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'Illegal drone attacks violate international law, are war crimes'
US President Barack Obama personally approves the names of those placed on "kill lists" used in targeted killing operations carried out by the country's assassination drones, a report says.
According to a New York Times report published on Tuesday, every week or so, more than 100 members of the country's national security team gather via secure video teleconference run by the Pentagon and go over the biographies of suspects in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, and "nominate" those who should be targeted in the attacks.
The identities of the nominees are then provided to Obama, who signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and on especially complex and risky strikes in Pakistan.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Paul Wolf, human rights and international lawyer, to further discuss the issue. What follows is a rough transcription of the interview.
Press TV: Mr. Wolf, first it's interesting to know that Obama has to sign the kill list and that these assassination attacks too often take place in Muslim countries and not elsewhere?
Wolf: Yes, well, that's a subject of quite a bit of criticism because President Obama has also stated that one of his objectives is to try to be a friend to the Muslim world and this sends exactly the opposite message.
I would argue that besides being illegal these are clearly violations of international law and war crimes. They are also ineffective because the strategy that they're using is an old strategy. It's not a new one. It's called the decapitation strategy and the idea is to destroy a group from the top down by assassinating the leaders of the group with the idea that no one else will want to be the leader because they'll be afraid of being killed next.
The problem is if these really are groups of people who are driven by a religious ideology and have many people in the organization who are willing to die for their cause, the strategy is not going to work and clearly it's not working and I believe that this is a crime, what they're killing people simply because the president has indicated that the person is an enemy of the United States.
Press TV: Indeed, the report goes that the victims or targets have been labeled as members of al-Qaeda and identified by the CIA. I mean what makes the CIA suspect that such and such a person is a member of al-Qaeda?
Wolf: Well, that is just it. Nobody knows; there is certainly no legal process. I mean it would be easy enough to set up a court to do what the president is doing in his own arbitrary way. We could set up a court and determine if there are standards that have been met, to determine if someone can be similarly executed, but there is no point doing that because it is absolutely illegal in every place in the world to execute people without a trial.
You cannot do it to people in a criminal context, you have to give them a trial and in the military context you can only kill people who are on the battlefield. You cannot make a list of enemy leaders and kill them in their homes.
Press TV: Based on what you said, the legal aspect of this case, I mean how serious and threatening can this report be? Can this drone strategy if you will, be to global security in the long term?
Wolf: I think it is counterproductive not particularly because they are using drones, but because they are, actually may I take that back, that may be a very significant factor because I do not live in one of those areas and I really do not know what kind of fear those people are living with but it is certainly extremely harmful to the United States and American foreign policy and really are there people in Yemen who are trying to destroy the United States, who are able to harm the United States in anyway?
Obviously, not. It has nothing to do with the United States, whatever the Yemeni rebels are doing.
So these are absolutely horrible decisions that the president is making and it is part of his legacy. It goes beyond what George Bush did and I just can't express my outrage at this process and I would give credit to The New York Times, you know, they … always do good reporting and in this case they did really fabulous in that investigative report.
They interviewed 12 administration officials and anyone can just read The New York Times today and read all about the process that the president uses to determine who will be killed.
Press TV: As an American citizen how would you feel if you heard that such drones, such spy drones, would have been used in the United States to spy on Americans and to follow up on Americans?
Wolf: Well, of course they already are and in fact this is something that has really been growing very rapidly because it is a new technology and local police departments, really ordinary cops are trying to get all of these advanced technologies.
I am not sure why but we see police departments across the United States who want to get these drones.
They are obviously not going to arm them and shoot people with them, though put cameras on them as you suggested.
I am not sure that that is illegal but it is certainly strange what is happening and I really do not understand the need for it.
Even spying on people from the sky, it is quite a frightening concept and what bothers me the most is that the world really has not changed.
We are not less secure than we were 20 years ago; in fact when we were in the cold war with the Russians, we were less secure than we are today.
And I think that all of this is a mistake and I think that what we are doing with these predator drones is inciting hatred of the United States and it may be killing a number of people but there is no shortage of others who want to join those ranks.
So I do not want to see them in the US, I do not want to see them in Pakistan, and the technology is very disturbing but probably more disturbing is the fact that the president of the United States is making a list of people to assassinate and we are assassinating them and they were giving this much more respect than it should be given. These are assassinations and murders.
[Source: Press TV, Tehran, 10Apr14]
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