U.S. Targeted Killings "Weaken Rule of Law," Says UN Human Rights Official
June 23, 2012 • 9:43AM

The U.S. killer drone program in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and perhaps other countries, not only threatens 50 years of international law, said Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, but some attacks may even constitute war crimes. Heyns made his comments to a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 20.

"Are we to accept major changes to the international legal system which has been in existence since World war II and survived nuclear threats?" he asked. Some states, he said, "find targeted killings immensely attractive. Others may do so in the future.... Current targeting practices weaken the rule of law. Killings may be lawful in an armed conflict [such as in Afghanistan], but many targeted killings take place far from areas recognized as being an armed conflict." He added that there have been reports of secondary drone strikes on rescuers helping the injured from the first drone strike, and if these reports are true, "those further attacks are a war crime."

Heyns further ridiculed the U.S. argument that the drone killings are a legitimate response to 9/11. "It's difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to events in 2001," he said. "Some states seem to want to invent new laws to justify new practices."

The Human Rights Council session opened, this week, with Heyns presenting his written report, which followed up from the report of his predecessor in 2008, which had earlier taken notice of the lack of a legal framework for drone killings and the lack of transparency into the policy behind them, and there's been no change since that time. "The Special Rapporteur reiterates his predecessor's recommendation that the Government (of the United States, that is) specify bases for decisions to kill rather than capture 'human targets,' and whether the State in which the killing takes place has given consent," Heyns wrote.

"It should also specify procedural safeguards in place to ensure in advance that targeted killings comply with international law, as well as the measures taken after such killing to ensure that its legal and factual analysis is accurate." Heyns concludes that he "is seriously concerned that the practice of targeted killing could set a dangerous precedent, in that any government could, under the cover of counter-terrorism imperatives, decide to target and kill an individual on the territory of any state if it considers that said individual constitutes a threat."

Not only did the Obama Administration representatives in Geneva refuse to provide satisfactory answers to Heyns' questions, but back home, the same Administration made clear that it has no intention of clarifying the legal basis for the killer drone program, nor or releasing any other pertinent information regarding the program. In response to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)/New York Times lawsuit, government lawyers told a Federal judge in New York on June 21 that "Whether or not the CIA has the authority to be, or is in fact, directly involved in targeted lethal operations remains classified." Furthermore, "Even to describe the numbers and details of most of these documents [that the suit seeks] would reveal information that could damage the government's counter-terrorism efforts."

ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer ridiculed the government's argument, noting that the drone program is an open secret and that the administration has boasted about it to reporters. "The public is entitled to know more about the legal authority the administration is claiming and the war the administration is using it," Jaffer said in a statement. The ACLU is calling on Obama to reveal more information "about the process by which individuals, including American citizens, are added to government kill lists."

The ACLU ought to know that the only way that's likely to happen, is if Obama, himself, is removed from office, either by impeachment or by invoking the 25th Amendment, since Obama himself is the killer behind the policy.