(AFP) – The US government for the first time has offered a legal justification of its drone strikes against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, citing the right to “self-defense” under international law. The CIA attacks by unmanned aircraft in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere have sharply increased under President Barack Obama’s administration but have remained shrouded in secrecy, with some human rights groups charging the bombing raids amount to illegal assassinations. Broaching a subject that has been off-limits for official comment, State Department legal advisor Harold Koh laid out the legal argument for the strikes in a speech late Thursday, referring to “targeting” of Al-Qaeda and Taliban figures without mentioning Pakistan or where the raids are carried out.
The United States was in “an armed conflict” with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and its affiliates as a result of the September 11 attacks, Koh said, “and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. With respect to the subject of targeting, which has been much commented upon in the media and international legal circles, there are obviously limits to what I can say publicly,” he told a conference of the American Society of International Law. What I can say is that it is the considered view of this administration — and it has certainly been my experience during my time as legal adviser — that US targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war.”
The CIA would not comment on the speech, posted on the State Department website, but told AFP: “The Agency?s counterterrorism operations are conducted in strict accord with the law.” Rights activists and some legal experts charge the drone strikes in Pakistan and other countries, outside of a traditional battlefield, amount to extrajudicial executions that violate both international and US law.
Koh, a fierce critic of former president George W. Bush’s policies before he took his post, disagreed — saying a US ban on government sanctioned assassinations did not apply. Under US law, “the use of lawful weapons systems — consistent with the applicable laws of war — for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute ‘assassination,'” he said. He also argued that the US government was not obliged to offer legal rights to the militant figures targeted in the strikes as the United States was at war and acting in self-defense.
Also, American Society of International Law Press release. Yes the only empire on Earth, that spends more than all other nations together on its military, with approximately 900 military facilities in 46 countries and territories (the unofficial figure is far greater)…is acting in self defence. Koh in 2002-
Still, some national security lawyers said the practice of drawing up lists of people who are subject to lethal force might blur the lines drawn by government’s ban on assassinations. That prohibition was first ordered by President Gerald Ford, and in the view of some lawyers, it applies not only to foreign leaders but to civilians. (American officials have said in the past that Saddam Hussein would be a legitimate target in a war, as he is a military commander as well as Iraq’s president.)
“The inevitable complication of a politically declared but legally undeclared war is the blurring of the distinction between enemy combatants and other nonstate actors,” said Harold Hongju Koh, a professor of international law at Yale University and a former State Department official in President Bill Clinton’s administration. “The question is, what factual showing will demonstrate that they had warlike intentions against us and who sees that evidence before any action is taken?”
He’s a great lawyer, says whatever the guy paying him wants.