May 24, 2013

Targeted killings: Necessary evil?

Obama makes his case for a drone-strike policy that includes killing U.S. citizens abroad.

By LESLEY CLARK and JONATHAN S. LANDAY/McClatchy Washington Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

U.S. President Obama speaks about his administration's counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University in Washington
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President Obama speaks at the National Defense University in Washington on Thursday. Obama gave a robust defense of the U.S. drone program.


Handout of two Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicles are seen on the tarmac at a Northrop Grumman test facility in Palmdale,
click image to enlarge

Two Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton drones are seen on the tarmac at a Northrop Grumman test facility in Palmdale, Calif., on Wednesday.


Maine senators back having oversight for drone program

By KEVIN MILLER/Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON - Maine's two U.S. senators said Thursday they supported greater oversight of drones when used to target and kill U.S. citizens.

President Obama said he was open to discussions with Congress about enhancing oversight of drone strikes, including during the relatively rare instances when U.S. citizens are targeted for working at high levels within overseas terrorist groups.

"I was pleased that the president talked about having additional checks," Sen. Angus King said. "It just so happens that (Sen.) Marco Rubio and I presented him with such a solution this morning," he added with a laugh.

Both King and Sen. Susan Collins serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which oversees the nation's clandestine information-gathering network. Collins predicted the president's speech will receive considerable scrutiny from the committee.

"I continue to believe that we require a new legal framework to govern the use of drones for targeted killings overseas of American citizens ... and that no president should have unreviewable authority to order such strikes," Collins, a Republican, said. One option, she said, was a special court to review such planned attacks.

Earlier Thursday, King introduced a bill with Rubio -- a Florida Republican -- that would create an independent "red team" to analyze data supporting targeted strikes against U.S. citizens. The team would be created by the Director of National Intelligence and would be led by someone outside of the intelligence agencies. The team would report to intelligence agencies within 15 days and that analysis as well as details about the targeted individual would be provided to congressional intelligence agencies prior to a strike.

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he discussed his bill briefly with CIA Director John Brennan on Thursday following a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting. During Brennan's nomination hearings in February, King had raised concerns about the constitutionality of the executive branch acting as "the judge, the jury and the executioner" without oversight.

"This does not apply to decisions where we are in hot pursuit (of a threat) or to battlefield decisions," King said of his bill. "Most of these decisions are made over a matter of months."

As the former top-ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Collins had helped lead dozens of hearings on the threat posed by both foreign and "homegrown Islamist extremists." While the president pointed toward the Boston Marathon bombing as an indication of that threat, Collins criticized the administration for not being more outspoken on the issue.

"The threat of homegrown terrorism has grown during the last decade, and the Administration has repeatedly been reluctant to acknowledge that threat," Collins said."

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC


The official U.S. figures of number of strikes and estimated deaths remain classified.

But, according to the New America Foundation which maintains a database of the strikes, the CIA and the military have carried out an estimated 416 drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, resulting in 3,364 estimated deaths, including militants and civilians. The Associated Press also has reported a drone strike in Somalia in 2012 that killed one.

The think tank compiles its numbers by combining reports in major news media that rely on local officials and eyewitness accounts.

Strikes in Pakistan spiked in 2010 under Obama to 122. But the number has dropped to 12 so far this year. Strikes were originally carried out with permission of the Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf, though subsequent Pakistani governments have demanded strikes cease. Most of those killed by the strikes in Pakistan are militants, according to the New America Foundation database.

The CIA and the military have carried out some 69 strikes in Yemen, with the Yemeni government's permission.

-- The Associated Press

The fact sheet also said that those who can be killed must pose a "continuing and imminent threat" to "U.S. persons," setting no geographic limits. Previous administration statements have referred to imminent threats to the United States - the homeland or its interests.

"They appear to be broadening the potential target set," said Christopher Swift, an international legal expert who teaches national security studies at Georgetown University and closely follows the targeted killing issue.

At the same time, new presidential guidance on targeted killings that Obama signed Wednesday appeared designed to address charges by some legal scholars and civil and human rights groups that the administration has relied on an overly broad definition of "imminent" that exceeds the international legal standard.

In his speech, Obama introduced the phrase "continuing and imminent" in what Swift saw as an effort to better define when the U.S. government can use lethal force.

"The standard for the use of force appears to be narrowing because they've introduced the standard of imminent and continuing," Swift said. "Imminent means that the threat poses clear, credible and immediate risk of violence."

Swift said he still has serious problems with the administration's criteria for targeted killing because it has yet to publicly identify beyond the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida's regional affiliates the groups that it considers "associated forces" of the terrorist network and the criteria it uses to define them.

Several other experts said they also remained troubled because Obama continued to keep secret details of the procedures that the administration uses in deciding who can be targeted in drone strikes and other lethal operations off traditional battlefields.

"I don't think anyone should feel reassured by anything that President Obama said about the use of lethal force," said Zack Johnson of Amnesty International.

The speech came as the administration has been rattled by a series of controversies, and Obama sought to stem growing criticism of the drone program from members of Congress and civil and human rights groups that charge it's killed hundreds of civilians and violates U.S. and international law.

Obama said the guidelines he signed Wednesday include working with other countries and only using strikes when the U.S. - or other governments - do not have the ability to capture terrorists.

He said the U.S. preference is to detain and prosecute, and that drone strikes are not used as "punishment" but to prevent attacks waged by terrorists who pose a "continuing and imminent threat to the American people."


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