Policy for Deadly RPA Strikes Released

After years of lawsuits and public pressure on the Obama administration to provide the legal basis for its lethal strikes by remotely piloted aircraft against terrorists, the White House has released a previously secret “playbook” explaining the criteria and process for such action. The 18-page presidential policy guidance is dated May 22, 2013, and was heavily redacted in places. It sets out a detailed process for nomination and multi-agency review of proposed targets for lethal action and requires a final decision by the president. It repeatedly states a requirement that the action be “conducted lawfully” and “against lawful targets.” And it declares the most important policy objective is “to protect American lives.” Nomination and approval of deadly action against “high value terrorist” targets is conditioned on “near certainty” of the identity of the target and “near certainty that lethal action can be taken with without injuring or killing non-combatants.” The guidance governs lethal RPA strikes in countries outside designated war zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the restrictive language on carrying out lethal action against terrorists, the document concludes that nothing in it “shall be construed to prevent the president from exercising his authority as commander in chief.”