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Ear to the Ground

Obama Rushed Rules for Drone Assassinations in Case Romney Won

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Posted on Nov 25, 2012
Mike Licht (CC-BY)

The New York Times reports that there is internal strife within the administration about the willy-nilly use of drones to kill people abroad (2,500 since President Obama took office) and, fearing defeat at the polls, the Obama administration was working overtime to lay down a set of rules governing robotic assassination.

“The matter may have lost some urgency” now that the president is keeping his desk, reports the Times, although the administration is divided about the circumstances under which drone assassinations can be justified:

Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.

More broadly, the administration’s legal reasoning has not persuaded many other countries that the strikes are acceptable under international law. For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures.

According to the Times, the CIA and the Pentagon, which favor the expanded use of drones, don’t always know whom they are bombing, and such devastation may be counterproductive. In Yemen, for instance, it appears people object to being bombed by a foreign power:

Gregory D. Johnsen, author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia,” argues that the strike strategy is backfiring in Yemen. “In Yemen, Al Qaeda is actually expanding,” Mr. Johnsen said in a recent talk at the Brookings Institution, in part because of the backlash against the strikes.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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