Obama administration speeded up code on drones before polls
Facing the possibility that President Barack Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials.
The matter has lost some urgency after the November 6 elections, but the administration is still pushing to make the rules formal and resolve internal uncertainty and disagreement about exactly when lethal action is justified, reports the New York Times.
Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the US, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory, the paper said.
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 September 11, 2001, attacks, the US routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures.
But since the first targeted killing by the US in 2002, two administrations have taken the position that the US is at war with Al-Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its enemies wherever they are found.
Partly because United Nations officials know that the US is setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to investigate American drone strikes.
Obama himself has acknowledged that the legal governance of drone strikes is still a work in progress.
"One of the things we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president's reined in terms of some of the decisions that we're making," he had earlier said.