We’ve already  voiced concerns  about the Obama administration’s use of drones and its dubious claims about the program. Last week, classified intelligence reports obtained by McClatchy belied  the administration’s repeated assertions that drones rarely kill civilians, that they are only aimed at terrorists who pose an imminent threat to the U.S., and that they identify intended targets accurately.

As Micah Zenko (an expert quoted in the McClatchy story)  notes  at  Foreign Policy , these revelations drastically undermine the legal justification for the program:

It is the most important reporting on U.S. drone strikes to date because [reporter Jonathan S.] Landay, using U.S. government assessments, plainly demonstrates that the claim repeatedly made by President Obama and his senior aides—-that targeted killings are limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland—-is false.

Senior officials and agencies have emphasized this point over and over because it is essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter’s right to self-defense.

That the government is targeting people who may or may not be terrorists (and may or may not pose any threat to the U.S.) along with any nearby civilians also complicates efforts to defend the drone program under principles of just war such as discrimination of targets, proportionality, and military necessity.

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