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White House: Drones Are Legitimate Self-Defense

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Ken Anderson testified before the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs earlier this week and argued that the Obama Administration must publicly justify its use of drones in Pakistan.

Yesterday he got his wish when State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh issued this statement, excerpted from his speech at the American Society of International Law conference (scroll down to the section on “Use of Force”):

Some have suggested that the very use of targeting a particular leader of an enemy force in an armed conflict must violate the laws of war. But individuals who are part of such an armed group are belligerent and, therefore, lawful targets under international law…. Some have challenged the very use of advanced weapons systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, for lethal operations. But the rules that govern targeting do not turn on the type of weapon system involved, and there is no prohibition under the laws of war on the use of technologically advanced weapons systems in armed conflict — such as pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs — so long as they are employed in conformity with applicable laws of war…. Some have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force.

I will weigh in presently on this, but in the meantime Nathan Hodge has more; and if you want to watch the entire video of Koh’s remarks, you can see it at Anthony Clark Arend’s blog here.

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