Unmanned aerial drones have become important weapons in the US counterterrorism effort. But questions are mounting about who controls the drones, and what laws govern their use.
Unmanned Predator drones have become the face of the US war on terrorism, an unconventional response to an unconventional enemy. And they are seemingly effective. Last week, they struck down one of the US military's most-wanted enemies: Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban.
The drones are likely to become more a regular feature of counterterrorism. But as they do, the US – and allies like Pakistan – will have to confront important questions about their legality. Who, exactly, controls the drones? And by what laws are they governed?
Surprisingly, nobody really knows.
There has been no real domestic public debate or meaningful congressional oversight over targeted killings, even though their strategic and policy consequences are hotly contested....
Even the legal basis for the targeted killing policy in Pakistan is shrouded in secrecy. Is the CIA operating under the laws of war or some other law? Under the laws of war, only organized armed forces can kill during hostilities; civilian agencies like the CIA cannot. Who reviews CIA target selection and on what criteria? Unlike the military, which has the laws of war to guide it, we simply do not know how the CIA chooses targets and how many civilian bystanders it decides can be killed before it suspends an airstrike.