For background, on January 13, 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union filed an official request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency seeking information/data in regards to armed US Predator attacks in foreign countries. The request specifically seeks information as to how the program is governed, who can be targeted, along with when and where, and the data on civilian casualties caused by the remote-controlled weapons.
A report by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the Washington based New America Foundation also put increasing pressure on the US government. The report found that 32 per cent of those killed in drone attacks since 2004 were civilians. Their report - “The Year of the Drone” - studied 114 drone raids in which more than 1200 people were killed. Of those, between 549 and 849 were reliably reported to be militant fighters, while the rest were civilians. “The true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 per cent.” the foundation reported.
None of US government agencies responded to the original ACLU FOIA requests. Consequently, the ACLU filed suit in federal court on March 16th, 2010 to obtain the basic data and legal justification for the Predator drone program. Which brings us to today...
Source: The AtlanticAdministration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary
MAR 26 2010, 11:15 AM ET
Last night, the State Department's legal adviser, Harold Koh, delivered a keynote address to the American Society of International Law's annual meeting in Washington. He spoke in part about the administration's use of lethal force against terrorists, specifically drone attacks, and whether this was legal under international law and the laws of armed conflict. The bottom line was this: Lethal strikes against terrorists, including those involving unmanned drone aircraft, “comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war,” Koh said. If you'd missed the roiling controversy over this question that's been playing out in recent months, know that this question is one that many experts had been waiting for Koh to address, and that it goes to the very heart of the Obama administration's war on terrorists. Said Koh:
“It is the considered view of this administration...that targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war. As 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. This administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles.”“Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meetings. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law.”“In U.S. operations against al Qaeda and its associated forces --including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles -- great care is taken to adhere to these principles in both planning and execution, to ensure that only legitimate objectives are targeted and that collateral damage is kept to a minimum.”
What Koh is saying here is that the US government can attack and kill enemies of the state such as al Qaeda and the Taliban anywhere around the globe under the international law justification of “defensive measures”. Every state is allowed the latitude to defend itself from dangerous individuals and/or groups who actively contribute to planning/fostering attacks on their citizens and territory.
He is also saying that “distinction” (i.e. correctly identifying enemies of the state) is a critical element. Also critical is the concept of “proportionality”... in which civilian collateral damage (deaths/injuries) must be kept to a minimum.
A US government official here articulates the position that “defensive measures” are necessary measures and legal under international law. But this position also conversely implies that assassinations of the hunter by the hunted are also legal and necessary “defensive measures”. This position also seems to imply that both armed combatants and unarmed non-combatants are fair-game if either is considered an identifiable and dangerous “enemy of the state”. Also stated is that civilian collateral deaths/injuries must be kept to a minimum, but the “minimum” threshold here is undefined. Unstated and yet implied is the legal position that every state enjoys the justification to invoke violent defensive measures against identifiable and dangerous enemies of the state beyond state borders.
This is a complex web of issues. What are your thoughts on this? Do you consider the US position to be consistent with the intent and spirit of international law? Is this new legal ground? A slippery ethical-slope?
Note: This thread is neither a vehicle for nor an invitation to bash. The questions raised here are intended to spur discussion on the broad moral, ethical, and legal issues involved. Please remain faithful to this menu.