AlstonPhilip Alston photo from the Project on Extrajudicial Executions

Multiple news stories, including AFP and BBC, are carrying remarks from a report delivered to the UN General Assembly Human Rights Committee and a subsequent press conference on Tuesday by Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions. From AFP:

“The problem with the United States is that it is making an increased use of drones/Predators (which are) particularly prominently used now in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan,” UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston told a press conference.

“My concern is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” he said.

BBC continues:

“The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons.”

Note that the role of drone attacks in the larger story of targeted assassinations has been discussed in the context of Dick Cheney’s rumored “assassination squads”. Marcy Wheeler has discussed those squads and their disclosure to Congress in multiple posts, including this one from July. A key point from those discussions, which address Sy Hersh’s initial disclosure of the squads, is that the squads were run by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) under the apparent supervision of Cheney’s office.

Who ran JSOC from September, 2003 until August, 2008? That would be Stanley McChrystal. Who is in charge of military efforts in Afghanistan where Alston now says the drone strikes are becoming extrajudicial executions? Again, Stanley McChrystal. What a coincidence!

A bit further down in the BBC report we have this:

The US told the UN in June that it has a legal framework to respond to unlawful killings. It also said the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have no role in relation to killings during an armed conflict.

But Mr Alston described that response as “simply untenable”.

Alston doesn’t buy the US government’s justifications for McChrystal’s actions. Alston’s timing couldn’t be better in making this announcement as Barack Obama is in the process of assessing US strategy in Afghanistan. Although the strategic reassessment now mainly centers on the number of troops to be assigned, Alston’s report makes it essential that Obama also review the strategy and decision-making in the use of drones if the US wants to operate within international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Assuming, of course, that Obama does want to operated within those laws. Does he?