George Mason Law School: Kill-Lists and Accountability

GMU Law Logo

On November 14th at 12pm at George Mason University School of Law, I will be making a presentation entitled Kill-Lists and Accountability, based on my identically titled paper.  The abstract of the paper appears below:

This paper examines the U.S. practice of targeted killings. It proceeds in two parts, the first part is an empirical description of the process of targeted killings. Based on qualitative empirical research conducted pursuant to proven case study techniques, part one describes how kill-lists are created, what government actors approve the name of individuals to be added to kill lists, how targeted killings are executed, and how the U.S. implements its International Humanitarian Law obligation to mitigate and prevent harm to civilians.

Specifically, the paper explains in rich detail the process the U.S. follows to estimate and mitigate the impact of conventional weapons on collateral persons and objects in most targeted killings. Key Findings: In pre-planned operations the U.S. follows a rigorous collateral damage estimation process based on a progressively refined analysis of intelligence, weapon effects, and other information. When followed, this process dramatically reduces the amount of collateral damage in U.S. operations, and also ensures high levels of political accountability. However, due to the realities of combat operations, the process cannot always be followed; Data about the U.S. military’s collateral damage estimation process reveals that the system is intended to ensure that there will be a less than 10 percent probability of serious or lethal wounds to non-combatants; In actuality, less than 1% of pre-planned operations that followed the collateral damage estimation process resulted in collateral damage; When collateral damage has occurred, 70% of the time it was due to failed “positive identification” of a target. 22% of the time it was attributable to weapons malfunction, and a mere 8% of the time it was attributable to proportionality balancing – e.g. a conscious decision that anticipated military advantage outweighed collateral damage; According to public statements made by U.S. government officials the President of the United States or the Secretary of Defense must approve any pre-planned ISAF strike where 1 civilian casualty or greater is expected.

In the second part of the paper, I turn from the empirical to the normative. I describe the various mechanisms of accountability embedded in the targeted killing process. Specifically, I set forth an analytical framework which allows for the examination of legal, political, bureaucratic, and professional mechanisms of accountability. I then assess the strengths and weaknesses of these four accountability mechanisms as applied to U.S. targeted killings. The paper concludes by suggesting legal and policy reforms to address the shortcomings identified in the normative section. 

Kill-Lists and Accountability at Seattle University

SeattleULawLogo

On November 4th at 4pm at Seattle University School of Law, I will be making a presentation entitled Kill-Lists and Accountability, based on my identically titled paper.  The abstract of the paper appears below:

This paper examines the U.S. practice of targeted killings. It proceeds in two parts, the first part is an empirical description of the process of targeted killings. Based on qualitative empirical research conducted pursuant to proven case study techniques, part one describes how kill-lists are created, what government actors approve the name of individuals to be added to kill lists, how targeted killings are executed, and how the U.S. implements its International Humanitarian Law obligation to mitigate and prevent harm to civilians.

Specifically, the paper explains in rich detail the process the U.S. follows to estimate and mitigate the impact of conventional weapons on collateral persons and objects in most targeted killings. Key Findings: In pre-planned operations the U.S. follows a rigorous collateral damage estimation process based on a progressively refined analysis of intelligence, weapon effects, and other information. When followed, this process dramatically reduces the amount of collateral damage in U.S. operations, and also ensures high levels of political accountability. However, due to the realities of combat operations, the process cannot always be followed; Data about the U.S. military’s collateral damage estimation process reveals that the system is intended to ensure that there will be a less than 10 percent probability of serious or lethal wounds to non-combatants; In actuality, less than 1% of pre-planned operations that followed the collateral damage estimation process resulted in collateral damage; When collateral damage has occurred, 70% of the time it was due to failed “positive identification” of a target. 22% of the time it was attributable to weapons malfunction, and a mere 8% of the time it was attributable to proportionality balancing – e.g. a conscious decision that anticipated military advantage outweighed collateral damage; According to public statements made by U.S. government officials the President of the United States or the Secretary of Defense must approve any pre-planned ISAF strike where 1 civilian casualty or greater is expected.

In the second part of the paper, I turn from the empirical to the normative. I describe the various mechanisms of accountability embedded in the targeted killing process. Specifically, I set forth an analytical framework which allows for the examination of legal, political, bureaucratic, and professional mechanisms of accountability. I then assess the strengths and weaknesses of these four accountability mechanisms as applied to U.S. targeted killings. The paper concludes by suggesting legal and policy reforms to address the shortcomings identified in the normative section. 

Kill-Lists and Accountability at South Texas

NewImage

On October 17th at South Texas College of Law I will be making a presentation entitled Kill-Lists and Accountability, based on my identically titled paper.  The abstract of the paper appears below:

This paper examines the U.S. practice of targeted killings. It proceeds in two parts, the first part is an empirical description of the process of targeted killings. Based on qualitative empirical research conducted pursuant to proven case study techniques, part one describes how kill-lists are created, what government actors approve the name of individuals to be added to kill lists, how targeted killings are executed, and how the U.S. implements its International Humanitarian Law obligation to mitigate and prevent harm to civilians.

