After years of warning that President Obama’s targeted killing program flirted with lawlessness, the United Nations has announced it’s investigating the centerpiece of the U.S.’s shadow wars worldwide.
The inquiry will be led by Ben Emmerson, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism. It’ll focus on most of the places that the U.S.’s armed drones and elite special-operations forces operate: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; as well as in the Palestinian territories, indicating that Israel’s targeted attacks on Hamas will be a subject as well.
Emmerson’s focus will be on an “applicable legal framework” for targeted killing, with a special emphasis on drones — something that the lethal technology employed by the U.S. has outpaced, to the chagrin of many legal experts. Afghanistan is the only declared and internationally recognized conflict zone in which the United States operates, and while the U.S. maintains its strikes outside Afghanistan are legal, that legal premise rests on a 2001 act of Congress that many other nations don’t recognize. U.S. strikes have surged in Pakistan so far this year.
What’s more, the U.N. promises “a critical examination of the factual evidence concerning civilian casualties.” That holds out the chance of creating, for the first time, an internationally established standard for the number of noncombatants who have died in drone strikes and commando raids, the subject of fierce dispute and little official acknowledgement.