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Drone rules need updating

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - Updated: 4:52 PM

It's safe to say that if a Republican president carried out as many drone attacks as Barack Obama, Democrats and liberals would be howling. But you barely hear a peep from them.

Finally, though, some congressional scrutiny has been put on Obama's use of state-sponsored assassinations, and it's about time.

The Obama administration has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan alone, far more than authorized under President George W. Bush. The administration is tracking and executing terrorists based on secret intelligence -- and the president's final approval.

Attacks also have been carried out in Somalia and Yemen and, at times, American citizens have been targeted. As commander in chief, Obama has a lot of latitude in the war against terrorism, but even presidential powers aren't absolute.

The strikes are supposed to be carried out only if subjects pose a "continuing and imminent threat" to the United States. But a Justice Department memo, first reported by NBC News, diminishes that requirement by suggesting a strike does not require U.S. authorities to conclude that a specific attack will take place "in the immediate future."

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wants the Obama administration to cite all its legal opinions underlying the authority to use drones, especially to kill American citizens. This should be the first step toward a much clearer policy.

The public should be greatly concerned there is no judicial procedure in place, no due process and no oversight regarding the use of drones. In contrast, Congress has set up a secret court to review and approve surveillance warrants, including the wiretapping of suspected terrorists. Having some type of judicial review in place before the government orders a death strike makes sound legal and moral sense.

Drone technology and its use are bound to grow; indeed, drones are effective tools, allowing the administration to target terrorists, limit civilian casualties and keep our armed forces out of harm's way in the process. Such attacks have been carried out against terrorists connected to the attack at Fort Hood in Texas and to the failed "underwear bomb" plot, both in 2009.

Obama and future presidents will undoubtedly continue the program, and the federal government also is bolstering its "domestic drone" strategy, for observation purposes for our aviation system and at our borders.

As this technology continues to expand, it's imperative the government put sensible guidelines in place, including a reasonable system of checks and balances. The potential for abuse through this program is alarming and should be headed off now.

-- The Poughkeepsie Journal


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