From David Cole:
What would President Romney do with a drone? The New York Times reported Sunday that this question apparently haunted the White House so much that in the weeks before the election it raced to establish “explicit rules” and “clear standards and procedures” for the use of unmanned drones for targeted killings. It should not be surprising, I suppose, that the administration was less comfortable with someone else pushing buttons to kill people than with its own exercise of that authority. As one candid, though anonymous, official stated, “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.”
The content of the rules remains a tightly-held mystery. Apparently they are so secret that they are toted around from office to office in a single “playbook,” and not even shared on the government’s secure email reserved for classified material.
But what is most disturbing is the news that it took a possible transfer of power to push the White House to establish such rules. We’ve been assured by multiple Obama administration spokespersons over the years that its targeted killing program is fully lawful, and subject to “rigorous standards and process of review,” as Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan put it in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in April. Yet only on the eve of a potential transition did the administration think to reduce these rigorous standards and procedures to writing?…But a possible transition from Obama to Romney was not the only, or even the most important, deadline in play. What about each and every decision over the past four years to authorize a remote-control execution, without trial, without charges, without a defense? Surely each of those actions presented the decision makers with an even more urgent deadline: one would think that before giving the green light to such a momentous act, you would want the “clear rules and procedures” to be in place. Yet the Obama administration has evidently seen fit to make hundreds of such life-or-death decisions, and to authorize more than three hundred strikes, without first developing “explicit rules” or “clear standards and procedures.”…
The real problem is not that there are no guidelines written down—though the administration itself seems now to acknowledge that what it has is insufficient—but that we the people don’t know what they are. The idea that the president can authorize the killing of a human being far from any traditional battlefield without any publically accessible set of constraints, conditions, or requirements is unacceptable in a country committed to the rule of law.