Drone Policy, Revisited

Yes, the administration’s drone policy finally attracted some significant attention as of late. But many critics were willing to accept the assurances that the administration’s use of drones was limited to “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” that constitute an “imminent threat.”

In the first lecture of my public policy courses, I always caution my students that policy is a “pattern of public action,” not rhetoric or statements of intent.  The latter can be instructive, but we should be fare more concerned with the data on implementation. McClatchy has released its review of U.S. intelligence sources and it offers some insights into the administrations actual drone policy. As Jonathan S. Landay reports:

At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”

There are more details in this article that should be required reading for anyone concerned about drone policy, along with some harsh evaluations of the veracity of the administration’s stated policy and its legal foundations. In the words of Mary Ellen O’Connell, Notre Dame Law School: “The United States has gone far beyond what the U.S. public – and perhaps even Congress – understands the government has been doing and claiming they have a legal right to do.”

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