Rights Groups Question Legality of Targeted Killing

crosshairsIn a letter sent to President Obama this week, the nation’s leading human rights organizations questioned the legal basis for targeted killing and called for an end to the secrecy surrounding the use of drones.

The “statement of shared concern” said the administration should “publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful Congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking and response to civilian harm.”

The nine-page letter, signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and several other groups, is the most significant critique to date by advocacy groups of what has become the centerpiece of the United States’ counterterrorism efforts.

While not directly calling the strikes illegal under international law, the letter lists what it calls troubling reports of the criteria used by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command to select targets and assess results. The reported policies raise “serious questions about whether the U.S. is operating in accordance with international law,” the letter says. It is also signed by the Center for Civilians in Conflict and units of the New York University and Columbia law schools.

The letter comes as American strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and the example the United States has set for the world, are drawing intense scrutiny. United Nations human rights investigators are reviewing the American record, and Congress has shown a new willingness to discuss the classified program in public, with a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the constitutional and counterterrorism implications of targeted killing set for April 23. That hearing was postponed for a week in an effort to persuade the administration to send an official to testify, a committee aide said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

By the count of the New America Foundation, a research group that tries to track targeted killing, the United States has carried out 422 strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, 373 of them since Mr. Obama took office in 2009, in addition to a handful in Somalia. The foundation estimates the number of deaths resulting from the strikes to be between 2,426 and 3,969, of which about 10 percent were of civilians and nearly as many of which were identified as…


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