Editor’s note: I have modified the title of CNN news a little and chosen the picture above. Let us remember our Old Testament: Thou shall not kill! To examine the first part of the question, Is every human life sacred, read my article: The Root Cause of Terrorism: An Unholy Thought.
By Mary Ellen O’Connell She holds the Robert and Marion Short Chair in Law and is research professor of international dispute resolution at the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is a specialist on the international law of armed conflict and is the editor of “What Is War? An Investigation in the Wake of 9/11” (Martinus Nijhof/Brill, 2012).
(CNN) — The Bush and Obama administrations’ extraordinary program of targeted killing has resulted in the deaths of as many as 4,400 people to date. Books such as Daniel Klaidman’s “Kill or Capture” and David E. Sanger’s “Confront and Conceal” are appearing thick and fast, focusing on the program and particularly on the use of drones to carry it out.
The belated scrutiny is welcome. Yet it still fails to critically assess the essential question: Is this killing occurring in war?
Both Presidents Bush and Obama have attempted to justify thousands of drone attacks as part of a “war” or “armed conflict.” But is that correct?
The question must be answered in terms of international law. When the United States kills people in foreign, sovereign states, the world looks to international law for the standard of justification. In war, enemy fighters may be killed under a standard of reasonable necessity; outside war, authorities are far more restricted in their right to resort to lethal force.
Independent scholars confirm that many drone attacks are occurring outside war zones. These experts know the legal definition of war, and they understand why it is important to know it: Above all, protecting human rights is different in war than from protecting them in peace.
Admittedly, this dual standard for justifiable killing makes the law protecting the right to life more complicated than the law protecting other fundamental rights. Torture, for example, is absolutely prohibited in international law at all times, in war and peace.
Targeted killing with drones in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan have generally violated the right to life because the United States is rarely part of any armed conflict in those places. The human right to life that applies is the right that applies in peace.
Today, the United States is engaged in armed conflict only in Afghanistan. To lawfully resort to military force elsewhere requires that the country where the United States is attacking has first attacked the United States (such as Afghanistan in 2001), the U.N. Security Council has authorized the resort to force (Libya in 2011) or a government in effective control credibly requests assistance in a civil war (Afghanistan since 2002).
If the president has been advised otherwise with regard to his “kill list,” he should read “What Is War?”