• Sheet of paper Report

The Devil in the (Still Undisclosed) Detail: Department of Justice ‘White Paper’ on Use of Lethal Force Against U.S. Citizens Made Public

"These [drone] strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise"

White House Press Secretary, press briefing, February 5, 2013

A newly released document outlining the legal framework relating to an aspect of the US administration’s “targeted killing” programme is silent on human rights and does nothing to alleviate Amnesty International’s concern that the programme as a whole allows for the use of lethal force that violates the right to life under international law.
The US Department of Justice “white paper”, which “sets forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in which the US government could use lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of active hostilities against a US citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force of al-Qa’ida”, was first made public by NBC News. The document adds little new substance to what various administration officials have already said publicly on this issue. It again ignores the USA’s international human rights obligations, and expands the notion of “imminent attack” to which the USA might respond with lethal force. It provides no case detail, and considers the lethal force question mainly under US constitutional and statutory law.

The fact that the document makes no express reference to international human rights law is unsurprising – this has become the norm for officials outlining policy and practice under the USA’s notion of a global armed conflict with al-Qa’ida. The silence on human rights is no less regrettable by its predictability.