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Home International Humanitarian Law Archive for category "Targeted Killings"

The Extraterritorial Seizure of Individuals under International Law – The Case of al-Liby: Part I

Published on November 6, 2013        Author: 

Chris_Henderson_150x200Christian Henderson is Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Human Rights and International Law Unit at the University of Liverpool.

On 5th October 2013, the US Army’s Delta force entered Libyan territory and seized the alleged al-Qaida leader Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (pictured right), more commonly known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby, who was wanted by the US for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The incident recently made the news again as al-Liby came before a Federal Court in New York to plead not guilty to the offences with which he was charged.

Anas_al-LibyUnsurprisingly, the US has made a robust defence of both the raid to seize al-Liby, including apparent invocation of the Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF) adopted under the Bush administration (for an analysis of the use of AUMF see the post by Marty Lederman on Just Security here), as well as its current jurisdiction over him in order to bring him to justice for the bombings (see here and here).

Regardless of whether the abduction was lawful under the domestic law of the United States (see here for an excellent post on this issue) the whole operation raises several key questions under international law. In particular, this incident raises the question of the permissibility of a state entering another to apprehend an individual so as to be able to try them for crimes committed against its nationals. It also raises questions in regards to the treatment of that individual by the apprehending state and the subsequent jurisdiction over them for the alleged offences. The purpose of this and a following post is to seek to set out the framework of applicable rights and obligations in regards to such operations, with a particular focus on the al-Liby seizure. Read the rest of this entry…

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Obama’s Counter-Terrorism Speech: A Turning Point or More of the Same?

Published on May 27, 2013        Author: 

Gleider I Hernández is Lecturer in Law, University of Durham. The author is grateful to Dr Philippa Webb, Professor Michael Schmitt and Thomas Liefländer for their exchanges of views on this topic.

The 2012 revelation that United States President Barack Obama was immersed in the authorisation and execution of targeted drone strikes by the CIA against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia was, to put it mildly, important. Shielded from open scrutiny from Congress or the judiciary, and operating on the margins of the public eye, the ‘kill list’ of candidates has resulted in an astonishing number of drone strikes, with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimating between 240 and 347 people have been killed in Yemen since 2002, with a further 2541 to 3533 killed by some 278 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

As such, three developments in the last fortnight go some way to lifting the veil of secrecy that had heretofore surrounded the US’ weaponised drones program (on which I was asked to comment on the BBC World Service last Friday, linked here):

  1. The 22 May letter from Attorney-General Holder disclosing certain information about the US citizens who have been killed by US counter-terrorism operations outside areas of active hostilities.
  2. President Obama’s 23 May speech at the National Defence University, which has been described as the most important speech on counter-terrorism policy since 2001.
  3. The simultaneous release of a Fact Sheet entitled ‘US Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities’ (and referred to by Obama as the “Presidential Policy Guidance” (PPG)). This document sets out a number of principles with respect to the United States’ conduct of counterterrorism operations.

Ben Emmerson QC, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism, has suggested Obama’s speech ‘affirms for the first time this Administration’s commitment to seek an end to its armed conflict with Al Qaida as soon as possible; it reminds the world that not every terrorist threat or terrorist attack can be equated with a situation of continuing armed conflict; it sets out more clearly and more authoritatively than ever before the Administration’s legal justifications for targeted killing, and the constraints that it operates under; it clarifies, and proposes improvements to, the procedures for independent oversight; and it sets out the steps the President is now resolved to take in order to close Guantanamo Bay’ (for the full press release, see here.)

Although there is much truth to Emmerson’s cautious endorsement of the principles contained in Obama’s speech, there are important policy considerations that have been made public and deserve further scrutiny. Moreover, when taken together, Obama’s speech and the Presidential Policy Guidance represent a claim to the normalisation or even a ‘banalisation’ of the practice of targeting terror suspects at large.

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Drones, Battlefields, and Asking the Right Questions

Published on February 28, 2013        Author: 

Noam Lubell is Reader in Law, University of Essex. He can be followed on Twitter @nlubell.

