(IPS) – While welcoming an initial effort by the administration of President Barack Obama to offer a legal justification for drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists overseas, human rights groups say critical questions remain unanswered.
In an address to an international law group last week, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh insisted that such operations were being conducted in full compliance with international law.
“The U.S. is in armed conflict with al Qaeda as well as the Taliban and associated forces in response to the horrific acts of 9/11 and may use force consistent with its right to self-defence under international law,” he said. “…(I)ndividuals who are part of such armed groups are belligerents and, therefore, lawful targets under international law.”
Moreover, he went on, “U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war,” which require limiting attacks to military objectives and that the damage caused to civilians by those attacks would not be excessive.
While right-wing commentators expressed satisfaction with Koh’s evocation of the “right to self-defence” – the same justification used by President George W. Bush – human rights groups were circumspect.
“We are encouraged that the administration has taken the legal surrounding drone strikes seriously,” said Jonathan Manes of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “While this was an important and positive first step, a number of controversial questions were left unanswered.”
“We still don’t know what criteria the government uses to determine that a civilian is acting like a fighter, and can therefore be killed, and… whether there are any geographical limits on where drone strikes can be used to target and kill individuals,” he told IPS.
“He didn’t really say anything that we took issue with,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), who also complained about the lack of details.
“But it still leaves unanswered the question of how far the war paradigm he’s talking about extends. Will it extend beyond, say, ungoverned areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen? Because you don’t want to leave a legal theory out there that could be exploited by a country like Russia or China to knock off its political enemies on the streets of a foreign city,” he added.
Hmmm….while we have concerns about the Death Star we are pleased with Governor Obama’s efforts (so much more charming than that awful Governor Dubya Tarkin) to address the difficult legal issues regarding his blowing up planets program… Interestingly Amnesty International, the only non US founded organisation, is the most critical, it’s a heady brew that imperialism-
Tom Parker of Amnesty International was more scathing about Koh’s position, suggesting that it was one more concession – along with indefinite detention and special military tribunals for suspected terrorists – to the framework created by Bush’s “global war on terror”.
“The big issue is where the war is and whether it’s a war, and we couldn’t disagree more strongly as to the tenor of Koh’s comments,” he said. “It goes back to the idea of an unbounded global war on terror where terror is hardly defined at all.”