In a previous post, I suggested that the UN was beginning what was likely a highly biassed investigation of drone strikes by the U.S. and its allies. But I may have spoken too soon.
The British lawyer heading up the investigation, Ben Emmerson now appears to have endorsed John Brennan’s role in the U.S.’s drone program, as well as his nomination for Director of Central Intelligence.
In an interview with Danger Room, Emmerson said that
“By putting Brennan in direct control of the CIA’s policy [of targeted killings], the president has placed this mediating legal presence in direct control of the positions that the CIA will adopt and advance, so as to bring the CIA much more closely under direct presidential and democratic control. It’s right to view this as a recognition of the repository of trust that Obama places in Brennan to put him in control of the organization that poses the greatest threat to international legal consensus and recognition of the lawfulness of the drone program.”
Emmerson is convinced that Brennan has tried to ensure that the program properly balances the interests of the law, counterterrorism, and the agencies implementing it. He also claims that Brennan has upset some CIA hawks by holding them back and enforcing presidential authority over the agency.
Emmerson also believes that Brennan brings consistency and intelligibility to the program’s decision-making:
“Brennan has been the driving force for the imposition of a single consistent and coherent analysis, both legal and operational, as to the way the administration will pursue this program,” he explains. “I’m not suggesting that I agree with that analysis. That’s not a matter for me, it’s a matter for states, and there’s a very considerable disagreement about that. But what I am saying is that what he will impose is restraint over the wilder ambitions of the agency’s hawks to treat this program in a manner that is ultimately unaccountable and secret.”
“The decision to put Brennan as director of the CIA is a decision to stamp presidential authority over the agency, and to bring it firmly under control.”
Mr. Emmerson’s focus on the internal processes and institutions related to the drone program is very promising, since it means that his investigation will less likely turn into a litany of mistakes made in individual strikes or dubious statistics on civilian deaths. It may even suggest that Mr. Emmerson’s findings could include useful advice on procedural protections against such dangers as mistaken targeting, bad decisions regarding proportionality, and lack of accountability for abuses.
Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow
Center for Policy & Research