The New York Times reports that the White House has finally decided to come up with some “explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned ,” which is something that does not yet exist even though at least 2,500 people have been killed by remote-controlled CIA and military strikes since President Obama took office. Apparently, the administration grew concerned about the lack of formal regulations after details of Obama’s shifting policies on approving “kill lists” and strikes began to emerge, though the election is what really motivated them to, as the president said to Jon Stewart back in October, “put a legal architecture in place.”
“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an “amorphous” program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.
When the drone strikes first began under President Bush, most were aimed at high-level members of Al Qaeda. The target list has since grown to include militants who clash with the governments and militaries of Yemen and Pakistan, as well as those who fight alongside the Taliban. The United States also engages in so-called “signature strikes,” which are carried out against “suspected or unknown” militants — such as young men carrying weapons in areas controlled by extremist groups. Unsurprisingly, these tactics are extremely unpopular with pretty much everyone.
A highly classified draft of a drone strike rulebook has reportedly begun making the rounds among the various agencies responsible for such things, but it’ll probably be a while before the public sees it — if ever. Still, this at least seems like a step in the right direction.