When Hellfire missiles were first used in drone strikes to kill outside a combat zone — in Yemen, in 2002 — six men died, including an American. A United Nations special rapporteur declared the action unlawful, but C.I.A. drone attacks have increased substantially since then: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization in London, estimates the number of persons killed in drone attacks at 3,000 to 4,500, including well over 200 children.
Today, the United States is involved in a true armed conflict only in Afghanistan. Yet drone attacks have been carried out in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and may soon begin in Libya, Mali and Nigeria. None of these countries have attacked America, so no right of self-defense can be invoked under the United Nations Charter, as the white paper asserts.
The Bush administration memos that attempted to justify torture, indefinite detention and illegal wiretapping have been widely rejected. How, then, can Mr. Brennan and other advisers to Mr. Obama (a former lecturer on constitutional law) condone this spurious effort to justify targeted killings?
Terms like “armed conflict,” “combat” and “battlefield” are integral to the proper functioning of human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. Such definitions are well established and can no more be tampered with to suit the administration’s preferences than can the definition of torture. Sadly, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which under Mr. Bush drafted the notorious memo that narrowly construed torture as severe pain causing “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” has now, under Mr. Obama, drafted the targeted-killings document.
Whether you agree or not, I think she’s raising some important issues.
My own view is that, first and foremost, the Patriot Act should be repealed. We must have limits to what is done in the name of national security and two successive administrations have stretched the provisions of the Patriot Act far beyond what I believe it was intended to accomplish. I’d like to see Congress exercising more scrutiny but when even bipartisan calls for more openness on the part of the administration and enhanced scrutiny are met with claims of partisan or even racial bias, it’s hard to envision that taking place.