Horton and Alston Talk Drones (and Murder and Experimentation at Gitmo)

by Kevin Jon Heller

I haven’t had enough time to blog about Philip Alston’s excellent report on drone warfare, but interested readers should check out today’s conversation between Scott Horton and Alston at Harpers.com.  Here’s a taste of one of Alston’s answers:

Of course, calling something a war crime doesn’t make it so–the question is whether it is recognized as such under international law–and your question raises a broader concern and reflects the deeply disturbing approach of the United States to the laws of war since 9/11. The U.S. has put forward the novel theory of a brand new “law of 9/11” under which it can sidestep the laws of war or re-interpret them when it suits. This approach is no doubt appealing and convenient in the short term. But it will inevitably return to bite the U.S., and will undermine the international legal framework on which the U.S. relies in so many other contexts. In this particular instance, if the U.S. were to insist that use of lethal force in an armed conflict by a civilian who is a citizen of another country is a “war crime” just because that person is a civilian, it won’t have a leg to stand on if another state prosecutes a CIA agent involved in the drone killing program on exactly the same grounds.

More broadly, in asserting an ever-expanding “right” to target and kill individuals anywhere in the world, the U.S. completely undermines the rules it has helped craft over half a century designed to prevent other states from carrying out extrajudicial killings. The rules the U.S. asserts today will surely be invoked by Russia, China, Iran, or any number of other countries tomorrow.

You can read the whole thing here.


2 Responses

  1. Naive question time:  Alston refers more than once to international law that requires “transparency and accountability.”  What and where exactly is this international law?

  2. Unrelated, but the Border Patrol shooting of the 15 year old Mexican at the Ciudad Juarez/El Paso crossing seems like an issue ripe for some international law analysis.

    For example, the evidence thus far shows that the border patrol officer shot the boy when the latter was in Mexican territory. Who gets jurisdiction over the officer, if indeed it is determined to be a crime?

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