Targeted Killing Questions Remain Unanswered as U.S. Considers Targeting American in Pakistan

New York City – In response to news stories indicating that the Obama Administration is considering using a drone strike to kill a U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activity in Pakistan, Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar issued the following statement:

“The Obama Administration is right to exercise caution and restraint before making the decision to kill anyone, whether or not a U.S. citizen. In the case of Pakistan, which has made clear it does not approve of U.S. drone strikes in its territory, such restraint is particularly important. It is not at all clear that the potential target poses an imminent threat to U.S. lives and that his killing is necessary or advisable.

“This situation also highlights how much we still don’t know about the U.S. targeted killing program. In particular, the legal standard for who can be killed in Pakistan, and whether or not the U.S. considers it part of a ‘war zone’ remains unclear. Whether the United States employs a different standard for the killing of U.S. citizens in Pakistan is unclear as well. And how the U.S. defines who poses an ‘imminent’ threat remains muddled and highly troubling.”

Human Rights First continues to believe that for the U.S. targeted killing program to have legitimacy, both within the United States and beyond, the U.S. government must reveal the following information:

  1. The identities of all individuals killed in U.S. drones strikes, both in the past and going forward;
  2. All countries where the United States has conducted targeted killings since September 11, 2001;
  3. The criteria each U.S. agency involved (ex., Defense Department and CIA) uses to decide whom it may target with lethal force – that is, who constitutes a targetable member of al Qaeda, the Taliban, or an “associated force”; what signatures are used to justify “signature strikes”; and what exactly constitutes an “imminent threat” that justifies lethal force;
  4. A list of organizations or groups the United States considers “associated forces”;
  5. The specific laws and legal interpretations each U.S. government agency involved relies upon in its use of lethal force, within and outside of armed conflicts, including:

a) An unclassified version of the Presidential Policy Guidance referenced by President Obama in his May 23, 2013 speech at the National Defense University, and

b) all relevant Department of Justice legal memos;

  1. Where, when and under what circumstances the United States believes it is using lethal targeting within an armed conflict, and where, when and under what circumstances it believes it is acting outside an armed conflict;
  2. How each U.S. agency involved determines who has been killed after a strike;
  3. The criteria each agency uses to classify each of those killed as “civilian,” “militant” or “combatant”;
  4. Summaries of all post-strike investigations, including who was killed, who was killed erroneously or constitutes “collateral damage” and whether and when apologies and/or compensation were provided for mistaken or collateral killings;
  5. An explanation of how each relevant U.S. agency decides that capture of a target is not feasible and therefore warrants the use of lethal force, and explanations going forward why capture was not feasible in each instance.

Published on February 11, 2014


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