Why “Trust Us” is not an appropriate response for drone or other targeted attacks

In response to an op-ed published by David Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the Center for Constitutional Rights and ACLU’s challenge of U.S. targeting operations abroad, Daphne Eviatar published the following response, underlining why “trust us” is not an appropriate defense for government policy of attempting to kill U.S. citizens or others in targeted attacks.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey’s attack on the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights for demanding that the U.S. plans to target and kill a U.S. citizen abroad be lawful is misplaced.

Although they are correct that international law does not necessarily prohibit the targeting of U.S. citizens, it does require that those citizens are directly participating in hostilities against the U.S., not simply suspected of supporting terrorist organizations. Moreover, the U.S. Constitution may well require some higher level of due process for U.S. citizens before they can be killed by their own government based on secret suspicions.

The problem with the U.S. use of drone attacks is not that they are necessarily illegal, but that the U.S. government has failed to explain how its choice of targets complies with established law. It is not sufficient—nor is it wise, as a matter of national security—for U.S. officials to simply say “trust us.” Given the lack of transparency of its targeting program, it is completely appropriate for a federal court to step in and ensure that the government’s policy of attempting to kill U.S. citizens or anyone else is a lawful one.

Daphne Eviatar
Human Rights First
New York

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Published on August 25, 2010

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