TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

• Under Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Convention, individuals who arenot actively engaged in hostilities cannot be murdered or subject toviolence, torture, or cruel treatment. 238 Targeted killings via missilestrikes or small unit incursions are illegal under Article 3 becausethey usually cause the deaths of innocent bystanders.• Article 4 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment ofPrisoners of War states that lawful combatants must have a commander,wear an insignia, operate in accordance with the law ofarmed conflict, and carry weapons openly. 239 The operation of dronesdoes not comport with the “open-carry” condition, 240 and thereforeviolates human rights law and the law of armed conflict.Indeed, the international community has paid heed to these criticisms. In October2009 the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or ArbitraryExecutions sent a report to the UN General Assembly expressing concernsthat US strikes violate international humanitarian and human rights law. 241Advantages to Targeting TerroristsBeyond the legal explanations of self-defense, the targeted killings program providesnumerous operational advantages to the US counterterrorism mission.Active terrorists are eliminated. The US program has eliminated numeroustop al Qaeda leaders—individuals who would presumably be plotting to attackthe US and its allies if still alive. In 2008, the US successfully killed (amongothers) al Qaeda senior military commander Abu Layth al-Libi, al Qaeda’sWMD chief Abu Khabab al-Masri, and al Qaeda-Pakistan head Abu Haris. 242Plots are disrupted & remaining terrorists spend less time planning attacks.Presumably, the remaining al Qaeda operatives following a targeted killingspend time worrying about their physical safety—time that is not spent puttingtogether operations against US civilian and military installations. Theever-present threat of aerial assault also forces terrorists to train clandestinelyrather than in the open, limiting their operational abilities. As journalist PeterBergen noted, the US targeted killing campaign “…certainly has hurt al Qa-94 Trials by Fire: Counterterrorism and the Law

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