Targeted Killings

  • October 24, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In the wake of new reports from human rights groups about the toll America’s drone warfare has had on civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, an expert in constitutional law and international human rights suggests in an ACS Issue Brief released today that the government could take a bit more action to enhance procedures to reduce risk of civilian deaths.

    Deborah Pearlstein, assistant professor at Cardozo Law School, writes in “Enhancing Due Process in Targeted Killing,” that “it is worth taking seriously what procedural due process requires in targeted killings. Both the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch have now embraced due process to assess the legality of various U.S. uses of force against Al Qaeda and associates. As the Court has long recognized, U.S. citizens are protected by the Constitution wherever they are in the world. Even when they are deprived of their liberty in wartime, due process affords all ‘persons’ a right to notice of the reasons for the deprivation, and an opportunity for their opposition to be heard once any exigency has passed.”

    Pearlstein’s examination of Supreme Court precedent and American military procedure around constitutional due process comes on the heels of new reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that focus on civilian casualties of America’s escalating use of drone warfare overseas to attack alleged terrorists. Human Rights Watch’s report, “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda,” looks at six targeted killings in Yemen ranging from 2009 through 2013. The report concludes, in part, that two of those drone strikes “killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civil deaths.”

    Pearlstein, in her Issue Brief, says one should not easily dismiss “the application of constitutional due process in targeting as either hopelessly impractical, or hopelessly inadequate ....” She adds that her work is intended to “help advance our thinking of what process should be followed in targeting decisions when we do.”

    We know very little about the Obama administration’s drone warfare procedures. But earlier this year a white paper prepared by attorneys in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) was leaked providing a glimpse into a rather troubling procedure. That paper was, according to news reports, was gleaned from a larger memorandum on targeted killings. The ACLU lodged a legal action to obtain the entire document. But the white paper alone, according to Georgetown University’s David Cole provides a blueprint for making extrajudicial killings easier. The OLC white paper appeared to give little thought to due process and greater justification for killing of alleged terrorists overseas, even if it means killing civilians as well.

  • February 19, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Lawmakers, on national and state fronts, seem a bit more interested in knowing more about the Obama administration’s use of drones in targeted killings abroad and possibly some regulation of the counterterrorism measure. After the weak “white paper,” apparently a brief summary of several documents created by lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel was made public by NBC, lawmakers and a few more journalists have discovered greater interest in the administration’s use of drones to take out suspected terrorists overseas.

    But reporting for Salon, Joan Walsh points to some polling that suggests that the administration’s expanding and secretive use of drones is getting a pass from and even winning over some liberals, who were not shy about blasting the Bush administration’s egregious legal reasoning used to justify torture of military detainees.

    A poll of 1,000 voters from last summer, conducted by Brown University political scientist Michael Tesler, “found significantly more support for targeted killing of suspected terrorists among white ‘racial liberals’ (i.e., those liberal on issues of race) and African Americans when they were told that Obama supported such a policy than when they were not told it was the president’s policy.”

    Walsh’s piece explains Tesler’s work, including some caveats, but concludes the polling suggests that respondents “reaction may be informed by their support for the president, which is at least a little bit troubling. The U.S. is moving into uncharged political, military and moral territory with the use of drones, as well as expanded claims of presidential powers on targeted killings, on what seems to be a global battlefield in time of endless war.”

    The support for counterterrorism policy solely or mostly on favorability of the president is highly disconcerting. Especially since the legal reasoning we’ve seen so far looks a lot like a just-trust-me policy. Indeed from a Dish post a couple weeks back, Andrew Sullivan blasted the wobbly white paper for its “corruption of the English language” and for coming “perilously close to the equivalent of ‘Because I said so.’ And the core message is trust me.’”

    Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi notes the “histornics and gymnastics some people have resorted to in their efforts to defend this infamous drone program. Extralegal murder is not an easy thing to manufacture consent around, and the signs of strain in the press have been pretty clear all around.”

     

  • February 6, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The increasingly disturbing use of Reaper and Predator drones to kill suspected terrorists, and too often civilians alongside them, was apparently given the green light by some DOJ lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). But that’s not for certain since the Obama administration rarely talks about the drone war.

    But a leaked white paper apparently crafted by lawyers in the OLC may be a summary of a more expansive document – the ACLU is suing to find out. The paper, however, as The New York Times and others have quickly noted advances convoluted and radical arguments for an outrageous expansion of executive power.

    Constitutional law scholar and Georgetown University law school professor David Cole, in a piece for NYR blog explores, “how we made killing easy.” And Cole notes by the way that the Obama administration is battling “tooth and nail” the ACLU’s effort to force the release of the entire  legal document.

    The white paper argues that an informed, high-ranking government official can order the killing of a U.S. citizen integral to or associated with Al-Qaeda abroad if the person poses an “imminent threat of violent attack” against the country, the person is unlikely to be captured and that the killing operation would be conducted in accordance with laws governing war.

    The brief paper tosses aside due process in a strained effort to justify executive branch power, with essentially no oversight, to order the killing of terrorist suspects, even U.S. citizens.

     

  • May 14, 2010

    The Obama administration's inclusion of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and terrorism suspect, on a target list for killing by the CIA, is garnering attention from legal experts and media.

    The New York Times reports:

    The notion that the government can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, makes some legal authorities deeply uneasy.

    To eavesdrop on the terrorism suspect who was added to the target list, the American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is hiding in Yemen, intelligence agencies would have to get a court warrant. But designating him for death, as C.I.A. officials did early this year with the National Security Council's approval, required no judicial review.

    "Congress has protected Awlaki's cellphone calls," said Vicki Divoll, a former C.I.A. lawyer who now teaches at the United States Naval Academy. "But it has not provided any protections for his life. That makes no sense."