CIA Misconduct in Peruvian Killing Underlines Inconsistencies--and Problems--in U.S. Policies

Talk about exquisite timing.

Two days ago, the New York Times reported on the just-released publication of a 2008 report on the CIA's negligence, deceit, disregard for its own rules and stonewalling in connection with investigation of its practice of shooting down airplanes in Peru in 2001. Back then, it was deadly mistakes made in the war on drugs.

A day later, the Wall Street Journal published a report about ramping up the CIA's targeted killing program in the war against terrorism (or against Al Qaida, as the Administration now calls it).

The Peru example underscores why the United States should not be using the CIA to conduct targeted killings. The CIA operates, understandably, in secret. When and if its conduct is investigated, the reports of its violations usually remain secret as well. The power to impose death should not be delegated to an entity, and to individuals, so shielded from standard measures of accountability.

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CIA Misconduct in Peruvian Killing Underlines Inconsistencies--and Problems--in U.S. Policies

Talk about exquisite timing.

Two days ago, the New York Times reported on the just-released publication of a 2008 report on the CIA's negligence, deceit, disregard for its own rules and stonewalling in connection with investigation of its practice of shooting down airplanes in Peru in 2001. Back then, it was deadly mistakes made in the war on drugs.

A day later, the Wall Street Journal published a report about ramping up the CIA's targeted killing program in the war against terrorism (or against Al Qaida, as the Administration now calls it).

The Peru example underscores why the United States should not be using the CIA to conduct targeted killings. The CIA operates, understandably, in secret. When and if its conduct is investigated, the reports of its violations usually remain secret as well. The power to impose death should not be delegated to an entity, and to individuals, so shielded from standard measures of accountability.

There's more...

Time for 'A Full and Open Debate' about Drones

 

Last week, in a rare public interview, Michael Leiter, the nation's counterterrorism chief, acknowledged that the government's drone and targeted killing strategy, which appears to have become a cornerstone of the Obama administration's "war on terror," demands "a full and open debate."

Leiter was responding to a question from Newsweek's Michael Isikoff about the fact that the Obama administration

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State Dept Promises To Produce Legal Justification for Drone Attacks

State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh has promised to produce the Obama administration's legal justification for its increased use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists, reports Shane Harris of the National Journal.

"I have studied this question," Koh told the audience at an American Bar Association breakfast yesterday. "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."

Let's hope that "appropriate moment" comes pretty soon, because controversy over the drone attacks is heating up. The ACLU in January filed a FOIA request asking the government to turn over that legal justification, as well as the facts underlying it. Then this week, after receiving a response from the CIA that it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any relevant documents, the ACLU filed a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, as Adam Serwer points out at The American Prospect, a New America Foundation study raises concerns that about a third of the victims of drone attacks have been civilians, and international lawyers have been debating for months now whether the targeted killings violate international law. (Jane Mayer's story on drone attacks in The New Yorker last October does an excellent job of laying out the controversy.)

Such an eminent legal expert as Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, has said that the drone attacks, despite their obvious appeal to the U.S. and the U.K., raise serious legal concerns.

As he explained in a recent article in The Guardian with Hina Shamsi, "Drones may only be used to kill in an armed conflict. The killing must fulfill a military need, and no alternative should be reasonably possible." In Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are fighting armed militants but not the troops of another country, "the target must have a direct connection to the combat, either as a Taliban or al-Qaida 'fighter', or as a civilian who is 'directly participating in hostilities'. The use of force must be proportionate, meaning that commanders must weigh any expected military advantage against possible harm to civilians." Violating these requirements could constitute a war crime.

Given the secrecy of the United States' drone program, it's impossible to know whether the government has met these legal requirements. That's left the administration open to critics' suggestions that it has not, and may well be fomenting anger among the residents of areas being targeted.

General Stanley McChrystal has said that reducing civilian casualties in Afghanistan is critical to a key part of his counterinsurgency strategy -- winning the "hearts and minds" of the Afghan people. Revealing the facts about how the United States is using its expanded and now well-known drone program must be a critical component of that strategy.

Israel's High Court of Justice Rules On The Legality Of Targeted Killings

Israel's High Court of Justice todayruled that Israel's policy of `targeted killings' does not categorically violate international law and must instead be judged on a case-by-case basis. The ruling is set to serve as a precedent in international law.

The judges ruled (.doc) that Palestinians engaged in hostilities against Israel, including members of terrorist organisations, are not combatants but civilians and so are protected persons under the law. However, they noted that under international law civilians lose this protection when they take part in direct hostilities. According to Art. 51(3) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions,

"Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities".

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