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US drones strike inside Pakistan under fire

Posted by on Thursday, April 29, 2010, 17:45
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The legal justification for the use of unmanned aerial drones to strike targets inside Pakistan and other countries, which are at peace with the United States, came under fire in a congressional panel. Top U.S. law professors questioned the legality of the attacks in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, arguing the attacks may violate international law and put intelligence officers at risk of prosecution for murder in foreign countries.

Drone Attacks

Drone Attacks

It was the second such hearing held by the subcommittee within the past two months.
In the earlier hearing, Harold Koh, a legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, claimed that the United States is justified “under international law” to defend itself against terrorists planning attacks on U.S. national interests.
In the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, unmanned aircraft — or drones — attacked militant targets 45 times, according to media reports.
Since President Barrack Obama took office, the numbers have risen sharply: 51 last year and 29 so far this year.
Most attacks have targeted suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan. While the United States is the only country in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones — which are controlled remotely — U.S. officials normally do not comment on suspected drone strikes.
According to CNN, all of the 29 drone strikes this year have hit locations in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, along the 1,500-mile Pak-Afghan border.
“The United States is committed to following international legal standards,” said Congressman John Tierney, a Democrat, the subcommittee’s chairman. “Our interpretation of how these standards apply to the use of unmanned weapons systems will set an example for other nations to follow.”
The four legal scholars invited to testify, however, offered sharply contrasting views of what constitutes an acceptable legal standard. The biggest controversy appeared to surround the legality of strikes conducted by CIA operatives, as opposed to strikes by the U.S. military.
“Only a combatant — a lawful combatant — may carry out the use of killing with combat drones,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor from the University of Notre Dame law school.
“The CIA and civilian contractors have no right to do so. They do not wear uniforms, and they are not in the chain of command. And most importantly, they are not trained in the law of armed conflict.”
Ms. O’Connell also said that “we know from empirical data … that the use of major military force in counterterrorism operations has been counterproductive.” The U.S. government, she said, should use force only “when we can accomplish more good than harm, and that is not the case with the use of drones in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.”

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