Analysis: Experts question legality of CIA drone strikes

Predator drone

Predator drone

A number of prominent American legal scholars have voiced concerns about the legality of the targeted killings by the CIA of suspected Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Speaking last week before the National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, some of the experts warned that the killings may constitute war crimes. Among them was Loyola Law School Professor David Glazier, who reminded subcommittee members that the CIA remotely navigated drone pilots are not legally considered combatants, and thus employing them to carry out armed attacks “fall[s] outside the scope of permissible conduct”. He also warned that “under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes”. Dr. Glazier’s view was seconded by American University law Professor Kenneth Anderson, who told the panel that only “uniformed military” has the legal right to conduct international military operations using lethal force. Other speakers included University of Notre Dame law Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, who suggested that the use of unmanned drones is in fact unlawful outside combat zones –where most of the CIA’s targeted killings have taken place. IntelNews regulars will know that this website has consistently questioned the legality of these extrajudicial assassinations. However, US State Department legal adviser Harold Koh told a conference in March that “the considered view of th[e] Obama administration” is that the CIA-operated drone attacks inside Pakistan “comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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