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Are CIA drone strikes in Yemen illegal?
The U.S. is reportedly ramping up drone attacks against al Qaeda suspects in Yemen. Is this a logical extension of the war on terror, or a dangerous violation of the law?
Yemeni soldiers stand guard: The Arabian Peninsula nation is reportedly a hot bed of al Qaeda suspects, and the CIA, on President Obama's orders, may resume Predator drone strikes in the area.
Yemeni soldiers stand guard: The Arabian Peninsula nation is reportedly a hot bed of al Qaeda suspects, and the CIA, on President Obama's orders, may resume Predator drone strikes in the area.
YAHYA ARHAB/epa/Corbis
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merican intelligence agencies say the Yemen-based group known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) poses the most immediate terrorist threat to the U.S. While Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh allowed U.S. airstrikes in his country, his chaotic downfall has thrown such targeting of suspected militants into doubt and gives AQAP space to grow. Regardless, President Obama has reportedly authorized the CIA to ramp up Predator drone strikes against AQAP, from a new secret base in the region. Does that flout U.S. law?

Yes, it's illegal — we're not at "war" with Yemen: "Exactly what theory of military action allows President Obama to do this without congressional approval?" says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Unlike the drone strikes in Pakistan, there doesn't even seem to be a legal fig leaf here. Obama isn't pretending we are at war with Yemen, yet he's escalating a long-running military campaign there. The War Powers Act should apply to CIA drones as much as fighter jets.
"The future of non-war"

No. This counts as self-defense: Drone warfare does raise "many important and difficult legal issues," especially in a lawless place like Yemen, says Robert Chesney at Lawfare. But it's a stretch to claim that CIA drone attacks are illegal. In fact, you could make a "strong argument... that they are conducted in accordance with the laws of war." It's essentially just "using lethal force in national self-defense," like Bill Clinton's 1998 missile strikes against al Qaeda.
"Unsound criticism of the legality of drone strikes..."

Legal or not, Congress needs to monitor this: Look, "I'm all for killing terrorists," says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. And I'm sure "Obama has a perfectly defensible case for targeting the Yemeni variety." But if we're going to give the president "carte blanche to kill anywhere on earth," especially using the CIA, we definitely need "robust public and congressional debate." The risk of abuse is almost as dangerous as terrorism itself.
"The CIA plans summer blockbusters in Yemen"

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