Blog, Law, Politics, Terrorism

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.

Continue reading

Standard