Given the current unrest in the Middle East, Americans' cynicism
about the spread of such ideals is understandable. But the "rule of law"
is a galvanizing concept around the world. From Syria to Brazil to
China, people are demanding governments that are accountable to them,
less corrupt and merit-based. Establishing those ideals is
extraordinarily difficult, but the popular desire is clear.
The Obama administration's covert drone program is on the wrong side
of history. With each strike, Washington presents itself as an opponent
of the rule of law, not a supporter. Not surprisingly, a foreign power
killing people with no public discussion, or review of who died and why,
promotes anger among Pakistanis, Yemenis and many others.
Questions about covert drone strikes are finally being asked in
Washington. Hearings tomorrow on whether John Brennan should become the
next CIA director will bring rare scrutiny to the program. And NBC News' publication of a leaked Justice Department memo
justifying the administration's claim that it has the authority to kill
an American citizen without judicial review is finally prompting criticism as well.
While attention has rightly focused on the number of civilians killed in the covert strikes, a story in the New York Times
on Wednesday revealed another destructive by-product of the
overreliance on drones. The piece described how Yemen's elite,
U.S.-trained counterterrorism unit has been posted to traffic duty in
the capital in recent weeks. Instead of the force carrying out raids to
capture militants, drones are being used.
The approach is counterproductive in two ways. Using local security
forces to kill and capture militants is more precise, popular and
effective in the long run than drone strikes. And by snubbing local
forces, the United States is alienating its allies.
"We could be going after some of these guys," a member of the elite force told the Times. "That's what we're trained to do, and the Americans trained us. It doesn't make sense."
The United States is ignoring its own calls for transparency. Singh's report, "Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,"
found that at least 136 people were victims of "extraordinary
rendition" by the United States under the George W. Bush administration.
It reveals that at least 54 countries have assisted in the effort by
allowing U.S. planes carrying detainees to land on their territory.
But the full extent of the program - and whether it continues in any
form today - remains unknown. Both the Obama administration and
congressional oversight committees have failed to release exhaustive
reviews and basic documents that could set the record straight.
Brennan, who served in the CIA at the time, has denied approving of
extraordinary rendition or torture. Officials inside and outside the
administration portray him as a moderate who favors minimizing drone
strikes, opposes torture and favors increasing transparency. His move to
Langley is an effort, they say, to shift drone strikes from covert CIA
activities to more overt attacks carried out by the U.S. military.