Sunday, June 5, 2016

What is the legal precedent for government authorized murder?

We must have a number of lawyers and legal experts who sporadically participate on this blog. I know President Obama and his administration have petitioned for and, apparently, been granted the power to kill U.S. or other citizens and not be prosecuted for such crimes actions. How did these powers come about? Do other countries legalize government murder? Do any other self-stated democracies participate in killing by executive order? What precedent allows our justice department to silently authorize these killings?

Yes, I freely admit that politically (and rationally) I am against this policy as a very undemocratic thing to do, but I wonder how a so-called democracy arrives in this position. I understand how the fear arrives to allow such a situation, but how does the law allow it?


Big Myk said...

As a matter of domestic law, Obama relies on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force as his authorization for targeted killings, either by drone strike or special operations kill missions. That authorization permits the president to use force "against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." Obama understands that authorization to allow him the use force against al-Qaeda and any associated forces.

As for international law, the president relies on Article 51 of the UN charter, which grants all countries the right of self-defense. The Obama administration asserts that the US remains in a state of armed conflict with al-Qaeda and therefore the rules of wartime targeted killings apply. Under the international humanitarian law, in the context of an armed conflict, a targeted killing is only lawful when the target is a “combatant” or “fighter” or, in the case of a civilian, only for such time as the person “directly participates in hostilities." From a legal perspective, in an armed conflict, there is little distinction between indiscriminate killing of armed combatants and targeted killing.

That's not to say there aren't a lot of problematic issues with targeted killings. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Targeted Killings.

James R said...

In the murky waters of obfuscated euphemisms, I am one of the biggest offenders. Of course by "lawyers and legal experts", I meant Big Myk, who naturally comes through in great style. He gives a great synopsis and two invaluable resources.

I urge everyone to read them, at least "Targeted Killings". I would like to emphasize a couple of points, however. The U.S. is apparently not slowing down in the "targeted killing" area. This administration has apparently killed thousands with drone strikes, hundreds of them civilians. (There are some horrific stories out there.) I say, "apparently", because the government does not tell us. So, as we escalate these executive powers, how will we feel as other countries follow our lead?

Secondly, how wise or effective is this policy? Israel has been using targeted killings the longest. How has that worked out for them? Have the U.S. targeted killings helped the peace-making progress yet? As usual it does not seem as if we have a long term view.

Big Myk said...

A few additional observations. Russia is one other country besides Israel and US who has a policy of targeted killings. Its policy is so open-ended as to permit the targeted killing of almost anyone.

The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, focused as it is on those individuals and organizations that had involvement in 9/11, is progressively becoming a more and more slender reed for Obama to base his targeted killings on. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al-Shabaab in East Africa, currently the target of selective killings, did not evern exist in 2001.

One very entertaining and yet compelling movie which lays out both the protocols and the moral issues of targetted killing is "Eye in the Sky." It stars, among others, Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad fame), and Alan Rickman (his final movie).

James R said...

The Obama administration finally released figures for 'targeted killings'.
Number of Strikes: 473
Combatant Deaths: 2372-2581
Non-Combatant Deaths: 64-116

The government did not break down the figures per strike, but released the totals in aggregate. Of course, these vary wildly from even the most conservative non-governmental estimates. The reasons for the variance, says the administration, is that 1)correct information is hard to get 2)the government has better access to the information 3)spread of misinformation by our enemies.