The White House reportedly is developing rules for when to kill terrorists around the world. The world may never see them, given the Obama administration’s inclination toward unnecessary secrecy regarding its national security policy. But the effort itself is a first step toward acknowledging that when the government kills people away from the battlefield, it must stay within formal guidelines based on the rule of law — especially when the life of an American citizen is at stake.This is the most secretive presidential administration in history, and the Times would do well to push as hard against Obama as it did against President Bush. Recall that the Times was willing to sabotage the Bush administration's foreign surveillance programs, so no doubt such treasonous undermining of national security would be hard to match. I'll simply concede that the Times is on the right track in highlighting the unprecedented violations of law and international norms under this president. But to be consistent the paper should be calling for congressional action, and in the event of executive branch resistance, stonewalling, and cover-up, the initiation of impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives.
For eight years, the United States has conducted but never formally acknowledged a program to kill terrorists associated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban away from the battlefield in Afghanistan. Using drones, the Central Intelligence Agency has made 320 strikes in Pakistan since 2004, killing 2,560 or more people, including at least 139 civilians, according to the Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks counterterrorism operations. Another 55 strikes took place in Yemen.
Administration officials have never explained in any detail how these targets are chosen. Are they killing people only associated with groups that participated in the Sept. 11 attacks, the limitation imposed by Congress when it authorized military force in 2001? Or are they free to remove any threat to the United States they perceive? Officials insist they go after only actual belligerents covered in the 2001 legislation, but the public and the world have no way of knowing whether these decisions are made ad hoc, or how they would be interpreted by future presidents.
Before the election, when it looked as if Mitt Romney had a chance of winning the White House, administration officials began codifying these rules, according to a recent report in The Times by Scott Shane. Mr. Obama did not want to leave an “amorphous” program to his successor, one official told Mr. Shane anonymously.
That impulse was right, even if the reasoning was wrong. The rules for killing shouldn’t be amorphous simply because Mr. Romney might have taken over; they need to rigorous and formalized for Mr. Obama, too. If he sets proper boundaries, it would create a precedent that his successors would have to justify breaking....
Mr. Obama has acknowledged the need for a “legal architecture” to be put in place “to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in.” Yet his administration has resisted legal efforts by The Times and the American Civil Liberties Union to make public its secret legal opinions on these killings. Once the rules are completed, they should be shown to a world skeptical of countries that use deadly force without explanation.
PHOTO: PressTV, "Survey reveals US covers up civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan."