The letter reads, in part:
“Ill-defined and secret policies governing something as critical as the use of lethal force would present a grave danger on many levels. They could result in U.S. forces carrying out unlawful killings, including extrajudicial executions, and increase civilian casualties. They set a precedent for other states to similarly disregard the law and carry out (and publicly justify) their own “targeted killings” at home and abroad. They risk expanding illegality to other areas of counterterrorism and undermine international cooperation to bring suspects to justice.”
“For all of these reasons, we urge you to make public the U.S. standards for use of lethal force, both within and outside zones of armed conflict…The U.S. should instead set a positive example and demonstrate that its use of force adheres to its obligations under international law.”
These new policies mark a dangerous backslide from President Obama’s disclosure one year ago of the legal and policy framework governing the U.S. use of military force. The disclosure represented an attempt to prevent civilian casualties and unlawful killings, acknowledge the important role of international law, and provide some level of transparency around military activities.