Senator Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) 13-hour filibuster over whether or not the White House believes it has the authority to assassinate terrorism suspects within the United States raised the weary spirits of critics of the Obama administration's targeted killing program. But, advocates say that the focus on something that may never come to pass—drone strikes at home—should not distract from the problems with targeted killing as it is actually used.
"We ought to be more focused on the current program as it is today rather than what I see as a very hypothetical and not very likely use of force within the United States," says Raha Wala, an attorney with Human Rights First. "We have hundreds of drone strikes, thousands of people dead in a half a dozen or so countries around the world, with very little explanation from the administration as to the legal, ethical and operational basis for the program."
While the administration says it does not have the authority to use drones within the United States to kill a suspected terrorist who is not "engaged in combat," between 3000 and 5000 people have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Many have been civilians. Many of the strikes themselves have not been targeted at specific individuals, but in so-called "signature strikes" against anonymous targets who are singled out and believed to be militants based on a "pattern of behavior." While the administration has publicly defended the use of targeted killing against suspected terrorists, it has said little publicly about signature strikes. Civil liberties and human rights advocates hope that Paul's filibuster—which did at times touch on drone strikes abroad—will help draw attention to the targeted killing program as it actually exists.