The killing of the U.S.-born Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on Friday along with another U.S. citizen and two other Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen is likely to fuel the international controversy over the legality and wisdom of the Obama administration's dramatically increased use of drone attacks.
For several years, U.S. allies have made no public comment, even as U.S. drone strikes have killed twice as many suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban members than were ever imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. But that acquiescence may change, as human rights groups and the media debate the legality and collateral damage of drone attacks. The U.S. drone program has been highly effective in killing senior Al-Qaeda leaders, but the administration needs to better explain and defend its use of drones to avoid losing international support and potentially exposing administration officials to legal liability
The U.S. position, under the Bush and Obama administrations, has been that drone strikes against Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are permitted by the September 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, which empowered the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against nations, organizations or persons who planned, committed or aided the Sept. 11 attacks. The United States also believes that drone strikes are permitted under international law and the United Nations Charter as actions in self-defense, with or without the consent of the country where the strike takes place.