The leak of a Justice Department document this week is raising concerns about the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens. About time. The Obama administration has gotten a pass for too long on its use of drones.
The document contends that the United States can kill Americans who are suspected of being senior leaders in al-Qaida or are part of an “associated force” and who pose “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”
However, there are many questions about who meets this criteria and when it can apply. “Imminent” threat, for example, doesn’t require a specific attack to be in process.
The Bush administration was correctly criticized for rewriting legal definitions to allow the torture of suspected terrorists. Yet there has been little attention to the expanded use of drones by President Obama. Is it wrong to torture a suspect but OK to blow him up?
There also hasn’t been enough scrutiny of the effectiveness of drone strikes. The administration has killed a number of high-level al-Qaida members, but the strikes have also killed innocent civilians, which has turned the public against the United States in key countries.
The Bush administration showed the danger of taking an ends-justifies-the-means approach to fighting terrorism and relying on shoddy legal arguments to circumvent legal and constitutional rights. The Obama administration must not repeat those mistakes.