In recent months drone strikes in Pakistan have decreased, partly in response to these negative effects. But The Post’s reporting suggests that the administration is working to institutionalize the system of creating “kill or capture” lists and is contemplating the use of drones in more countries where jihadist forces are active, including Libya and Mali. This raises new legal and political quandaries. The further — in geography, time and organizational connection — that the drone war advances from the original al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan, the less validity it has under the 2001 congressional authorization. While the United States has legal cause to retaliate against the terrorists who attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, most of the world is unlikely to accept an argument that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks justify drone strikes more than a decade later in Northern Africa.
In our view, the continuing fight against al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists targeting the United States must be considered a war and conducted as such. Nevertheless, when that war ranges far from conventional battlefields, U.S. interests will be better served by greater disclosure, more political accountability, more checks and balances and more collaboration with allies. Drone strikes should be carried out by military forces rather than by the CIA; as with other military activities, they should be publicly disclosed and subject to congressional review. The process and criteria for adding names to kill lists in non-battlefield zones should be disclosed and authorized by Congress — just like the rules for military detention and interrogation. Before operations begin in a country, the administration should, as with other military operations, consult with Congress and, if possible, seek a vote of authorization. It should seek open agreements with host countries and other allies.