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Going Clear

Author: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy
March 20, 2013
Foreign Policy


According to Daniel Klaidman at the Daily Beast, "[T]he White House is poised to sign off on a plan to shift the CIA's lethal targeting program to the Defense Department." Many critics of the government's targeted-killing policy have been calling for such a move, hoping that it would (in Klaidman's words) "toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program's accountability, and increase transparency." That may be. But if what those critics really want is to end the practice of killing suspected al Qaeda fighters with unmanned aircraft far from active combat zones, they should be careful what they wish for.

Although technically "covert" and carried out under statutory and presidential authorities designed to preserve "plausible deniability," it's an open secret that the CIA has been conducting counterterrorism strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen. The U.S. military conducts similar strikes, usually through Joint Special Operations Command, including in Yemen and Somalia. Many argue that these strikes are illegal or counterproductive -- regardless of who conducts them -- because they deny targeted suspects legal process, violate national sovereignty, cause collateral damage, and fuel radicalism. Others believe, however, that these problems are compounded when the CIA is in charge because of the secrecy and impunity with which it operates.

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