Not only is the debate over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) not going away, it appears to be consistently growing, with ever new examinations and reports. It tends to encompass – and sometimes unnecessarily conflate – a number of issues, including:

  • The advantages, disadvantages and legality of the drone technology itself, e.g. should there be restrictions on remote controlled (or moving on to autonomous) methods of warfare.
  • The manner in which the use of drones appears to further the concept of a ‘global battlefield’, and a ‘global war against Al-Qaida’ (or ‘war on terror’, take your pick).
  • The ius ad bellum aspects in relation to drone strikes on the territory of another state.
  • The adherence to the law of armed conflict – if and when it applies – in specific drone strikes, especially concerning the status of individuals killed by drone strikes, and rules on indiscriminate attacks and proportionality.
  • Accountability for drone strikes and transparency over their use.
  • The applicability of international human rights law to drone strikes. In the US this point has taken on an extra US-centric twist, with regard to constitutional law and powers, and the implications with regard to US citizens.

There are obvious links between these issues and they all affect each other in a myriad of ways, but any examination of the international law applicable to drone strikes must also understand that the above all need to be taken into account and given separate attention, before any attempt is made to assess the overall picture of legality. Clearly there’s no room to cover all the above in adequate detail in this one post, but I would like to briefly address the second point above, and the way it links to some of the other issues.

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An Easy Exam Question on the Right to Life

Published on February 8, 2013        Author: 

You are a police officer, patrolling an area known to be a favourite hunting ground of a serial killer. The killer has managed to elude all efforts to track him down so far. All you know about him is that he is a total slave to ritual, killing with a knife a single female victim on the first day of each month, and never deviating from this pattern. Today is one such day.

Today also seems to be your lucky day.  Through sheer chance you stumble into an alley where you discover what could only be the serial killer repeatedly stabbing his victim through the chest. It unfortunately wasn’t her lucky day and she expires on the spot. The killer is wearing a jacket with the words ‘Yo, I’m Dexter Morgan, serial killer’ emblazoned on the back in bright, red letters. You shout: “Stop! Police! You are under arrest. Drop down your weapon.”

Rather than drop the knife, Dexter throws it at you with lightning-fast reflexes. This being your lucky day, the knife merely grazes your forehead, but the cut starts bleeding profusely. He runs; you pursue. You chase him from corner to corner, street to street. It’s all very exciting, and would look great on screen. But he is fast; certainly faster than you (while you’re not exactly fat, your mother still calls you ‘my big boned sugarpuff’ with a mix of pride and tenderness).

You realize that you are losing him. In a few moments he will be entering a labyrinthian maze of service tunnels going underneath the city. Once he does, you will lose him for sure. You shout: “Stop, or I will shoot!” He predictably ignores you. Well, he does somehow manage to flick a finger in your general direction.

You aim your gun. You know you’ll have the time for only one shot before he enters the tunnels. The blood flowing from the cut on your forehead makes aiming difficult. Even though you are pretty handy with a gun, you think that you will probably miss if you fire at his legs, with the purpose of stopping him. If you fire at his torso, which presents a much bigger target, you will probably hit him – but also probably kill him. You steady your aim, thinking back to your training. Do you fire?

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A Few Brief Thoughts on the DoJ White Paper

Published on February 7, 2013        Author: 

The recently leaked US Department of Justice White Paper on targeted killings has now been thoroughly dissected in the blogosphere (see, in particular, Kevin Heller’s and Deborah Perlstein’s comments on Opinio Juris here, here, and here, as well as Steve Vladeck’s take on Lawfare). I have little to add to this – in part because, as Ben Wittes and Susan Hennessay point out, there is actually fairly little new in this memo when you compare it to the various speeches on drones given by Obama administration officials. The substantive arguments or positions are essentially the same.

Where the White Paper is different, however, is in its format and size. It is not the ‘real’ legal memorandum prepared by the Office of Legal Council in the DoJ, which it allegedly summarizes to an extent, but neither is it a mere speech. It is written in legalese, it has footnotes and citations, it has the form of a legal document even if perhaps not all of its trappings. I must say that I really do not understand the administration’s reluctance to release the OLC memo itself, with redactions for any classified materials, and the need to produce this kind of quasi-summary. Nobody’s really happy with that (I won’t even get into a rather unflattering comparison with the policies of the Bush administration on similar matters), and there doesn’t seem to be any real benefit to such a strategy of creeping disclosure (indeed, leakage). The administration has now announced that it will disclose the memo to Congressional intelligence committees, but whether a redacted version will be made public is yet to be clear.

