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Three questions to ask about US drone strikes

The US drone program raises serious ethical concerns – particularly about accountability and due process. Congress, with support from President Obama, must develop new oversight rules to ensure that US values are safeguarded.

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An MQ-9 Reaper drone flies over southern Afghanistan. Op-ed contributor Joel H. Rosenthal writes: 'The virtues of US drone policy include precision targeting, limited collateral damage, and preventing troops from going into full combat mode and being killed. But each of these virtues has its limits....When the stakes are so high, is the efficiency argument good enough?'

Lt. Col.. Leslie Pratt/US Air Force/AP/File

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The white paper released in Feb. 2013 detailing the Obama administration’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killings has stirred plenty of controversy. Questions about the policy came up again during the Senate confirmation hearing for John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for CIA director.

White House spokesman Jay Carney has defended the drone memo, asserting: “These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise.” But rather than closing the debate, that statement frames the three essential questions Americans should be asking about US drone policy.

Is it legal?

Legal justification is blurred by two competing frameworks: the law of armed conflict and the criminal justice approach. On the one hand, the Obama administration has embraced the criminal justice model, moving away from the language of the “global war on terrorism” and looking to try 9/11 conspirators in civilian courts. On the other hand, by engaging in executive action to target and kill enemies of the state, Mr. Obama has embraced the core doctrine of the war approach, which bypasses the legal due process of the criminal justice system.

Is it ethical?

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