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Death Without Due Process

Falsely imprisoning people for years on weak or nonexistent evidence is bad enough — assassinating people on the same basis is irreversible.
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April 28, 2010

Today, the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing called “The Rise Of The Drones II: Examining The Legality Of Unmanned Targeting.” The hearing addressed the legality of the use of unmanned systems (i.e. drones) in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Pakistani border regions, and elsewhere.

The ACLU is most concerned about the military’s use of drones for targeting killings outside of armed conflict zones. You’ll recall the recent revelation that the U.S. has put a U.S. citizen — Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric with purported ties to al-Qaeda — on a “hit list” of people that can be hunted and killed by the CIA anywhere in the world.

To coincide with the congressional hearing, the ACLU today sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to halt this illegal targeted killing program. To sum it up, we outline why international law and the Constitution prohibit the targeted killing program that the administration has reportedly authorized:

According to news reports, the program you have authorized is based on “kill lists” to which names are added, sometimes for months at a time, after a secret internal process. Such a program of long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing is plainly not limited to targeting genuinely imminent threats. Any such program is far more sweeping than the law allows and raises grave constitutional and human rights concerns.

Our letter also points out that we should never authorize something that would be unthinkable were it to happen in our own backyard:

If the United States claims the authority to use lethal force against suspected enemies of the U.S. anywhere in the world — using unmanned drones or other means — then other countries will regard that conduct as justified. The prospect of foreign governments hunting and killing their enemies within our borders or those of our allies is abhorrent.

Not to mention, the most alarming part of state-sponsored executions is that innocent people could well be killed. Targeted killings deliver death without due process; it’s unclear what criteria gets people on the “kill list,” what kind of evidence is used, and what standard of proof must be met by the CIA or the military when they decide, in secret, to add a name to the list. (Our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information on those criteria and other crucial questions, is ongoing.) The U.S. government detained hundreds of prisoners at Guantánamo and at overseas prisons only to release the vast majority of them years later, after realizing — or being forced by federal courts to realize — that it had wrongly labeled them as terrorists. Falsely imprisoning people for years on weak or nonexistent evidence is bad enough — assassinating people on the same basis is irreversible.

Read the full letter here.

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