Category Archives: Targeted Killings

The Task Force on US Drone Policy Releases its Report

By Jessica Poarch Hernandez

This morning a panel of intelligence experts released “Recommendations and Report of The Task Force on US Drone Policy” which reviews the risk and benefits of current US drone policy.

The panel made the following eight recomendations:

  1. Conduct a rigorous strategic review and cost-benefit analysis of the role of lethal UAVs in targeted counterterrorism strikes to evaluate the impact of past UAV strikes on terrorist organizations, affected communities, public opinion, litigation, defense policy and government cooperation with allies and partner nations.
  2. Improve transparency in targeted UAV strikes: as a general principle, the United States should acknowledge the use of lethal force in foreign countries both to Congress and to the American public. While secrecy may be required before and during each strike, strikes generally should be acknowledged by the United States after the fact. The president should publicly release information on: the approximate number and general location of targeted UAV strikes; the number of individuals known to have been killed and their organizational affiliations; the number and identities of any civilians known to be killed, and the approximate number of strikes carried out by the military versus the CIA. The president should also order the preparation and public release of a detailed report explaining the legal basis under domestic and international law for the United States conducting targeted killings.
  3. Transfer general responsibility for carrying out lethal UAV strikes from the CIA to the military. While rare exceptions may be warranted, as a general principle, the military should be the entity responsible for the use of lethal force outside the United States, while the CIA should focus on intelligence collection and analysis.
  4. Develop more robust oversight and accountability mechanisms for targeted strikes outside of traditional battlefields. The president should, by executive order, create a nonpartisan, independent commission to review lethal UAV policy. Members of this independent commission should be selected with a view to ensuring credibility and diversity of background. The commission should not be directly involved in the pre-strike approval process, but should be tasked with reviewing the overall policy and approval process for the use of lethal UAV strikes (both military and CIA); unclassified versions of the commission’s reports to the president and Congress should be released publicly. Continue reading

OUPBlog: Drone Killings

by Jessica Poarch Hernandez

The OUPBlog recently posted a piece by Sascha-Dominik Bachmann entitled Drone Killings. Adapted from an article published in the Journal of Conflict and Security Law, this post argues that  the use of drone technology “has direct implications for the morality of armed conflict and combat” because it puts too much distance between the shooter and the target. He then goes on to argue that the U.S. Government should reevaluate its use of Drone Technology and concern itself more with the broad issue of collateral damage.

Read the post here.

Targeted Killings of Americans: Three Things to Know []

by Travis Normand

The following video and article were originally created and posted by  You can visit their site HERE.

As for the three points discussed by Matthew C. Waxman (in the following video), I think the first point is the most important. After all, whether or not the U.S. is at war determines if the LOAC paradigm is applicable to the situation.

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The war on terror is without geographically defined battlefields

by Travis Normand

An article appeared yesterday (Feb. 14, 2013) on the titled Drone Attacks Spur Legal Debate On Definition of ‘Battlefield.’

The debate concerning the geographic limits of the battlefield is not a new one.  In fact, the debate has been ongoing at least since the U.S. declared that it was engaged in a “War on Terror.”  After all, terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda are organizations and they typically have no geographic nation or state.  So, contrary to the traditional war paradigm we are used to, when the U.S. sent troops into Afghanistan to combat the al-Qaeda organization, the U.S. was not going to war with Afghanistan.

However, the author of the above referenced article suggests that a 2002 Drone attack in Yemen is what “blew apart notions of ‘war’ and ‘battlefield’ which has guided the application of the legal traditions, treaties and laws of armed conflict for centuries.”

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Pentagon to Award Medals for Drone Strikes

Distinguished Warfare Medal-17K

This image released by the Department of Defense shows the . . . newly announced Distinguished Warefare Medal. The Pentagon is creating the new medal that can be awarded to troops who have a direct impact on combat operations but do it from afar. The medal will be awarded to individuals for “extraordinary achievement” related to a military operation. (AP Photo/Department of Defense)Link to source

Click HERE to see enlarged photo of medal.

