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Outsourcing Lethality

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
May 7, 2013
Foreign Policy

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"Outsourcing" is a dirty word in Washington these days. But officials are strangely silent when it involves targeted killings. This column has repeatedly focused on the scope, distinction, legality, and strategic effectiveness of America's Third War of non-battlefield targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines. Among the most widely promulgated criticisms of U.S. drone strikes is the absence of any transparency in decision making, limited congressional and judicial oversight, and the potential for civilian harm without any apparent corrective action. Policymakers and analysts have offered suggestions for how -- over 10 years after they began -- the Obama administration could comprehensively reform its targeted killing policies. Finally, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder promised some reforms related to transparency "in the months ahead." That was several months ago. Given the Obama administration's refusal to provide witnesses to recent congressional hearings on drones -- or answer clarifying questions posed by journalists and policymakers -- it is likely that forthcoming announcements will fall short of the president's repeated goal of making his, "the most transparent administration in history."

However, if you're concerned by the Obama administration's targeted killing policies, don't overlook similar attacks conducted by allies and partners who receive U.S. money, weapons, or actionable intelligence. When the United States provides other states or non-state actors with the capabilities that enable lethal operations -- without which they would not happen -- it bears primary responsibility for the outcome. Whatever drone strike reforms the White House offers, or if additional congressional hearings are held, they must take into account America's troubling role in client-state targeted killings.

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