Drone war le­gal

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s -

State Depart­ment le­gal ad­viser Harold Koh has out­lined the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war poli­cies and de­fended the le­gal­ity of us­ing one of the premier weapons in the war against al Qaeda: pre­ci­sion-guided mis­sile strikes by un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles against ter­ror­ist leaders.

Mr. Koh, in a speech March 25, sought to an­swer crit­ics who say the drone strikes are il­le­gal, stat­ing that “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.”

Mis­sile strikes by re­motely pi­loted Preda­tors and other UAVs emerged in re­cent months as a highly ef­fec­tive weapon for the mil­i­tary and CIA, and one that in­flicted heavy losses on al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups in Pak­istan, Afghanista­n and else­where.

Mr. Koh told an au­di­ence of nearly 200 lawyers gath­ered for the an­nual meet­ing of the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of In­ter­na­tional Law that on­go­ing al Qaeda at­tacks give the ad­min­is­tra­tion the right un­der in­ter­na­tional law to de­fend Amer­i­cans with “lethal force, [. . .] in­clud­ing by tar­get­ing per­sons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are plan­ning at­tacks,” he said.

Spe­cific tar­get­ing rules cur­rently are based on the im­me­di­acy of the threat, sovereignt­y is­sues of states in­volved, and the will­ing­ness and abil­ity of states to sup­press threats posed by the tar­gets, Mr. Koh said.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion adopted sev­eral “law of war prin­ci­ples” that in­clude lim­it­ing at­tacks to mil­i­tary ob­jec­tives, and mak­ing sure at­tacks cause few civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and dam­age, and that po­ten­tial col­lat­eral dam­age will not be ex­ces­sive when viewed in the con­text of di­rect mil­i­tary ad­van­tages of a planned strike.

“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,” Mr. Koh said.

As for crit­ics who say drone at­tacks against ter­ror­ist leaders vi­o­late the laws of war, Mr. Koh said ter­ror­ists are “bel­liger­ents” and thus law­ful tar­gets.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Mr. Koh also said tar­get­ing rules do not limit the types of ad­vanced weapons that are used, such as UAVs, not­ing “there is no pro­hi­bi­tion un­der the laws of war on the use of tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced weapons sys­tems in armed con­flict — such as pi­lot­less air­craft or so-called smart bombs — so long as they are em­ployed in con­for mity with ap­pli­ca­ble laws of war.”

And Mr. Koh also dis­missed crit­ics who say killing ter­ror­ists is “un­law­ful ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing.”

“A state that is en­gaged in an armed con­flict or in le­git­i­mate self-de­fense is not re­quired to pro­vide tar­gets with le­gal process be­fore the state may use lethal force,” he said.

Last, Mr. Koh said drone at­tacks against ter­ror­ists do not vi­o­late do­mes­tic laws, such as the ban on as­sas­si­na­tions.

A Pen­tagon of­fi­cial said the speech was co­or­di­nated with lawyers through­out gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing CIA and the Pen­tagon, and re­flects a con­sen­sus view.


He has se­ri­ous con­cerns: Marine Corps Com­man­dant Gen. James Con­way

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