FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Assassination By Drones

The first step in examining the legality of assassinating known or suspected terrorists through the use of unmanned armed vehicles (UAVs) is to decide whether such killings could be classified as part of an armed conflict.  If they are considered as part of an armed conflict, according to international law, the rules of armed conflict would apply; otherwise the laws of self-defence would be relevant.

According to the Geneva Conventions and customary humanitarian law, armed conflict only applies when two or more States are involved.  When the United States defines its campaign against terrorists as a global conflict, this designation is not based on the correct definition of war as characterized by international law but on America’s own interpretation of its effort to eradicate terrorism.  Only two or more States can legally, in the strictest terms, engage in war, not a State against individuals scattered around the globe.

The international laws relating to self-defence apply to the case where a State is seeking to protect itself from a group or groups of terrorists.  The laws of self-defence are articulated in the seventh chapter of the United Nations Charter.  In Chapter 7, Article 51, it states that: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs..Measures taken by members in the exercise of the right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not…affect the authority or responsibility of the Security Council…to take such action…to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

In analyzing this clause in the UN Charter, the overriding issue is whether this right of self-defence only exists if an armed attack has occurred or whether self-defence is legitimate under conditions of “anticipatory self-defence” or “pre-emptive self-defence”.

A precedent exists in customary law in the Caroline case which established that an “imminent threat” exists when it is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.”  Developed by Daniel Webster, these criteria legitimize the use of force in the absence of an act of aggression.

There is an extensive body of work seeking to define when the use of force is legitimate given an imminent threat including the argument that: “The rule does not actually require an attack to be imminent to act, but rather permits defensive measures to be taken before one passes a point in time when it is too late to prevent catastrophe.

Based on the existing literature, it is difficult to argue that the threat extended by a single or group of terrorists poses a threat to the security of the United States.  It could be argued that terrorist poses a threat to individuals or to property belonging to the United States in which case criminal law applies and the response requires police action not an armed attack by a State.

A further point reinforcing the argument of a police action is that these targets of drone attacks are suspects until due process condemns them for criminal acts.  Killing the suspect precludes the application of due process.

It is clearly evident that for a State to launch an attack by an UAV is a violation of international law and those responsible for such acts become suspects of war crimes.  Arbitrary killing of individuals around the world notwithstanding the justification cannot be in accordance with the rule of law under which certain norms of behaviour have been established for the treatment of individuals suspected of illegal acts.

David Model is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Seneca College in Toronto.

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal.
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail