State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh says the use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorist targets are legal and the administration intends to share the legal justification for the program publicly, reports Shane Harris:
National Journal asked Koh, the senior official responsible for international legal issues, to share his views after his public remarks at an American Bar Association speech Wednesday. "I have studied this question," Koh said. "I think that the legal objections that are being put on the table are ones that we are taking into account. I am comfortable with the legal position of the administration, and at an appropriate moment we will set forth that in some detail."
This will likely come as news to the ACLU, which filed a FOIA lawsuit yesterday demanding the legal justification for the use of drone strikes in countries where the U.S. is not at war, following the government's refusal to provide any documents relating to their initial FOIA request on the subject. A study from Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann at the New America Foundation estimates that a third of those killed in drone attacks have been civilians, and Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, has previously suggested they may break international laws against assassination.
Like domestic surveillance, the Obama administration has managed to dodge questions of legality by keeping the details of the program secret. So it will be interesting to see if the administration does end up releasing the legal justification for the drone program publicly.
Legal or otherwise, the drone strikes nevertheless raise ethical questions that shouldn't be papered over.
-- A. Serwer
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