Drop what you’re doing and take half an hour to read the report by Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, on the implications of the U.S.-sponsored drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and around the world. It’s a stunning indictment of how the United States is flouting the rule of law and setting a precedent that could lead, in Alston’s view, to a world in which nations willy-nilly use drone technology to kill anywhere, anywhere, they care to.
Which is what the United States is doing.
The report also cites killings by Russia and Israel, among other countries, but the United States is far and away the principal culprit.
You can read the whole report here.
In a statement on releasing the report, published today by the UN, Alston said:
“It is an essential requirement of international law that States using targeted killings demonstrate that they are complying with the various rules governing their use in situations of armed conflict. The greatest challenge to this principle today comes from the program operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. . . . The international community does not know when and where the CIA is authorized to kill, the criteria for individuals who may be killed, how it ensures killings are legal, and what follow-up there is when civilians are illegally killed.”
By failing to “disclose their criteria” for who its kills and why, the United States is setting a dangerous precedent. It is, said Alston, “deeply problematic, because it gives no transparency or clarity about what conduct could subject a civilian to killing.” He added:
“I'm particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe. … This strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other States can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”
Alston didn’t say that the drone attacks violate international law, but that’s the implication – and the Obama administration is scrambling to justify the policy under law. Alston specifically rejects the notion of “preemptive self-defense” and said that killing outside of a combat zone under wartime conditions “is almost never likely to be legal.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Alston drew out the full meaning of the U.S. policy:
“This expansive and open-ended interpretation of the right to self-defense goes a long way towards destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the UN charter. If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”
At the conclusion of his report, Alston calls on "states" -- i.e., the United States -- to identify in detail the policies and criteria used for killing civilians and to "specify the procedural safeguards in place to ensure in advance of targeted killings that they comply with international law." And he adds:
"States should make public the number of citizens collaterally killed in a targeted killing operation."
There's lots of meat in this report. Read it!
And when you're finished, and you want to read something mealy-mouthed, read the Q&A from the Council on Foreign Relations.