My new book, The Drone Memos, will be published on November 15. It’s a collection of the most important legal and policy documents relating to the U.S. drone campaign, preceded by an extended, critical introduction that endeavors to place the documents in context. Readers of this blog are already familiar with my views about the drone campaign, but my introduction to The Drone Memos is a more sustained reflection on the normalization of targeted killing, the secrecy surrounding the practice, and the US. government’s legal justifications for it. From the first few pages:
This book is possible because the secrecy surrounding American drone strikes has begun, at the margins, to erode. The documents collected here shed light on how a president committed to ending the abuses associated with the Bush administration’s “war on terror” came to dramatically expand one of the practices most identified with that war, and they supply a partial view of the legal and policy framework that underlies that practice. But while many of the documents collected here were meant to be defenses of the drone campaign, ultimately they complicate, at the very least, the government’s oft-repeated argument that the campaign is lawful.
To be sure, even the existence of these documents is an indication of the extent to which the drone campaign is saturated with the language of law. Perhaps no administration before this one has tried so assiduously to justify its resort to the weapons of war. But the rules that purportedly limit the government’s actions are imprecise and elastic; they are cherry picked from different legal regimes; the government regards some of them to be discretionary rather than binding; and even the rules the government concedes to be binding cannot, in the government’s view, be enforced in any court. If this is law, it is law without limits—law without constraint.
The book’s publication coincides with the end of an election campaign in which Americans have been compelled to confront the fragility of our democracy and of the rule of law. Perhaps new awareness of this fragility will lead at least some people to see the drone campaign, and the broad claims of executive power that underlie it, in a new light.
The Drone Memos, which will be published by The New Press, is available for pre-order here. Copies will also be available at Just Security’s Three-Year Anniversary event, which will be held at NYU on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Details about that event are here.