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2017 | Trump “Principles, Standards, and Procedures for U.S. Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets”

This document is a redacted version of the “Principles, Standards, and Procedures for U.S. Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets” (hereafter the “DATT rules”) secretly adopted by the U.S. administration under President Trump in October 2017. The document was intended to enable lethal drone strikes against terrorism suspects abroad that pose an imminent threat to the US.

These DATT rules modify and supersede the stricter 2013 Obama Presidential Policy Guidance. The redacted document shows that the decision to use lethal force against ‘lawful terrorist targets abroad’ could be taken without meaningful oversight by Congress or the judiciary. The U.S. District Court of New York noted in 2020 that the Trump administration refused to make the DATT rules public or even to acknowledge their existence. In response to Freedom of Information Act (transparency) lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times, the Biden administration released this redacted version of the DATT rules on May 1st 2021.

Civilian casualties
The rules state that the U.S. will reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties (p. 3 under c) and that extraordinary measures will continue to be taken to ensure with near certainty that civilians will not be injured or killed in the course of operations, using all reasonably available information and means of verification (p. 4 under 2c). However, the protective value of these rules is severely undermined by the permission to deviate from these rules “where necessary" (p. 4 under 2e). Another point of criticism is that, while civilian casualties claims should be independently assessed by “departments and agencies” (p. 4 under 2d) it remains unclear precisely which “departments and agencies” are referenced here, and how independent they in fact are.

Reportedly, President Biden suspended the rules and began a review of them in March 2021.