imperfect alternative.  Congress and the public at large should demand detail, oversight and special care, probably more than provided. So, this is appreciated.