The White Paper is thus what we’ve got so far. And if we judge it on its own merits it doesn’t come accross well, for reasons given mostly be Kevin and Steve. Here’s a few additional points.

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The UK’s Use of Drones in Afghanistan and Its Definition of “Civilians”

Published on January 31, 2013        Author: 

Last week, Ben Emmerson QC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights announced that he was establishing a panel which will investigate allegations that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties. The panel is charged with making recommendations regarding the obligation of States to conduct independent and impartial investigations into such allegations with a view to securing accountability and reparations. Most of the attention regarding the use of drones for targeted killing has, been focused on the United’s States drone programme. This is understandable as the vast majority of drone operations for targeted killing have been carried out by the US. However, it is implicit in Ben Emmerson’s statement that he also intends to examine the use of drones by other countries, and particularly by Israel and by the United Kingdom (see report by the Guardian).  This is because he mentions the use of drones in the “State of Palestine” and also refers to co-operation he has received from the government of the UK.

It is not well known that the UK also uses drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for targeted killing and there has been little analysis of casualties arising from UK drone strikes.  A recent report by the UK House of Commons Library provides an overview of the:

“The strengths and weaknesses of UAVs, the different types of UAVs in use by the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan, rules of engagement and highlights some of the points raised by those concerned about their development and use.”

The report points out that:

“Reaper is the only armed remotely piloted aircraft system used by the UK. It is only deployed in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Andrew Robathan has confirmed the UK does not use armed UAVs against terrorist suspects outside Afghanistan. Defence Minister Philip Dunne has confirmed it has not been used in Pakistan or Somalia. The MOD has not made a decision as to whether to retain Reaper once combat operations end in Afghanistan. As of 1 November 2012, 297 Hellfire precision guided missiles and 52 laser guided bombs have been employed by Reaper since operations began in Afghanistan. Reaper deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 but only had the capability to deploy air-to-ground weapons since May 2008.” (p. 11)

Civilian Casualties from UK Drones

One of the criticisms of the US drone programme is the US claim that few or indeed no civilians are harmed by drone strikes. This is a claim that has been disputed by journalists and others (see for example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism). The UK makes a similar claim in relation to its programme. Read the rest of this entry…

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Remote Attack and the Law

Published on November 7, 2012        Author: 

Dr William BOOTHBY Dr Bill Boothby, the former Deputy Director of Legal Services for the Royal Air Force, published through OUP his doctoral thesis on Weapons and the Law of Armed Conflict in 2009; he has now published his second book, again through OUP, on The Law of Targeting.

This post looks at three modern forms of distance attack, by autonomous unmanned platforms, by cyber means and in outer space, and asks whether they challenge, or are challenged by, contemporary law.  It concludes that in any challenge the law is likely to prevail, and suggests the extent to which, and conditions on which, such novel and increasingly controversial technologies may indeed prove to be legally compliant.

On 29 November 2011, The Guardian, discussing US drone strikes in Pakistan, asserted that the US military makes deadly mistakes all the time.  Al Jazeera has reported that during the period May 2011 to March 2012 about 500 people, many of them civilians, were killed in US drone strikes to push Al Qaeda from the Arabian Peninsula.  And yet, CNN recently reported New America Foundation research showing a markedly reduced civilian proportion of casualties in US drone strikes in Pakistan (from about 50 percent in 2008 to close to zero) which the researchers attribute inter alia to a presidential directive to tighten up target selection, the use of smaller munitions, longer linger periods over targets and congressional oversight.

So is new technology challenging the law, or is it the other way round?

There is nothing new about the idea of fighting at a distance.  The heroic Homeric tradition of the phalanx and of the hoplite fighting at close quarters was already in ancient Greek times called into question by the use of the bow, artillery and catapults, and the process of remote attack has continued to develop in succeeding centuries and millennia, spurred on by the evident military advantage such methods yield. But the Homeric objections persisted, for example during the Kosovo conflict in the form of objections to the NATO 15,000 feet bombardment policy.

And yet since World War II, the capacity to deliver ordnance from the air with precision has developed apace –the statistics are startling in terms of the reduced number of sorties required to get a bomb delivered from high altitude to within a given distance of a hypothetical target. So, and forgive a degree of over-simplification, the lay assumption that the closer the pilot is to the target the better has been trumped by technological innovation.

