Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

THE DRONE AGE; Our View; Rule of Law Must Catch Up with Targeted Killing

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

THE DRONE AGE; Our View; Rule of Law Must Catch Up with Targeted Killing

Article excerpt

At a street-justice level, killing al-Qaida terrorists with missiles fired by drone aircraft has a kind of cosmic symmetry: Al- Qaida made the rules surprise attacks by air so now al-Qaida has to live with them. Or not.

But the United States is a nation of laws and a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. Street justice is not allowed, but the laws havent caught up to combat against stateless enemies, much less death by remote control.

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it, said Robert E. Lee as he surveyed the carnage of the Fredericksburg battlefield in 1862. Drone warfare is not so terrible, at least at our end, and there is serious danger of becoming too fond of it.

The issue got a serious airing Thursday as the Senate Intelligence Agency opened confirmation hearings for John O. Brennan, President Barack Obamas nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA operates a fleet of drones the Pentagon has its own and Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obamas top counterterrorism adviser, has played a key role in developing drone warfare policy.

Mr. Brennan was asked about revelations contained in a Department of Justice white paper obtained Jan. 30 by NBC News. The paper expands on the legal rationale previously offered by Obama administration officials for the targeted killings of al-Qaida leaders; the dead include at least three American citizens.

So far the administration has not made public the legal briefs that underlie the white paper, though it has now indicated it will make those briefs available to House and Senate intelligence committees.

Indeed, it wasnt until last March that Attorney General Eric Holder officially acknowledged the Justice Departments role in drafting the legal rationale for the drone strikes. The white paper expands on Mr. Holders statements.

It argues that the president has the authority to authorize drone attacks is his role as commander in chief, under laws of international warfare, under the doctrine of self-defense and under the congressional authorization of use of military force against al- Qaida.

The target must pose an imminent threat against the United States (though imminent doesnt necessarily mean right away). The target must have been approved by a senior U. …

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