Criticism grows over Obama's use of targeted killings

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CHICAGO -- Under growing pressure to bring greater transparency and accountability to its use of targeted killing, the Obama administration is struggling to transform a program that was conceived under pressure, has operated in a secretive and often-haphazard manner and has left the United States increasingly isolated even from its allies.

For months, President Barack Obama and his aides have promised that they will move to gradually break down the wall of secrecy and work with Congress to create a more lasting legal framework for the drone strikes. But the only proposal to surface so far -- an administration plan, not yet approved, to gradually move some drone operations now run by the CIA to the military -- may have little practical effect, at least in the short term.

That only underscores the problem the Obama administration faces in trying to institutionalize a program that national security officials believe will be at the center of U.S. warfare for years to come, while placating a growing chorus of critics challenging the targeted killing program on legal, moral and practical grounds.

In recent months, the criticism from human rights activists, U.N. officials and some friendly foreign governments has been joined by a number of former senior U.S. military and intelligence officials, who argue that the drone program costs might exceed its benefits. In the latest example, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a favored adviser during Mr. Obama's first term, expressed concern in a Chicago speech Thursday that the aggressive U.S. drone-strike campaign could be undermining long-term efforts to battle extremism.

"We're seeing that blowback," Mr. Cartwright said at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "If you're trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you're going to upset people, even if they're not targeted."

Mr. Cartwright also expressed skepticism about the draft proposal to transfer some drone operations to the military, saying he worried about a "blurring of the line" between soldiers and spies if the Pentagon were put in charge of drone operations in sovereign nations "outside a declared area of hostility." He said that if there are problems with the drone program, moving it "from one part of the government to another" would not necessarily solve them.

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