Watch | President Obama has spent the past eight years quietly expanding America's secret, remote killing program. Next month, he'll hand over the keys to a man he once described as "unfit to serve."
What Trump will inherit
Since taking office, drone strikes have been President Obama’s weapon of choice in the global war on terror. The White House not only increased the use of drones to kill terrorist suspects tenfold. But in targeting Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Al Qaeda leader in Yemen, President Obama asserted his authority to target American citizens without charges or trial.
The administration argues that because the U.S. is at war with Al Qaeda and “associated forces,” strikes outside declared war zones in countries like Somalia and Pakistan are legal and consistent with international law.
While human rights activists and civil libertarians raised ethical concerns, President Obama's drone usage met little resistance in Congress. Many of the same lawmakers who took President Bush to task for his expanding war-making powers viewed Obama's drone strikes as a sound way to take out terrorists with limited civilian casualties.
A majority of the public also is in favor of using them. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll found 58 percent of Americans approved of the U.S. targeting extremists with drones in countries such as Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen.
Now those powers that have been invested in the presidency will be available to President Trump, and to every President after.
Jameel Jaffer, author of "The Drone Memos," says Obama was able to expand his signature counterterrorism program because he had the public's trust.
What the current rules say
Prompted by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, President Obama made public his "drone playbook" in August. Officially known as the Presidential Policy Guidance, the heavily redacted legal memo explained how drone targets are chosen and approved.
According to the PPG, any strike on terror suspects must first undergo a legal review by the agency conducting the operation before heading to the National Security Council and ultimately, the president for approval.
How the rules could change
Short of promising to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, the president-elect didn't say much about his drone policy during the campaign.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's pick for National Security Adviser, has called for a different approach to drones. He told Al Jazeera in 2015, “drones do more damage than good” and their use may have even helped create ISIS.
The fact is that right now the only constraints on that program are constraints that could be swept away by the stroke of the next president's pen.
The internal guidelines governing the Obama administration's use of drones are self-imposed. The incoming administration could rescind them, amend them or expand them.
"No doubt" the drone program has killed civilians
According to the administration, between January 2009 and December 2015, the U.S. conducted 473 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, killing between 64 and 116 civilians, and as many as 2581 “combatants.”
Independent journalists and watchdogs say the true number is much higher. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates the civilian casualty range is between 380 to 801.