No American president will ever pay a political price for choosing national security over world opinion, but the only right way to proceed is to make [drone] targeting decisions and strike outcomes fully public, even if after the fact. In the long run, careful adherence to the law matters more than eliminating another bad actor. Greater prudence and transparency are not just morally and legally essential, they are in our long-term interest, because the strikes themselves feed the anti-drone narrative, and inspire the kind of random, small-scale terror attacks that are bin Laden’s despicable legacy.
In our struggle against terrorist networks like al-Qaeda, the distinction between armed conflict and law enforcement matters a great deal. Terrorism embraces lawlessness. It seeks to disrupt. It targets civilians deliberately. So why restrain our response? Why subject ourselves to the rule of law? Because abiding by the law is the point—especially with a weapon like the drone. No act is more final than killing. Drones distill war to its essence. Abiding carefully by the law—man’s law, not God’s—making judgments carefully, making them transparent and subject to review, is the only way to invest them with moral authority, and the only way to clearly define the terrorist as an enemy of civilization.
—From Mark Bowden’s “The Killing Machines: How To Think About Drones,” in the September 2013 Atlantic [my bolding]