Wolves Circle the CIA’s Predator Program

Posted on June 07, 2010

In today’s Washington Post, I discuss how the political winds are already shifting when it comes to the CIA’s Predator program. Having brought down the agency’s high-value interrogation program, the Left has now begun agitating to stop the drone attacks that are taking out high-ranking al Qaeda leaders, and to lay the groundwork to prosecute those authorizing and conducting them.

For years, the drone program got a pass as critics lashed out at the agency’s interrogation program. In my book, Courting Disaster, I quote one former CIA official who regularly briefed Congress, and described how he would show members of Congress videos of Predator strikes, and they would cheer the scenes of destruction—and then moments later grill and berate him over the agency’s interrogation methods. Former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo pointed out in a recent speech that at the very same time the agency was waterboarding Abu Zubaydah and KSM, the CIA was also carrying out lethal operations against terrorists—yet “there was never, ever, as far as I could discern, any debate, discussion, questioning on moral or legal grounds about the efficacy of the United States targeting and killing terrorists.”

Now that questioning has begun. Last week, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, issued a report which says that CIA officials involved in the drone program may be in legal jeopardy. Why? Because outside of Afghanistan and Iraq we cannot use tools of war for what is essentially a law enforcement matter. Alston writes that the United States may have “unilaterally extend[ed] the law of armed conflict to situations that are essentially matters of law enforcement,” and says that “outside the context of armed conflict, the use of drones for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.”

This is the crux of the Left’s case against the drones. Predator strikes may be lawful inside the confines of acknowledged war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. But beyond the borders of these countries, the war on terror is really not a war at all—it is a law enforcement operation. As the ACLU put it in a letter to President Obama, “The entire world is not a war zone, and wartime tactics that may be permitted on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be deployed anywhere in the world where a terrorism suspect happens to be located.” Note the law enforcement term “terrorism suspect.”

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