State Department legal adviser defends unmanned drone strikes

[JURIST] The Obama administration on Friday defended the legality of its use of unmanned predator drone strikes [JURIST news archive]. State Department Legal Adviser [official website] Harold Koh [academic profile] explained the administration's legal rationale in a speech [text] to the American Society of International Law [official website], saying the strikes "comply with all applicable law." Koh said the drone strikes fit the administration's principles governing targeting practices because the principle of distinction limits targeting for military objectives and not civilians or civilian structures, and the principle of proportionality prohibits attacks that will cause too much incidental death or injury to civilians or destruction of civilian objects in relation to the advantage of the military objective. Koh further explained that because international law allows a country to use lethal force to defend itself, the drone strikes cannot be considered "unlawful extrajudicial killings." Koh said the Obama administration is "committed" to ensuring its targeting practices are lawful but that:


recent events have shown, Al Qaeda has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.



There has been growing criticism for the use of unmanned drones. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] seeking information related to the US government's use of unmanned drones. The ACLU alleges that the drones have been used by the military and CIA for unlawful killings in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The ACLU also cites troubling reports indicating that US citizens may be targeted and killed by unmanned drones. In October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website] noted that the use of unmanned drones by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal [JURIST report]. Alston said, "[t]he onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons." Alston criticized the US policy in a report to the UN General Assembly's human rights committee that was presented as part of a larger demand that no state be free from accountability.

 

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