Tuesday, April 13, 2010

'Obama's doctrine is even more deadly'

From The 'Obama doctrine': kill, don't detain by Asim Qureshi, The Guardian

Worse still, a completely new trend has emerged that, in many ways, is more dangerous than the trends under Bush. Extrajudicial killings and targeted assassinations will soon become the main point of contention that Obama's administration will need to justify. Although Bush was known for his support for such policies, the extensive use of drones under Obama have taken the death count well beyond anything that has been seen before.

Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the US state department, explained the justifications behind unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) when addressing the American Society of International Law's annual meeting on 25 March 2010:

"[I]t is the considered view of this administration … that targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … As recent events have shown, al-Qaida has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks … [T]his administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles …

"[S]ome have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force. Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meeting. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law."

The legal justifications put forward by Koh are reminiscent of the arguments that were used by John Yoo and others in their bid to lend legitimacy to unlawful practices such as rendition, arbitrary detention and torture. The main cause for concern from Koh's statements is the implication that protective jurisdiction to which the US feels it is entitled in order to carry out operations anywhere in the world still continues under Obama. The laws of war do not allow for the targeting of individuals outside of the conflict zone, and yet we now find that extrajudicial killings are taking place in countries as far apart as Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Pakistan. From a legal and moral perspective, the rationale provided by the State Department is bankrupt and only reinforces the stereotype that the US has very little concern for its own principles.

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