On the Illegality of Targeted Killings

May 20th, 2010 - by admin

American Civil Liberties Union – 2010-05-20 01:00:49


WASHINGTON (April 28, 2010) — The United States has reportedly initiated a targeted killing program under which the CIA and the military have the authority to hunt and kill individuals, including U.S. citizens, far away from the battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Pakistani border regions, and potentially anywhere in the world.

The program operates without any checks and balances; all of the essential details about the program remain secret. We do not know what criteria are used to put people on the “kill lists” maintained by the CIA and military, how much evidence is required to add a person to the lists, or whether there are any geographical limits on where individuals can be targeted.

The President has, in effect, claimed the unchecked authority to put the names of citizens and others on “kill lists” on the basis of a secret determination, based on secret evidence, that a person meets a secret definition of the enemy.

It is not enough for the government to say “trust us” when it comes to authorizing the CIA to hunt and kill US citizens and others all over the world. Over the last eight years, we have seen the government over and over again detain men as “terrorists,” only to discover later that the evidence was weak, wrong, or non-existent.

Of the many hundreds of individuals previously imprisoned in the so-called “war on terror,” the vast majority have been released or are awaiting release because the government’s secret evidence against them could not withstand scrutiny. These types of mistakes are even more appalling when the consequence is death.

Furthermore, outside of armed conflict zones, the use of lethal force is strictly limited by international law and, at least in some circumstances, the Constitution. Specifically, lethal force can be used only used against an imminent threat to life and, even then, only as genuine last resort once other alternatives have been exhausted. A program under which names are added to a “kill list” after a secret bureaucratic process and remain there for months is clearly not limited to imminent threats.

Based on the information that has been disclosed in the press, the targeted killing program is unlawful. The ACLU believes that the President should reject out of hand a program that would invest the CIA or the US military with the unchecked authority to impose an extrajudicial death sentence on US citizens and others found far from any actual battlefield.

The ACLU has also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demanding that the government disclose basic information about the use of drones to conduct targeted killings. The lawsuit seeks disclosure of the legal basis, scope, and limits on the targeted killing program; information about internal oversight of the program; and data about the number of civilians and non-civilians killed in drone strikes.

Published on American Civil Liberties Union (http://www.aclu.org)