By Robert Schlesinger |
After numerous calls for it, a Department of Justice "white paper" legal justification for the Obama administration's lethal drone policy—specifically the targeting of the occasional "U.S. person" overseas who also was/is a terrorist leader—has finally appeared, albeit by an apparent leak.
For a congressional intelligence oversight perspective, here's what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had to say yesterday about the controversial "U.S. person" part of the paper:
While the analysis in the white paper is not specific to any one individual, there has been significant question over the death of a U.S. citizen and operational leader of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula named Anwar al-Aulaqi. As President Obama said at the time of his death, Aulaqi was the external operations leader for AQAP. He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009 and was responsible for additional attempts to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010. He was actively plotting and recruiting others to kill Americans until the time of his death in Yemen.
While this doesn't—necessarily—say that she agrees with the policy, neither does she disagree with it—and seems to defer both to the deliberations and authority of the president to conduct these kinds of lethal operations against terror leaderships overseas—including the occasional U.S. person who might be plotting against us. It's also the "right" policy answer.
Also, this is just the latest of President Obama's policies that look more and more like the George W. Bush's policies he was so critical of before he took office, e.g., "enhanced interrogation", Guantánamo Bay detention, etc. Well, once again, Mr. Obama, welcome to the real world: It's a very, very dangerous place out there, and many bad people just don't like us and never will.
However, let's finally get the politics out of these kind of operations: The Department of Justice legal memo is right on and such has been part of the settled law of armed conflict for a long time. And, again Mr. President, it really is a War on Terror that we are in—and if you don't kill them when you can, they will plot to kill us, just like the late Anwar al-Awlaki did.
Drone operations offer us a very efficient way to "reach out and touch" terror evildoers in the world—especially their leaderships—without the commitment of large-scale forces or political entanglements with unreliable and corrupt "allies." And, ever more advanced drone-like and other remote technologies offer us a way to stay ahead of the threat, and we should invest heavily in them.
In sum, it's really quite simple: Terror leaderships overseas must be at constant risk of instant death by whatever means available to us, and drones do the job just fine—for now. And, a "U.S. person" who involves themselves in terror activities overseas has no immunity whatsoever from these kind of remote operations.
About Daniel J. Gallington Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute i
Dixon Osburn Director of Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program
Rosa Brooks Fellow at the New America Foundation
Alexa Koenig Executive Director of University of California-Berkeley's Human Rights Center.