Thursday, June 3, 2010

U.N. Expert Calls For U.S. To Halt CIA Drone Killings

The initial blockquoted text below is from a press release from the ACLU, describing the report by the U.N. special rapporteur regarding the illegality of the Obama Administration's use of drones to assassinate people. These drone attacks have infamously killed scores of innocents, but their use on even supposed "legitimate" targets borders on lawlessness.

U.S. use of these high-tech tools of state terror is criminal, and is an extremely dangerous precedent, threatening all who would ever oppose the U.S. state politically. How long, we must ask, before these proverbial chickens come home to roost? Drones are already being used for surveillance over portions of the United States.

The ACLU press release:
NEW YORK – Targeted killings, including the use of drones, are increasingly used in ways that violate international law, according to a report out today by a U.N. expert on extrajudicial killings. The American Civil Liberties Union said the report underscores the alarming legal questions raised by the U.S. program of targeting and killing people – including U.S. citizens – sometimes far from any battlefield.

According to the report by U.N. special rapporteur Philip Alston, which will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday, while targeted killings may be permitted in armed conflict situations when used against combatants, fighters or civilians who directly engage in combat-like activities, they are increasingly being used far from any battlefield. The report states that "this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other States can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial killings."

Alston also criticized the U.S. invocation of the "law of 9/11," which it uses to justify the use of force outside of armed-conflict zones as part of the so-called global war on terrorism. The report called for the United States and other countries to end the "accountability vacuum" by disclosing the full legal basis for targeted killings and specifically the measures in place to ensure wrongful killings are investigated, prosecuted and punished.

"The U.S. should heed the recommendations of the rapporteur and disclose the full legal basis of the U.S. targeted killings program, and it should abide by international law. The entire world is not a battlefield, and the government cannot use quintessentially warlike measures anywhere in the world that it believes a suspected terrorist might be located," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The Obama administration has pledged to lead by example and restore respect for rule of law, but U.S. targeted killings are impeding U.S. leadership on human rights and sending the message that some causes can be fought outside the rule of law and without transparency and accountability."

The ACLU in March filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demanding that the government disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas, and in April sent a letter to President Obama condemning the U.S. policy on targeted killings and urging him to bring it into compliance with international and domestic law.

"The U.S. program of targeted killing outside of armed conflict zones is illegal and raises serious policy questions that ought to be debated publicly," said Jonathan Manes, legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. "In addition to the legal basis, scope and limits of the program, the Obama administration should disclose how many civilians have been killed, how the program is overseen, and what accountability mechanisms exist over the CIA and others who conduct the targeted killings."

More information about the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit is available online at:

The ACLU's letter to Obama is available at:
Bmaz at Emptywheel had an excellent posting yesterday on this very topic, U.N. Expert Calls On U.S. To Halt CIA Targeted Killings. In the post, he captures the exquisite yet abhorrent irony in how the U.S. is handling the so-called legality issues surrounding these remote-control assassinations:
Today, the report is out, and Charlie Savage again brings the details in the [New York] Times:
A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example will lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spreads....

In an interview, Mr. Alston, said the United States appears to think that it is “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justifies its effort to put forward legal justifications that would make the rules “as flexible as possible"....
Alston’s concerns are especially troubling considering Charlie Savage’s first NY Times report in last Friday’s print edition on the quiet efforts of the Obama Administration to insure its drone operators can never be prosecuted for the extrajudicial murders they commit. Describing surreptitious efforts to amend the Military Commissions Manual:
The Pentagon delayed issuing a 281-page manual laying out commission rules until the eve of the hearing. The reason, officials say, is that government lawyers had been scrambling to rewrite a section about murder because it has implications for the C.I.A. drone program.

An earlier version of the manual, issued in 2007 by the Bush administration, defined the charge of “murder in violation of the laws of war” as a killing by someone who did not meet “the requirements for lawful combatancy” — like being part of a regular army or otherwise wearing a uniform. Similar language was incorporated into a draft of the new manual.

But as the Khadr hearing approached, Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, pointed out that such a definition could be construed as a concession by the United States that C.I.A. drone operators were war criminals. Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, and his staff ultimately agreed with that concern. They redrafted the manual so that murder by an unprivileged combatant would instead be treated like espionage — an offense under domestic law not considered a war crime.
All of which is not just distressing, but telling as to who the United States have become as a country. Made all the more sickening by the fact the extrajudicial assassination program has exacerbated geometrically under the short, but deadly, tenure of the supposedly enlightened Constitutional law authority Barack Obama.

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