Drones: The Known Knowns

Pakistan drone attack

Pakistani tribesmen carry the coffin of a person allegedly killed in a US drone attack. (Photo by THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Monday John Brennan, the President’s adviser on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, popped up at the Woodrow Wilson Center to give a major policy speech on the “ethics and efficacy” of drone use.

Brennan’s argument had two main planks: That drones work and that their use is entirely legal. Both claims deserve close examination because neither is quite as simple as it seems.

In a classic rhetorical device Brennan threw out perhaps the most contentious aspect of his analysis as though it was a given, stating that “as a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces.”