Specifically, the paper explains in rich detail the process the U.S. follows to estimate and mitigate the impact of conventional weapons on collateral persons and objects in most targeted killings. Key Findings: In pre-planned operations the U.S. follows a rigorous collateral damage estimation process based on a progressively refined analysis of intelligence, weapon effects, and other information. When followed, this process dramatically reduces the amount of collateral damage in U.S. operations, and also ensures high levels of political accountability. However, due to the realities of combat operations, the process cannot always be followed; Data about the U.S. military’s collateral damage estimation process reveals that the system is intended to ensure that there will be a less than 10 percent probability of serious or lethal wounds to non-combatants; In actuality, less than 1% of pre-planned operations that followed the collateral damage estimation process resulted in collateral damage; When collateral damage has occurred, 70% of the time it was due to failed “positive identification” of a target. 22% of the time it was attributable to weapons malfunction, and a mere 8% of the time it was attributable to proportionality balancing – e.g. a conscious decision that anticipated military advantage outweighed collateral damage; According to public statements made by U.S. government officials the President of the United States or the Secretary of Defense must approve any pre-planned ISAF strike where 1 civilian casualty or greater is expected.

In the second part of the paper, I turn from the empirical to the normative. I describe the various mechanisms of accountability embedded in the targeted killing process. Specifically, I set forth an analytical framework which allows for the examination of legal, political, bureaucratic, and professional mechanisms of accountability. I then assess the strengths and weaknesses of these four accountability mechanisms as applied to U.S. targeted killings. The paper concludes by suggesting legal and policy reforms to address the shortcomings identified in the normative section. 


Justice task force recommends about 50 Guantanamo detainees be held indefinitely

Exactly one year has passed since President Obama declared he would close Guantanamo.

And today, The Washington Post reports that his Department of Justice Task Force will recommend “that nearly 50 of the 196 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be held indefinitely without trial under the laws of war.”  How long will we have to wait before human rights groups begin to call President Obama a war criminal?  How long until those who called for President Bush’s indictment by an international tribunal make the same call? 

Don’t hold your breath.  Back in 2005 Amnesty International called Guantanamo “the Gulag of our times”  equating the Bush administration to war criminals.  Now, their tune has moderated –of course in their eyes it is still bad that Guantanamo remains open– but they’ve toned down their Gulag language and now we hear “people around the world who care about human rights and the rule of law will be extremely disheartened” by President Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo.  Disheartened is probably an improvement from the dyspepsia which gripped most of these people during the Bush administration. 

Not to be outdone in moderation, Anthony Romero of the ACLU blandly stated (more…)

“After Guantanamo: The Way Forward” Four Roundtables on Reconciling National Security and the Rule of Law

On Friday September 11, 2009 The Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law will host Four Roundtables Reconciling National Security and the Rule of Law. 

I’m presenting on the first panel with Larry May (Vanderbilt), Keith Petty (U.S. Army), Mike Newton (Vanderbilt), Morris Davis (USAF Ret.).  The panel will be moderated by Bob Strassfeld (Case Western).  Our topic is “A Retrospective on the Military Commissions.” 

The event will be Webcast live from this link

Here is the rest of the agenda:

SCHEDULE
8:00-8:30 AM: Registration and Coffee – Ground floor Rotunda

8:30 AM: Introduction – Professor Michael P. Scharf, director, Frederick K. Cox International Law Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

8:45-9:30 AM: Opening Lecture – General John D. Altenburg, Jr., Of Counsel, Greenberg Traurig; former Convening Authority, Military Commissions

9:30-9:45 AM: Break
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Discussing GITMO on WITF Radio (Call in show)

guantánamo bay, brooklynUPDATE:  The radio show is now available for download.  Click here to listen or download. 

Tomorrow morning from 9am-10am (Thursday July 23, 2009) I will appear for an hour on “Smart Talk” WITF-89.5FM and 93.3FM.  The topic is Guantanamo, the detainee task force, and President Obama’s approach to counterterrorism. 

Leonard Rubenstein of the US Institute of Peace will also appear on the show.  Leonard is the former director of Physicisans for Human Rights, and an expert on health and human rights during conflicts.  I’m looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with him and with callers (it’s a call in show). 

For those of you outside the Harrisburg PA listening area you can listen live here.  The call in number is 1-800-729-7532.

Creative Commons License photo credit: chris.szabla

Counterterrorism Under President Obama

I was recently interviewed by Patty Satalia, a journalist with WPSU a PBS and NPR affiliate.  The interview was approximately one hour long (divided into segments) and questions ran the gamut from a discussion of the challenges the President will face in closing Guantanamo, to lessons from the CIA memos.  We also discussed similarities and differences between President Bush and President Obama, the role of the courts and Congress in these debates, and other related topics. 

The interview is available for viewing at http://conversations.psu.edu.  Readers who want to offer feedback can also comment on the “discussion board” immediately below the videos.  I look forward to hearing your comments. 

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