Report: White House sought to draft rulebook for Romney on drone strikes

The Obama administration worked during the election to formally draft rules governing the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones in an effort to aid a possible transition had Mitt Romney won the presidency.

The president's team wanted to provide Romney a set of "clear standards and procedures" for drone strikes, a practice that thus far has been the cause of many behind-the-scenes debates, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

While Administration officials openly say that the decisions to carry out drone strikes were both legal and done with great care, there was a sense that rules to govern the use of drone strikes should be institutionalized.

“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” one official told the paper.

Among the internal debates: whether it is acceptable to target militants planning attacks on allies like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia  who do not pose an obvious or imminent threat to American interests, and whether is is acceptable to target fighters touting weapons in areas controlled by extremist groups, but who have not been personally identified and are merely suspected of terrorism.

The report says officials are continuing to work on drafting the guidelines.

The president has spoken publicly about the need to better codify the use of drone strikes.

“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making,” Obama said during an appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" shortly before the election.

A Pew survey released in October showed 62 percent of Americans approved of drone strikes of suspected militants in foreign countries. But the practice has earned some condemnation on Capitol Hill, especially when employed to kill American citizens who have joined terror organizations — like the targeted assassination of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. 

“Al-Awlaki was born here, he’s an American citizen, he was never tried or charged for any crimes,” said Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) after the strike. “To start assassinating American citizens without charges – we should think very seriously about this.”