The Obama administration is pushing to codify formal rules regarding the killing of terror suspects overseas using unmanned aerial drones.
The move was prompted by fears that Obama’s successor would inherit ambiguous standards on the use of so-called drones, according to Scott Shane of the New York Times. Now that Obama has won a second term in office, codifying the new rules is less of a pressing issue for the administration, but it still plans to formalize them.
The Department of Defense and CIA have pushed to broaden the proposed rules, allowing for more suspects to be targeted, while the State Department and White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan have sought a more restrained approach, according to the Times.
Drone strikes on suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen have received criticism from human rights advocates, who claim the practice often kills civilians and violates international law. Within the United States, critics have said the drone strikes exist in a gray-area of the law, lacking due process and accountability, particularly when it comes to the killing of U.S.-born terror suspects overseas.
But the Obama administration has defended its use of drones. Earlier this year, Brennan said the practice was legal, strategically valuable and conformed “to the principle of proportionality.” He added that the Obama administration wished to set the ethical standard for targeted drone strikes.
“President Obama and those of us on his national security team are very mindful that as our nation uses this technology, we are establishing precedents that other nations may follow, and not all of those nations may — and not all of them will be nations that share our interests or the premium we put on protecting human life, including innocent civilians,” Brennan explained.
During an appearance on The Daily Show in October, Obama hinted at codifying rules for drone strikes. He said there needed to be a “legal architecture in place” to rein in the president’s power to go after “bad folks somewhere on the other side of the world.”
Earlier this year, Shane and fellow New York Times reporter Jo Becker revealed that Obama was intimately involved in the use of drone strikes against terrorism suspects. The President personally oversaw the practice, being the final authority on who was and wasn’t targeted.
“He insisted on reviewing names that were going to be named to the so-called kill or capture list,” Shane explained to PBS Newshour in May. “And he has approved all strikes outside Pakistan and many of the more riskier, complex strikes inside Pakistan since he became president. Instead of wanting deniability and wanting to keep at a distance from this lethal program, he actually wanted to be very much part of it.”