In Berlin yesterday, ACLU attorney Steven Watt attended a German parliamentary hearing on human rights and counterterrorism to brief lawmakers on the U.S. targeted killing program, in which thousands of people have been killed, many far from any battlefield. The hearing was held by the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid of the German Bundestag, the lower house of the German legislature and the German equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives. The committee invited the ACLU; Dick Marty, member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly who authored the landmark 2006 Council report on European participation in the CIA rendition program; Wolfgang Kaleck, attorney with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights; and others to discuss the relationship between counterterrorism and human rights.
As Steven explained:
The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) shares the concern of the international community—including this Committee, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights—that the U.S. targeted killing program violates international-law requirements that narrowly constrain the use of lethal force and that mandate the protection of civilians… If the international community does not want a world in which nations assume a license to declare people enemies of the state and carry out their killing outside the strict limits of international law it should be very concerned about the precedent the United States is setting by claiming that very authority.
He also highlighted for the committee the lack of transparency and accountability that accompanies the killing program. The CIA refuses even to confirm or deny that it has a drone program, and the U.S. government refuses to fully disclose to the public what rules it applies:
The world knows that the United States is conducting these targeted killings on a regular basis, and the absurd fiction that the program is too secret for open discussion is increasingly untenable. In on- and off-the-record statements to the media, senior government officials have taken credit for particular killings, sought to minimize the number of civilian casualties, and defended the legality of the program. Given these disclosures there should be no reason that the United States cannot provide meaningful transparency on legal standards, evidence and the process for its targeted killing decisions, in order to enable meaningful scrutiny of those claims by the American public and the international community. The government must also disclose who it has killed, and the number of civilian bystander deaths.
Transparency and accountability are the hallmarks by which the lawfulness and legitimacy of any state’s action may be determined, and by those measurements alone, the United States’ targeted-killing program has been, and remains, a complete failure.
International concern about the U.S. targeted killing program continues to grow not just in the countries in which the strikes are carried out (and where they have resulted in increased animosity to the United States), but also among U.S. allies. Next week, the ACLU’s Hina Shamsi and Jamil Dakwar, together with the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, will be speaking at a briefing organized by members of the European Parliament on the human rights costs and consequences of the targeted killing program.