TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

The Murky Legality of Targeting TerroristsThe US government has argued that a program to target and kill terrorists isfully compliant with domestic and international law. Legal rationales for theprogram include:• The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which waspassed in September 2001. AUMF permits the President to “use allnecessary and appropriate force…in order to prevent any future actsof international terrorism against the United States.” 233 The WhiteHouse interprets this statute to allow targeted killings of al Qaedaoperatives.• Article 51 of the UN Charter proclaims that states have an “inherentright of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occursagainst [them].” 234 The US argues that lethal preemptive strikesagainst al Qaeda and its allies are legal since they are necessary todefend against imminent attacks. 235• The ‘law of armed conflict,’ which permits attacks on enemy combatantseven if they are not engaged in hostilities at the moment of theattack. The US argues that al Qaeda operatives are enemy combatantsand therefore can be lawfully attacked in foreign countries suchas Pakistan & Yemen. Local government approval for the attack—orat minimum a secret understanding with the local government—negatesconcerns about violating the country’s sovereignty.Critics contend that US targeted killings are illegal, and argue:• The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)declares, “Every human being has the inherent right to life…No oneshall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” 236 States must therefore followstandard due process procedures when ordering strikes on suspectedterrorists. These procedures ensure that the use of force is absolutelynecessary and used only to counter an imminent threat. 237 Becausetargeted killings are not thought to meet standard due process procedures,they violate ICCPR and are extrajudicial executions.Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School93

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