The Legal Argument Behind Drone Strikes

By Robert Chesney

Bobby Chesney is the Charles I. Francis Professor in Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas School of Law. In addition, he is the Director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, a University-wide research unit bridging across disciplines to improve understanding of international security issues. In 2009, Professor Chesney served in the Justice Department in connection with the Detention Policy Task Force created by Executive Order 13493. He also previously served the Intelligence Community as an associate member of the Intelligence Science Board and as a member of the Advanced Technology Board. In addition to his current positions at the University of Texas, he is a non-resident Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, a member of the American Law Institute, and a senior editor for the Journal of National Security Law & Policy. He is a co-founder and contributor to www.lawfareblog.com, the leading source for analysis, commentary, and news relating to law and national security. Professor Chesney is a magna cum laude graduate of both Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School.

In the years since 9/11, drone strikes have emerged as a pillar of the United States’ counterterrorism strategy. The Cipher Brief spoke with Bobby Chesney, Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Texas Law School about the legal basis for U.S. drone strikes abroad. According to Chesney, while the U.S. has asserted its right to use force against al Qaeda and its affiliates wherever they may be located, “that no-geographic-limits claim has drawn lots of criticism, especially overseas.”

The Cipher Brief: What is the legal justification that U.S. policymakers use for conducting drones strikes against terrorist targets abroad?

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