Back when Mitt Romney (remember him?) looked like he might’ve been on his way to becoming the next president of the United States, Barack Obama and his team at the White House scrambled to put together some kind of rules for the use of drones to pursue targeted killings. Though Obama made drone warfare a centerpiece of his counterterrorism effort, relying far more heavily on the tactic than his predecessor George Bush ever did, codifying the process didn’t become an urgent concern until it actually looked like Obama’s presidency may have been coming to an end.
It didn’t of course, and Obama instead began his second term this weekend. It wasn’t his own inauguration that forced the codification of drone rules along, though, but the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Requiring confirmation by the Senate, the nomination provided the opportunity for senators to choose to question the White House’s drone war. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has asked Brennan to outline the rules for the use of drones in targeted killings. What’s known about the use of drones publicly indicates a “due process” almost entirely self-contained in the White House that’s seemingly immune from disclosure. It appears President Obama is close to approving a “playbook” on the use of drones in targeted killings, which will include a one year exemption for the CIA’s drone war in Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates up to 3,400 fatalities since 2004, with up to nearly 900 civilians and 176 children, with 310 of 362 strikes since 2004 coming under President Obama. Nevertheless, the Washington Post reports that the exemption for the CIA in Pakistan was a “compromise” needed to finish the rest of the “playbook,” which has drawn criticism for codifying and not reforming the process of drone warfare. From the Post:
Critics see the manual as a symbol of the extent to which the targeted killing program has become institutionalized, part of an apparatus being assembled by the Obama administration to sustain a seemingly permanent war.
The playbook is “a step in exactly the wrong direction, a further bureaucratization of the CIA’s paramilitary killing program” over the legal and moral objections of civil liberties groups, said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s National Security Project.
Far from the end to a decade of war promised by the president in his inaugural address just yesterday.