Vanderbilt Law School Hosting Kill-Lists and Accountability Presentation

Nashville, TN Kill-Lists and Accountability to be presented on Wednesday October 10, 2012 at Vanderbilt University School of Law.

I will be presenting my paper Kill-Lists and Accountability, the abstract for 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.  For more on this issue, see my article Kill-Lists and Accountability.


The U.S. Practice of Collateral Damage Estimation and Mitigation

I’ve posted to SSRN ( the abstract for my piece entitled The U.S. Practice of Collateral Damage Estimation and Mitigation.  Here are the details:

This paper explains how the U.S. military estimates and mitigates the impact of conventional weapons on collateral persons and objects in most military operations involving air-to-surface weapons and artillery. It is the descriptive part of a larger work discussing the normative implications of U.S. targeting practices.

In recent years, an entire body of academic literature and policy commentary has been based on an incomplete understanding of how the U.S. conducts military operations. The literature is incomplete because U.S. practices are shrouded in secrecy and largely inaccessible. As a result commentators have lacked a descriptive foundation to analyze and critique U.S. operations. Their writings have focused on easily describable issues such as whether a target was a lawful military objective, and then typically shift attention to the question of proportionality balancing and collateral damage.

These commentators skip an important aspect of actual practice – the scientifically grounded mitigation steps followed by U.S. armed forces. Those mitigation steps are designed to ensure a less than 10% probability of collateral damage resulting from any pre-planned operation. This paper’s description differs from the general and incomplete approach currently found in scholarship and more accurately describes the reality of modern operations. In those operations U.S. armed forces follow rigorous steps prior to engaging in any proportionality balancing.

This paper is intentionally descriptive and explanatory; it makes a contribution to theory by providing a qualitative empirical account (based on public documents and field interviews) that explains for the first time in scholarly literature the process of collateral damage estimation and mitigation as practiced by the U.S. military. While this paper will be especially useful for those seeking to understand how collateral damage is estimated in targeted killing operations, the paper’s relevance is not limited to the context of targeted killings.

Key Findings:




Harold Koh Speech on Predator Drones and The Obama Administration and International Law

Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law

Washington, DC
March 25, 2010

Thank you, Dean Areen, for that very generous introduction, and very special thanks to my good friends President Lucy Reed and Executive Director Betsy Andersen for the extraordinary work you do with the American Society of International Law. It has been such a great joy in my new position to be able to collaborate with the Society on so many issues.It is such a pleasure to be back here at the ASIL. I am embarrassed to confess that I have been a member of ASIL for more than 30 years, since my first year of law school, and coming to the annual meeting has always been a highlight of my year. As a young lawyer just out of law school I would come to the American Society meeting and stand in the hotel lobby gaping at all the famous international lawyers walking by: for international lawyers, that is as close as we get to watching the Hollywood stars stroll the red carpet at the Oscars! And last year at this time, when this meeting was held, I was still in the middle of my confirmation process. So under the arcane rules of that process, I was allowed to come here to be seen, but not heard. So it is a pleasure finally to be able to address all of you and to give you my perspective on the Obama Administration’s approach to international law.

Let me start by bringing you special greetings from someone you already know.

As you saw, my client, Secretary Clinton very much wanted to be here in person, but as you see in the headlines, this week she has been called away to Mexico, to meeting visiting Pakistani dignitaries, to testify on Capitol Hill, and many other duties. As you can tell, she is very proud of the strong historical relationship between the American Society and the State Department, and she is determined to keep it strong. As the Secretary mentioned, I and another long time member of the Society, your former President Anne Marie Slaughter of the Policy Planning Staff join her every morning at her 8:45 am senior staff meeting, so the spirit of the American Society is very much in the room (and the smell of the Society as well, as I am usually there at that hour clutching my ASIL coffee mug!)

Since this is my first chance to address you as Legal Adviser, I thought I would speak to three issues. First, the nature of my job as Legal Adviser. Second, to discuss the strategic vision of international law that we in the Obama Administration are attempting to implement. Third and finally, to discuss particular issues that we have grappled with in our first year in a number of high-profile areas: the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council, and what I call The Law of 9/11: detentions, use of force, and prosecutions.

I. The Role of the Legal Adviser

First, my job. I have now been the Legal Adviser of the State Department for about nine months. This is a position I first heard of about 40 years ago, and it has struck me throughout my career as the most fascinating legal job in the U.S. Government. Now that I’ve actually been in the job for awhile, I have become even more convinced that that is true, for four reasons.