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DOJ “white paper” memo provides legal justification for drone strikes against US citizens

by Travis Normand

Reaper UAV Taxis at Kandahar Airfield

Here is a link to the memo that was obtained by, as well as the accompanying story that NBC posted.

[Article Review] The Perilous Position of the Laws of War

by Jessica Poarch

In his article published in Harvard Law School’s National Security Journal, Charles Kels argues that the debate surrounding the application of the LOAC to the war against al-Qaeda and targeted killings often crosses the paradigm boundary between jus ad bellum (the law governing the use of force) and jus in bello (the laws in war) to the detriment of LOAC’s fundamental aim, the protection of humanity.

He concludes, “LOAC is apolitical. Adherence to it does not legitimize an unlawful resort to force, just as its violation—unless systematic—does not automatically render one’s cause unjust. The answer for those who object to U.S. targeted killing and indefinite detention is not to apply a peace paradigm that would invalidate LOAC and undercut the belligerent immunity of soldiers, but to direct their arguments to the political leadership regarding the decision to use force in the first place. Attacking LOAC for its perceived leniency and demanding the “pristine purity” of HRL in military operations is actually quite dangerous and counterproductive from a humanitarian perspective, because there remains the distinct possibility that the alternative to LOAC is not HRL but “lawlessness.” While there are certainly examples of armies that have acquitted themselves quite well in law enforcement roles—and while most nations do not subscribe to the strict U.S. delineation between military and police forces—the vast bulk of history indicates that in the context of armed hostilities, LOAC is by far the best case scenario, not the worst.”

In my opinion the article is worth reading. For starters, it provides a good reminder of the fundamental debate surrounding the application of the LOAC to America’s use of force against terrorist organizations. The author spends sometime at the beginning of the article detailing the history of the Geneva Conventions and the types of armed conflicts. He then outlines the current debate and the places where they trip the line between the two paradigms of International Law. Most importantly, however, this article adds an outlook not often noted in the LOAC debates – the importance of LOAC to the military.

Obama administration to codify U.S. drone policy

by Travis Normand

I found this article on about how the Obama administration is looking to codify the U.S. drone policy. The article is quite fascinating and addresses a few of the larger complaints and challenges concerning drone usage.

Click HERE to read the entire article.

While reading the article, I had several thoughts which I wanted to address here.

My first thought came after reading the following quote:

“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making,” Mr. Obama told Jon Stewart in an appearance on “The Daily Show” on Oct. 18.

In the quote above, President Obama states that he needs “Congressional help” in order to put a legal architecture in place for the drone policy. My first thought was that as Commander in Chief, the President has historically been very careful to keep congress out of the decisions of who was designated an enemy combatant.  It will be interesting to see how much congressional help he will accept and what this will do to any current precedent.

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The Use of Drones for Targeted Killings – A Decade Behind Us, A Decade to Go?

by Jessica Poarch

“What was once considered an immediate response to an exceptional threat to the United States is now a permanent and institutionalized feature of U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps by November 3, 2022, policymakers and the American people will have noticed.” ~ Micah Zenko (30 October 2012)

In his report to Foreign Policy, Micah Zenko reminds us that November 3rd marks the 10th Anniversary of U.S. use of Drones for Targeted Killings in the War on Terror – what he terms “America’s Third War.” He shows that this program has largely expanded over the last decade and argues that, unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no sign that it will be discontinued in the near future.

You can read the entire article here

The US Drone Program and the Disposition Matrix

by Travis Normand

I received an email today from the which contained links to the following resources, articles, and videos. The information concerned the U.S.’s drone program and the “Disposition Matrix.”  It is very interesting stuff and I wanted to share it here with anyone else who may be interested.

Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists
By Greg Miller, Published: October 23

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly crafting a next-generation plan to capture and kill suspected terrorists, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The “disposition matrix,” revealed here in part one of a three-part Washington Post series on U.S. counterterrorism policies, reflects an effort by top national security officials to create an infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly endless war.

Continue reading this article HERE.

See also, The process behind targeted killing

See also, Tracking America’s drone war [Database of Drone Strikes]

The Process Behind Targeted Killing