The use of drones, domestically and internationally, continues to rise. Two recent developments caught my attention, both focused on the international arena.

First, from the Washington Post:

The Obama administration is nearing completion of a detailed counterterrorism manual that is designed to establish clear rules for targeted-killing operations but leaves open a major exemption for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

The carve-out would allow the CIA to continue pounding al-Qaeda and Taliban targets for a year or more before the agency is forced to comply with more stringent rules spelled out in a classified document that officials have described as a counterterrorism “˜playbook.’

The Obama administration has been working for about a year to “codify” polices related to counterterrorism and to develop a “guide for lethal operations.”

Among the subjects covered in the playbook are the process for adding names to kill lists, the legal principles that govern when U.S. citizens can be targeted overseas and the sequence of approvals required when the CIA or U.S. military conducts drone strikes outside war zones.

Department having different ideas about “the criteria for lethal strikes and other issues.” The temporary exemption granted the CIA related to Pakistan was a compromise. Not everyone is pleased with the counterterrorism use of drones in general.The “playbook” was delayed due to internal disagreements, with the Pentagon, CIA and State Department.

The playbook is “˜a step in exactly the wrong direction, a further bureaucratization of the CIA’s paramilitary killing program’ over the legal and moral objections of civil liberties groups, said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s National Security Project.

The questions regarding the use of drones have lead to an investigation by the United Nations, the second drone-related story I’m following. At HuffPo:

The United Nations opened a major new investigation on Thursday into the United States’ use of drones and targeted assassinations.

The U.N. investigation, led by special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson, is expected to focus on the legal justification for America’s expansive drone program, which has largely remained secretive and unexamined. …

Human rights observers have long objected to the use of drones to target suspected terrorists because they often result in wider civilian deaths than administration officials have acknowledged.

But more practical concerns “” about the legality and efficacy of the program, as well as the White House’s lack of transparency “” have also been growing.

The U.S. is “by far the leading user of drones and unmanned vehicles for targeted assassinations.” But we aren’t alone, and China and Iran are identified as having the capability of joining the drone users.

The ACLU’s Shamsi is quoted:

“˜Virtually no other country agrees with the U.S.’s claimed authority to secretly declare people enemies of the state and kill them and civilian bystanders far from any recognized battlefield … . To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government’s ever-expanding targeted killing program.’

At The Guardian, more about the UN investigation.

About 20 or 30 strikes – selected as representative of different types of attacks – will be studied to assess the extent of any civilian casualties, the identity of militants targeted and the legality of strikes in countries where the UN has not formally recognised there is a conflict. …

The inquiry is the result of a request by several nations, including Pakistan and two permanent members of the UN security council … .

I’ve provided these numbers before, but one more time (via The Guardian):(emphasis added)

Between June 2004 and September 2012, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

(Drone via Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus)