Will drone strikes become Obama’s Guantanamo?

No other government has said publicly that it agrees with the U.S. policy or legal rationale for drones. European allies, who vigorously criticized the Bush administration for asserting the unilateral right to use force against terrorists in countries outside Afghanistan, have neither supported nor criticized reported U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Instead, they have largely looked the other way, as they did with the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Human rights advocates, on the other hand, while quiet for several years (perhaps to avoid criticizing the new administration), have grown increasingly uncomfortable with drone attacks. Last year, the U.N. rapporteur for summary executions and extrajudicial killings said that drone strikes may violate international humanitarian and human rights law and could constitute war crimes. U.S. human rights groups, which stirred up international opposition to Bush administration counterterrorism policies, have been quick to condemn the Awlaki killing.

Even if Obama administration officials are satisfied that drone strikes comply with domestic and international law, they would still be wise to try to build a broader international consensus. The administration should provide more information about the strict limits it applies to targeting and about who has been targeted. One of the mistakes the Bush administration made in its first term was adopting novel counterterrorism policies without attempting to explain and secure international support for them.