Lawyer who drafted White House drone policy says US would rather kill suspects than send them to Cuban detention centreThe lawyer who first drew up White House policy on lethal drone strikes has accused the Obama administration of overusing them because of its reluctance to capture prisoners that would otherwise have to be sent to Guantánamo Bay.John Bellinger, who was responsible for drafting the legal framework for targeted drone killings while working for George W Bush after 9/11, said he believed their use had increased since because President Obama was unwilling to deal with the consequences of jailing suspected al-Qaida members."This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida [at Guantánamo] they are going to kill them," he told a conference at the Bipartisan Policy Center.Obama this week pledged to renew efforts to shut down the jail but has previously struggled to overcome congressional opposition, in part due to US disagreements over how to handle suspected terrorists and insurgents captured abroad.An estimated 4,700 people have now been killed by some 300 US drone attacks in four countries, and the question of the programme's status under international and domestic law remains highly controversial.Bellinger, a former legal adviser to the State Department and the National Security Council, insisted that the current administration was justified under international law in pursuing its targeted killing strategy in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen because the US remained at war."We are about the only country in the world that thinks we are in a conflict with al-Qaida, but countries under attack are the ones that get to decide whether they are at war or not," he said."These drone strikes are causing us great damage in the world, but on the other hand if you are the president and you do nothing to stop another 9/11 then you also have a problem."Nevertheless, the legal justification for drone strikes has become so stretched that critics fear it could now encourage other countries to claim they were acting within international law if they deployed similar technology.A senior lawyer now advising Barack Obama on the use of drone strikes conceded that the administration's definition of legality could even apply in the hypothetical case of an al-Qaida drone attack against military targets on US soil.

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