The Obama Admin’s Targeted Killing Trump Card

I had a long post written on this Human Rights Watch letter to Obama administration, but MoJo’s blog software ate it, so I’m just going to link and excerpt:

We write to ask that your administration provide greater clarity about its legal rationale for targeted killings, including the use of Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems (drones), and the procedural safeguards it is taking to minimize harm to civilians.

You should read the whole thing, but basically the key takeaway here is that even (long-anticipated) legal defeats on civil liberties issues, like the dismissal of the ACLU/CCR targeted killing case on Tuesday, don’t preclude continued pressure on decision-makers. In fact, the main point of the lawsuits themselves (which almost always fail) is to draw attention to these issues and increase the political costs of maintaining the status quo. As Benjamin Wittes points out, the ACLU and CCR are too politically sophisticated to think they have a good chance of winning these sorts of cases. They know how the state secrets privilege works. The ACLU’s appeal of the Jeppesen DataPlan detainee abuse case to the Supreme Court, announced Wednesday, will be a really hard sell. But the battle will draw more attention to the state secrets privilege, which is central to the Jeppesen case, and further increase the costs to the Obama administration of using its trump card.

These guys are playing the long game. I won’t be at all surprised if we eventually see the ACLU and CCR efforts pay off in the form of the Obama administration releasing more information about the legal rationale behind the targeted killing program.