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March 06, 2013

Holder Indicates Obama Administration Poised to Shine Light on Targeted Killing Program

Washington, D.C. – Today in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he expected President Obama to be more forthcoming about the administration’s targeted killing program in the coming months. Human Rights First notes that this is a positive development, and hopes that the president will answer clearly many important questions regarding the legal basis for the program, the numbers of deaths it has caused – including the number of civilian casualties and how the administration defines a “civilian” – and the actual effectiveness of the drone program on the full range of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The organization urges the Obama Administration to fully and publicly disclose all information about the program and to carefully review the policy in light of the global precedent it is setting.

“We welcome Attorney General Holder’s announcement that President Obama will be more forthcoming in the future, and we hope he’ll be forthcoming about a whole host of issues, including explaining more about who is being killed and how the legal framework applied comports with international legal requirements,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar.

Human Rights First calls upon the Obama Administration to explain how it justifies targeted killing of individuals who do not pose an actual imminent threat and are not members of armed groups engaged in an armed conflict with the United States or civilians directly participating in hostilities. The administration should also identify measures in place for agencies engaged in targeted killing to protect civilians, and to conduct post-strike casualty assessments.

Just yesterday, the White House agreed to release only to the House and Senate intelligence committees additional opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) related to the targeted killing of American citizens. While this is one step towards allowing additional congressional oversight of the drone program, all relevant congressional committees, as well as staff with appropriate clearances, and the general public, should have the ability to review documents related to the killing of all targets, not only Americans.

“The American people also deserve to see the justifications for who our government is killing and why,” said Eviatar.

Human Rights First urges the Justice Department to release publicly, with as few redactions as possible, all OLC memos and legal analyses of the targeted killing program. For more information, see Human Rights First’s blueprint How to Ensure that the U.S. Drone Program Does Not Undermine Human Rights. To speak with Eviatar, contact Brenda Bowser Soder atbowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.