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« Why engaging Iran on the nuclear program makes more sense now than ever | Main | "Cable" comes to the cancer ward »
12:05AM

By virtue of Obama's vigorous use of drones, he needs to establish the rule-set cover for their operators

WAPO story by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

The essential danger/challenge:

On The Post's op-ed page Sunday, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey called the killing of Yazid a "major blow" to al-Qaeda because "Yazid has essentially served as al-Qaeda's 'chief financial officer,' coordinating the group's fundraising and overseeing the distribution of money essential to its survival." By the ACLU's reasoning, this would make the strike that killed Yazid illegal. Does the ACLU want to see the Predator operator who took out al-Qaeda's third in command prosecuted for murder? The ACLU has already gone after CIA interrogators -- surreptitiously photographing these covert operatives and sharing the images with al-Qaeda terrorists in Guantanamo. CIA drone operators may soon be in for similar treatment.

The Obama administration has put the Predator operators at greater risk by dramatically narrowing the legal underpinnings for their actions. State Department legal adviser Harold Koh -- a harsh critic of the Bush administration -- explained in a March 25 speech that the Obama administration was no longer invoking the president's Article II authority as commander in chief to justify many of its policies in the war on terrorism. But Koh said that drone attacks were lawful because "Congress authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force through the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)."

The problem -- as Koh's predecessor, John Bellinger, told The Post last week -- is that Congress authorized the use of force against those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And many of those currently targeted -- particularly outside Afghanistan -- had nothing to do with those attacks.

You have to think that if Obama lays out his case, however classified the presentation, to the Congress and says, "I'm taking the fight to them where they hide and I need this legality question settled for the long haul of this Long War," that he'd get the fix the CIA needs and deserves.

The longer the administration delays this inevitable step, the more jeopardy to which operators will be subjected.

Pretending this fight can be prosecuted in a neat, country-by-country basis, with all i's dotted in advance by Congress, is dangerous.  Better to clear the air and incentivize the operators. No reason to be mealy-mouthed about it or hide behind "interpretations."  Most Americans will see this as a very reasonable extension of Executive Branch writ.

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