Micah Zenko writes: Like many former senior Obama administration officials, Harold Koh has expressed his concerns about U.S. drone strike policies. As the former State Department legal adviser, he played an essential role in articulating and defending the international legal principles that supported “U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles,” as he stated in a March 2010 speech. Koh was also responsible for coordinating the official U.S. government response to questions raised by U.N. special rapporteurs and within the Human Rights Council. As Koh proclaimed last summer, “I did not come to government because I wanted to work on killing people.”
Unfortunately for him, because President Barack Obama authorized over 375 drone strikes killing over 3,000 people while Koh was the State Department’s lead lawyer, he’s been forced to dedicate a great deal of time to killing people.
Unfortunately, in a speech made two days ago at the Oxford Union, Koh demonstrated that he plans to maintain the fundamental myth of the Obama administration’s targeted killing program: that everyone killed is a senior al Qaeda official or member who poses an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland. In April 2010, Koh claimed, regarding targeted killings: “I have never changed my mind. Not from before I was in the government — or after.” Apparently, that sentiment remains true today. [Continue reading…]
Micah Zenko continues in his relentless effort to focus critical attention on the Obama administration’s inexcusable use of drone warfare, but there’s one point on phrasing where he and others could help shift the way we talk about this issue: abandon the use of the term “targeted killing.”
The 9/11 attacks were themselves highly targeted. The hijackers were very precise about which buildings they wanted to strike and they did indeed hit their selected targets, yet most people would find it deeply offensive to describe these attacks as forms of targeted killing.
Why? Because targeted implies that the killer has identified his victims and that the killing is not indiscriminate.
But consider this fact. As a memorial has been created and a memorial museum will soon be opened in remembrance of every single innocent victim of 9/11 all of whose identities are known, the majority of the people killed in Obama’s drone war are people whose names were unknown to the U.S. government at the time they were killed. Some were identified merely as being males of military age and others not identified in any way at all as buildings were destroyed with no way of knowing who or how many people might reside within.
The precision of a missile’s guidance system should not be used to disguise its role in indiscriminate killing.