Human rights groups condemn White House drone "rulebook"

The ACLU and Code Pink say guidelines would not ensure legality or transparency

By Natasha Lennard
November 26, 2012 6:16PM (UTC)
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Antiwar and human rights groups have reacted with ire to news, reported by the New York Times, that the Obama administration has sought to codify its drone program.

The Times reported late last week that, concerned that an "amorphous" set of guidelines over targeted killings could be passed on to a new president, efforts were made ahead of the election to pin down a clearer set of rules about kill lists and drone strikes approvals.


However, as the Guardian reported, human rights groups have noted that such a drone "rulebook" does nothing to ensure that the U.S. act in line with international law nor would it increase transparency drone programs.

"To say they are rewriting the rulebook implies that there isn't already a rulebook," Jameel Jaffer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Center for Democracy, told the Guardian. "But what they are already doing is rejecting a rulebook – of international law." Jaffer contined:

The suggestion is that there is a significant debate going on within the administration about the scope of the government's authority to carry out targeted killings. I would question the significance of the debate. If imminent [in the context of drones being aimed only at "imminent" threats] is defined as broadly as some say it is within the administration then the gap between the sides is narrow. It matters how you define 'imminent'. The Bush administration was able to say it didn't condone torture because of the definition of torture. You might think that if someone says, "I believe we should only use targeted killings only when there's an imminent threat," you might think that sounds OK. But without terms like 'imminent' being defined it is impossible to evaluate the arguments.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of antiwar group Code Pink, which recently completed a trip to Pakistan to protest the U.S.'s drone program there, echoed the ACLU's concerns:


"They are saying, 'The levers might be in the wrong hands' [under a future, different president]. What about the way they are using them right now?"

The New York Times cited an unnamed official who claimed the impetus for a drone "rulebook" was a concern that if Obama had not been reelected "the levers might no longer be in our hands."

The Times noted too that the administration was "a long way" from embracing transparency over its targeted killing program -- and the "rulebook" would do little to change this. Indeed, the U.S. government has refused even to acknowledge the existence of the drone program in Pakistan in court. And, as the Times reported, "the draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among agencies over the last several months is so highly classified, officials said, that it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by e-mail."

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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