Today I bring the thoughtful text of Amnesty USA concerning drones, a subject which has since the beginning bothered me. It seems clean and clear but it kills. Remember: Thou shallt not kill.
Amnesty USA's text:
I am writing to urge you to take immediate steps to bring the United States government's policies on the use of armed drones, and other such "targeted killings" or "signature strikes", in line with US obligations under international human rights law and, in the very limited circumstances where it also applies, international humanitarian law.
What has already been publicly revealed about these policies and practices is enough to conclude that the current US approach is unlawful, violating the fundamental human right of anyone, wherever in the world they may be found, not to be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. However, it is clear that many details about the legal and factual underpinnings for both the policies and for particular killings are still being kept secret. This would include the alleged 2010 classified Department of Justice (Office of Legal Counsel) memorandum reported to give the legal justification for the killing of US citizens without trial in certain circumstances, such as occurred in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September 2011.
We in the public may not yet know all the individual names or identities of the people who the US government has killed under these policies, but we do know some things more generally about them. We know that among those killed were some who were essentially accused in secret of crimes or other wrongdoing but in respect of whom no efforts were made to bring them to justice in a court of law. We know that there were others about whom the government had no specific information but who may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We know that among those killed have been men of different ages, women, and children. We also know that every one of the people the government has killed, whoever they were and whatever they may have been believed to have done, had the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. International human rights standards define what is and is not an arbitrary deprivation of life. Outside of specific recognized zones of armed conflict, states must comply with law enforcement standards. The integrity of the international system for protection of human rights depends in no small part on states respecting the fundamental principle that the more permissive targeting rules under the laws of war apply only within such zones of armed conflict.
While I recognize that some of the killings in question, if conducted in the context of specific recognized zones of armed conflict may not be in violation of international human rights or international humanitarian law, current US policies appear also to permit extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law, virtually anywhere in the world. Among the particular concerns of Amnesty International are:
- the government's continued reliance on a "global war" legal theory that treats the entire world as a battlefield between the USA and armed groups, on which lethal force may potentially be used virtually anywhere at any time without regard to human rights standards;
- the administration's invocation of the right to use force in self-defence to justify the deliberate killing of virtually anyone suspected of involvement of any kind in relation to a range of armed groups and/or terrorism against the USA, particularly through the adoption of a radical re-interpretation of the concept of "imminence";
- reports that a "guilty until proven innocent" approach is taken to military-age males who are killed by a strike, even if there is no specific evidence that they were directly participating in hostilities in a specific armed conflict;
- the fact that key factual and legal details of the killing programme remain shrouded in secrecy.
These aspects of US policy and practice are not only of concern in their own right: they also weaken the credibility of the USA as an advocate for respect for human rights by other states; they set dangerous precedents that other states may exploit to avoid responsibility for their own unlawful killings; and if unchecked there is a real risk that the US "global war" doctrine will further corrode the foundations of the international framework for protection of human rights. There has also been widespread speculation that current US policies and practices with respect to such killings may inadvertently be building support for the very armed groups and terror attacks that US officials say provide its justification.
I call on you to
- Ensure that the US refrains from all unlawful use of lethal force, including against individuals suspected of terrorism.
- Ensure maximum effort by the US, in cooperation with other states, to ensure that those responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA, and for planning or carrying out similar such attacks anywhere in the world, are brought to justice for their crimes in fair and public trials without recourse to the death penalty.
- Disclose further legal and factual details about US policy and practices for so-called 'targeted killings', 'signature strikes', and "Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes", including the alleged 2010 classified Department of Justice (Office of Legal Counsel) memorandum reported to give the legal justification for the killing of US citizens without trial in certain circumstances, such as occurred in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September 2011.
- End claims that the USA is authorized by international law to use lethal force anywhere in the world under the theory that it is involved in a 'global war' against al-Qa'ida and other armed groups and individuals.
- Recognize the application of international human rights law to all US counter-terrorism operations including those outside US territory.
- Bring US policies and practices on the use of lethal force in counter-terrorism operations in line with the USA's international human rights obligations, particularly, by:
- Ensuring that any use of lethal force outside of specific recognized zones of armed conflict complies fully with the USA's obligations under international human rights law, including by limiting the use of force in accordance with international human rights standards for the use of force in law enforcement;
- Ensuring that any use of lethal force within a specific recognized zone of armed conflict complies fully with the USA's obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, including by recognizing and respecting the rule that if there is doubt as to whether a person is a civilian, the person is to be considered a civilian.
- Ensuring independent and impartial investigations in all cases of alleged extrajudicial executions or other unlawful killings, respect for the rights of family members of those killed, and effective redress and remedy where killings are found to have been unlawful.