2016 | State and Individual Responsibility for Targeted Killings by Drones, by C. Meloni in Drones and Responsibility: Legal, Philosophical, and Sociotechnical Perspectives on Remotely Controlled Weapons, Ed. E. Di Nucci and F. Santoni de Sio 2016
In recent years, thousands of people, including civilians, have been killed by armed drones in targeted killing operations carried out to counter terrorism. States justify such operations as legal, for being necessitated by exceptional circumstances. At the same time, targeted killings violate the right to life, triggering state responsibility and individual criminal responsibility. States’ tendency to conceal their role in targeted killing operations, and their refusal to allow judicial oversight, result in an accountability vacuum. The few cases that have been brought by US citizens claiming the state’s responsibility before United States (US) courts, have been dismissed – a troubling outcome since it means that violations of US citizens right to life cannot be heard in a federal court. The author identifies small steps that are already being taken in the hope of ending impunity for violations of the human rights of innocent persons in targeted killing operations.
Firstly, the author points to the positive impact of litigation on targeted killing policy and practice. Being suspected of affiliation with al-Qaeda, the CIA and the US department of Defence requested approval to put US citizen Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh on the kill-list. The US department of Justice (DoJ), however, disapproved the request, a decision impacted by public opinion and media attention to the similar case of Anwar Al-Aulaqi (see here and here). Al Aulaqi was an American citizen who was killed by a drone strike following his inclusion on the kill-list. The DoJ pointed at Al Farekh’s right to be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Ultimately, Al Farekh was tried in the US instead of being killed by a drone in a targeted killing operation.
The author identifies former president Barack Obama’s handling of the deaths of the American Warren Weinstein and the Italian Giovanni Lo Porto as another positive sign of the desire to safeguard accountability for State ordered targeted killings. The men were mistakenly killed by an US drone strike in Pakistan in 2015. Unprecedentedly, Obama publicly apologized and ensured a thorough independent review in the events that lead to their deaths. He also publicly addressed the issue of compensation to their families.