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A rightful airing of Obama drone policy

In the latest concern over war tactics against terrorists, President Obama had to release his guidelines for the use of drones in targeted killings. To help ensure constancy and consistency in civic values during wartime, Congress must openly debate this policy.


An unmanned US Predator drone flies over southern Afghanistan on a moon-lit night in 2010.

AP Photo/File

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Democracies, like people, are only as strong as their fidelity to their values, which is why President Obama’s guidelines for drone warfare, just disclosed, needs close scrutiny by Congress.

Any war requires the public to give its buy-in for the tactics of war, especially in the struggle against Al Qaeda, which is as much a contest of ideas as it is of force and stealth.

Yet Americans have not had much debate over Mr. Obama’s heavy reliance on Predator drones for the targeted killings of terrorists. How do we know for sure if the Central Intelligence Agency does enough to prevent the loss of innocent life in a drone strike inside Pakistan? What level of evidence does the president use to place an American on a drone hit list? Why can’t the courts be a check on the president’s choices?

Since 9/11, two presidents have employed a range of antiterrorism tactics – from torture to indefinite detentions to drones – to protect Americans while also trying to protect basic civil values. Obama has adopted many of President Bush’s tactics while rejecting others. Both claimed legal authority for their actions.

Yet as protectors in chief, both presidents also resorted to the doctrine of “state secrets privilege” to hide many of their tactics from the courts, Congress, and the public.

This secrecy, while often expedient in deterring real threats, does not help maintain a constancy over time in upholding civic values. Americans need more open debate on issues like drone policy to build up the kind of political consensus that can find a balance between war tactics and the basic values of democracy, such as due process of law.


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