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March 05, 2012

Holder Speech Should Clarify Targeted Killing Strategy

Washington, DC – Human Rights First today praised Attorney General Eric Holder’s planned speech at Northwestern University School of Law to address – among other topics – targeting killings, but cautioned that failure to address critical questions about the Obama Administration’s targeted killing strategy will perpetuate concerns about its legitimacy. “The Obama Administration’s policy on targeted killings will not be seen as legitimate until the Administration makes clear which groups it believes we’re at war with and how it defines who is a legitimate target for killing as part of the U.S. war strategy,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar. The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force allowed the U.S. military to wage war against “those nations, organizations, or persons” who the president determined “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” “Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda has been decimated and driven from Afghanistan. If the United States is expanding the list of targetable groups and individuals beyond those who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, it needs to make that clear, and to provide a justification for why such attacks are lawful,” said Eviatar. “So far it has failed to do that. Today, the Attorney General has the opportunity to do just that.” According to Human Rights First, as a first step, the administration should release the legal opinion authorizing the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen killed by a drone strike in Yemen last year. Awlaki was never charged, tried or even arrested by law enforcement authorities on suspicion of participating in terrorism. It remains unclear what legal authority the Administration relied upon in killing him. Separately from targeted killings, Attorney General Holder is expected to speak about President Obama’s recent Policy Directive issued last week that limits certain aspects of the National Defense Authorization Act, which mandated military custody for terrorism suspects. Human Rights First supports that directive because it believes the NDAA’s mandatory military custody provision would have foolishly limited the Administration’s ability to use its law enforcement capabilities to respond effectively to terrorist threats. “Forcing terrorism suspects into military custody makes no sense when our law enforcement professionals have capably handled terrorism cases for well over a decade,” added Eviatar.

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