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U.S. Targeted Killings Program: A Dangerous Precedent

a drone
a drone
Allison Frankel,
Staff Attorney,
ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project
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June 20, 2012

ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi delivered a statement at the U.N. Human Rights Council today calling on the U.S. government to provide transparency and accountability in its targeted killing program. While noting that targeted killings may be lawful under some exceptional circumstances, Shamsi emphasized that:

“The United States has cobbled together its own legal framework for targeted killing, with standards that are far less stringent than the law allows. Senior U.S. government officials have claimed self-defense and law of war authority to target and kill suspected terrorists in states with which and in which the United States is not at war, based on largely secret legal criteria, entirely secret evidence, and a secret process.”

To date the U.S. government officially claims the program is secret and has failed to “disclose who has been killed, the number of collateral civilian deaths, and the outcome of any government investigation into mistakes or wrongful targeted killings.” In a statement before the Council earlier in the day, the Swiss representative also expressed concern over the targeted killing program and called upon the U.S. to respect international law in its use of drone strikes.

The focus on targeted killing will continue tomorrow as the ACLU, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the International Commission of Jurists, and FIDH, hosts a discussion about the human rights implications of the U.S. targeted killing program. The event will feature the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson.

As Shamsi aptly noted, the U.S. must ensure that its use of drone strikes comports with international law, or it will set a dangerous precedent that “could be used tomorrow by nations with less respect for the right to life in particular, and human rights in general.”

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