Presidential whim is not enough

February 11, 2013 • Editorial

At a street-justice level, killing al-Qaida terrorists with missiles fired by drone aircraft has a kind of cosmic symmetry: Al-Qaida made the rules — surprise attacks by air — so now al-Qaida has to live with them. Or not.

But the United States is a nation of laws and a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. Street justice is not allowed, but the laws haven’t caught up to combat against stateless enemies, much less death by remote control.

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it,” said Robert E. Lee as he surveyed the carnage of the Fredericksburg battlefield in 1862. Drone warfare is not so terrible, at least at our end, and there is serious danger of becoming too fond of it.

The issue got a serious airing Thursday as the Senate Intelligence Agency opened confirmation hearings for John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA operates a fleet of Login to read more

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