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Human Rights First

Human Rights First

Posted: November 3, 2010 03:42 PM

By Gabor Rona, International Legal Director

Talk about exquisite timing.

Two days ago, the New York Times reported on the just-released publication of a 2008 report on the CIA's negligence, deceit, disregard for its own rules and stonewalling in connection with investigation of its practice of shooting down airplanes in Peru in 2001. Back then, it was deadly mistakes made in the war on drugs.

A day later, the Wall Street Journal published a report about ramping up the CIA's targeted killing program in the war against terrorism (or against Al Qaida, as the Administration now calls it).

The Peru example underscores why the United States should not be using the CIA to conduct targeted killings. The CIA operates, understandably, in secret. When and if its conduct is investigated, the reports of its violations usually remain secret as well. The power to impose death should not be delegated to an entity, and to individuals, so shielded from standard measures of accountability.

This is not to say that targeted killing should always be forbidden. There are circumstances in which it is legal in armed conflict. But the Pentagon operates its own drones and bombs, making one wonder: what is the justification for a separate CIA targeted killing program, if not to preserve the power to kill outside the law?

Legality aside, there's also a question of hypocrisy. What is the legal difference between, on the one hand, the situation of civilian drone and bomb operators of the CIA, who are not authorized to participate in hostilities under the laws of war, and on the other hand, Omar Khadr, the Canadian child soldier recently found guilty in a Guantanamo military commission of murder of a US soldier in Afghanistan because, as a civilian, he was not authorized to participate in hostilities under the laws of war?

The ultimate question is this: can the CIA be expected to operate transparently within the law and does granting it a license to kill do more good than harm? No and no seem to be the answers born of experience.

 

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