Obama Advisor Who Had Decried ‘War on Terror’ Now Defends Drones
As dean of Yale Law School, Harold Hongju Koh was among the fiercest critics of President George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” arguing that his administration had trampled the Constitution and tarnished America’s international standing by claiming the power to capture “enemy combatants” abroad and hold them without charges at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The next administration must “restore the rule of law in the national security arena,” end “excessive government secrecy” and set aside the “claims of unfettered executive power,” Koh told a House panel in 2008.
But as the State Department’s legal advisor in that new administration, Koh helped set out a legal justification for policies that include a ramped-up use of unmanned drones to attack and kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan as well as in Yemen and Somalia, far from the combat zone in Afghanistan. Thousands have died, and the targets have included U.S. citizens who were seen as inspiring attacks against Americans.
Koh, who is preparing to return to Yale as President Obama’s first term comes to an end, has become a symbol of national security policies that many feel are not significantly different than those of Obama’s predecessor.
Koh has many defenders who say the administration’s anti-terrorism policies would have been harsher if he were not there. But the surprising turn has left some liberal critics puzzled. Did Koh change, or is there some “deeper pathology” that causes “top administration lawyers to rubber stamp power grabs?” Bruce Ackerman, another Yale law professor, wrote in a news blog.