Is there anything qualitatively different about future developments in the realm of remote attack?

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Drones, Just War and Due Process

Published on June 9, 2012        Author: 

Readers might be interested in two very good recent articles on drones and President Obama’s direct involvement in targeted killing decisions: in the Boston Review, David Luban examines Obama’s alleged reliance on just war theory in deciding on targeted killing policies, while Paul Daly on his new blog looks at the issue from an administrative law standpoint. Reactions are of course welcome.

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Legality of Drone Strikes in Pakistan to be Tested in English Courts?

Published on March 13, 2012        Author: 

Yesterday, lawyers acting for the son of a man killed by a US drone in Pakistan issued legal proceedings in the English High Court against the UK Foreign Secretary claiming that the UK is acting unlawfully in providing assistance to the US drones program (see here and here). The allegation is that the General Communications Headquarters (“GCHQ”), a UK intelligence agencies under the control of the Foreign Secretary, provides information to the CIA on the whereabouts of alleged militants. According to the lawyers acting for the claimant:

“The legal challenge states that the only persons entitled to immunity from ordinary criminal law in respect of armed attacks are those regarded under international law as “lawful combatants” participating in an “international armed conflict”.
As CIA and GCHQ employees, are civilians and not “combatants” they are not entitled to the benefit of immunity from ordinary criminal law. Even if they were there is also no “international armed conflict” in Pakistan. Indeed, there is no “armed conflict” of any sort.
GCHQ employees who assist CIA employees to direct armed attacks in Pakistan are in principle liable under domestic criminal law as secondary parties to murder and that any policy which involves passing locational intelligence to the CIA for use in drone strikes in Pakistan is unlawful.
Evidence suggests that drone strikes in Pakistan are being carried out in violation of international humanitarian law, because the individuals who are being targeted are not directly participating in hostilities and/or because the force used is neither necessary nor proportionate.
This suggests that there is also a significant risk that GCHQ officers may be guilty of conduct ancillary to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, both of which are statutory offences under the International Criminal Court Act 2001″

To the extent that the claim raises issues of British complicity with violations of international law by the US, this case will be similar to those cases in which it is alleged that UK officials are complicit in torture committed by foreign States (see previous posts herehere and here). Claims that drone strikes amount to crimes against humanity seem a bit far fetched. Whether or not the drone strikes violate international humanitarian law and amount war crimes will depend on some of the issues raised in my post of last month on targeting practices employed in drones strikes in Pakistan.  Readers will no doubt spot the contradiction in the present claim. It is said that not only is there no international armed conflict in Pakistan, there is actually no armed conflict of any sort. Nonetheless it is claimed that the drone strikes are carried out in violation of international humanitarian law and that there is a significant risk of UK personnel being guilty of war crimes. Without an armed conflict, IHL does not apply and there can be no war crimes!

The first part of the claim seems to take a completely different approach to the claims made at the end. The suggestion there is that even if the drone strikes are not themselves contrary to international law, the involvement of CIA and GCHQ personnel in those strikes is unlawful because those persons do not have combatants immunity under international law. First of all, it should be pointed out that absence of combatants immunity for acts in war  does not mean that a person who does those acts is acting in violation of international law (as long as the acts don’t violate IHL). Read the rest of this entry…

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Citizenship and the Holder Speech on Targeted Killings

Published on March 8, 2012        Author: 

A couple of days ago the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, gave a major speech on the legal parameters of the US targeted killing policy (text of the speech; analysis by Bobby Chesney onLawfare and Deborah Pearlstein on Opinio Juris). Nothing terribly new here as a matter of international law, bearing in mind the previous speeches by Harold Koh and John Brennan. Targeted killings are still being justified via self-defense coupled with the unwilling or unable standard as a matter of the jus ad bellum, and as part of an armed conflict as a matter of the jus in bello. The analysis is still very rudimentary and avoids many complex issues, but that’s what one can expect from a speech as a opposed to a detailed legal memo. The applicability of human rights law is still denied or not addressed; ad bellum and in bello issues at times still conflated.

What is new in the speech is the standard that the Obama administration thinks applies to the killing of US nationals (e.g. Anwar Al-Awlaki) outside US territory under US constitutional law, specifically the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment:

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