White House Urged to Increase Transparency of Targeted Killing Program

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SHAFAQNA – Human Rights First today urged President Obama to take steps to increase the transparency of the targeted killing program. The call came in a letter from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino one week after the administration announced they would publicly release casualty assessments and a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) for strikes outside areas of active hostilities.

“In order to ensure that this announcement signals a new chapter of transparency about the use of lethal force in counterterrorism operations, it will be vital that the information released is sufficiently detailed to enable Americans to understand the nature of the targeted killing program, how targeting decisions are made, and the legal justifications for those decisions,” wroteMassimino.

Last week the Obama Administration announced that it will provide casualty assessments for strikes going back to 2009 and then going forward on an annual basis. Human Rights First notes that this information, including the data on past drone strikes, is essential for fully evaluating the legality of the program. Human Rights First urges the administration to release data on casualty assessments that is sufficiently detailed to enable Americans to understand the nature of the targeted killing program, how targeting decisions are made, and the legal justifications for those decisions. In particular, the organization urges that the casualty assessments:

  • Identify the procedures used to conduct post-strike investigations;
  • Specify the criteria used to classify a person as a combatant or civilian;
  • Name the organized armed group to which a deceased individual allegedly belonged;
  • Provide the domestic and international legal justification for the strike;
  • Disaggregate the data by strike location and date; and,
  • Describe the policies and procedures for providing compensation when civilians are killed.

Human Rights First notes that confidence in the U.S. targeted killing program also depends on full clarity about its governing laws and the measures taken to ensure that civilian casualties are minimized. To this end, the organization also called on the president to ensure that redactions to the PPG be as minimal as possible, and that any legal analysis or memoranda related to the use of lethal force be made public. Authority for conducting targeted killing strikes should be transferred from the CIA to the Department of Defense, and the administration should undergo a a comprehensive strategic review of the effect of lethal strikes outside of zones of active hostilities to assess their broader impact.

“Drone strikes are not per se illegal, and their use can be legitimate in situations of armed conflict. But the global proliferation of armed drones without a concomitant dedication to transparency, accountability, and the rule of law poses profound threats to national security and human rights,”wrote Massimino.

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