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Drones: The Power to Kill

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Abstract: After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, the Bush Administration began the use of unmanned armed aerial drones to pursue targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama Administration has continued this policy, expanding it to pursue substantially more targets in Yemen and new ones in Pakistan. This Article analyzes the Obama Administration’s procedures for placing American citizens on the list of targets for drone strikes and proposes additional measures that Congress and the President can take to ensure that the procedures comply with constitutional guarantees of due process. This Article uses Supreme Court precedents on enemy combatant designations and trials as a source of due process standards. It argues for the following steps: (1) the establishment of an “enemy combatant” definition specific to drone targets; (2) a requirement that the President notify Congress of any potential U.S. citizen target and of any executed strike; (3) verification, immediately before the strike, that the American target continues to meet the definition of enemy combatant; and (4) the opportunity for an advocate of the target to challenge the classification before a neutral decisionmaker.

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