WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama left plenty of ambiguity in new policy guidelines that he says will restrict how and when the U.S. can launch targeted drone strikes, leaving himself significant power over how and when the weapons can be deployed.
National security experts say it's imperative to leave some room in the guidelines, given the evolving fight against terrorism. But civil rights advocates argue too little has been revealed about the program to ensure its legality, even as the president takes steps to remove some of the secrecy.
"Obama said that there would be more limits on targeted killings, a step in the right direction," said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. "But a mere promise that the US will work within established guidelines that remain secret provides little confidence that the US is complying with international law."
In this Thursday photo, President Barack Obama talks about national security, at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington. The president left plenty of ambiguity in new policy guidelines that he says will restrict how and when the U.S. can launch targeted drone strikes, leaving himself vast power over how and when the weapons can be deployed.
An unclassified version of the newly established drone guidelines was made public Thursday in conjunction with Obama's wide-ranging address on U.S. counterterrorism policies. Congress' Intelligence committees and the Capitol Hill leadership have been briefed on the more detailed, classified policies, but because those documents are secret, there's no way of knowing how much more clarity they provide.
The president has already been using some of the guidelines to determine when to launch drone strikes, administration officials said. Codifying the strictest standards, they argue, will ultimately reduce the number of approved attacks.
Among the newly public rules is a preference for capturing suspects instead of killing them, which gives the U.S. an opportunity to gather intelligence and disrupt terrorist plots. The guidelines also state that a target must pose a continuing and imminent threat to the U.S.