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President Obama will address legality of drone program on Thursday

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How will the US government justify targeted killings?

MQ-1 Predator drone -- credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder
MQ-1 Predator drone -- credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder

The AP reports that President Barack Obama will discuss the legality of his administration's controversial drone program, as well as other counterterrorism measures, during a speech on Thursday. The speech comes after mounting pressure on the administration from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as advocacy groups, who have demanded greater transparency regarding the government's legal justification for drone strikes.

The US government has been criticized for failing to acknowledge the extent of its use of drones for targeted killings, as well as the opaque legal justification behind their use. In April, the American Civil Liberties Union told Wired that "the targeted killing program raises serious questions about government power in a constitutional democracy." While the extent of the program has largely been kept hidden from the public, secret documents revealed last month showed that the targeted killing program was not restricted to "high-level" targets, and that "at least" 265 of the 482 people killed in the 12-month period ending in September 2011 were "unknown extremists."

Lawmakers from both major parties have criticized the administration

Public pressure on the government to open up about its drone program resulted in the first Congressional hearing on drone strikes in April, in which lawmakers from both major parties criticized the administration. "Let me be clear: the authority of the federal government and the protection of the Constitution should not be a partisan matter," said Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). "I am concerned we may have conceded some of our moral high ground in this endeavor." Of course, not all lawmakers are opposed to the program; in the same hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested that "the homeland is the battlefield," and voiced support for the targeted killing program.

The lack of transparency about the targeted killing program has also led some lawmakers to question whether the administration has the right to use drones to target citizens on US soil — an issue that gained national recognition when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) led a 13-hour filibuster in March, questioning the limits of executive power.

The AP reports that President Obama will also address other counterterrorism efforts on Thursday, among them, the controversial use of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The president was reportedly set to deliver Thursday's address earlier this month, but was delayed by "distracting events," including the dramatic hunger strikes at Guantanamo, and the Department of Justice's subpoena of Associated Press phone records.