U.S. DEFENDS DRONE STRIKES

Wall Street Journal on February 22, 2012, published an article on in legal defense of U.S. drone strikes. Excerpts below:

The Pentagon’s top lawyer on the 22nd defended the use of targeted killings to eliminate suspected terrorists and militants, in an expansion of the Obama administration’s public justification for its primary counterterrorism tool.

In an address at Yale Law School, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, defended [strikes] as a legitimate weapon of war, but stressed that the U.S. adheres to international laws and conventions even when employing “technologically advanced weapons systems.”

He argued that targeted killing in an armed conflict wasn’t the same as assassination, a term he said was repugnant.

“Under well-settled legal principles, lethal force against a valid military objective, in an armed conflict, is consistent with the law of war and does not, by definition, constitute an ‘assassination,’ ” he said.

Mr. Johnson didn’t specifically mention the use of drones.

…administration officials have taken steps in recent weeks to clarify the legal justifications they see for their counterterrorism programs. A senior administration official said Mr. Johnson’s speech is part of a series of remarks that are meant to explain to the public the legal rationale and “rigor” the Obama administration uses in carrying out targeted killings.

In his remarks, Mr. Johnson said there are clear, statutory limits on which terrorists the military may target. The military is allowed to pursue al Qaeda “and associated forces,” a term Mr. Johnson said meant armed groups that fight alongside al Qaeda, against the U.S.

“The group must not only be aligned with al Qaeda,” he said. “It must have also entered the fight against the United States or its coalition partners.”

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