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'German militants' killed in US drone attack in Pakistan

A United States drone strike has killed at least five German nationals in Pakistan’s tribal belt as part of a rapidly escalating covert CIA campaign targeting al-Qaida’s reputed global operations hub. The US government has used the Predator with considerable success since 9/11. One important attack occurred in 2002, when a Predator killed a group of al-Qaeda members driving in the Yemeni desert. Their remote location ruled out capture or conventional attack. So the President or one of his delegates gave an order. Then somebody pushed a button that fired a missile, killing all the suspects. Among the dead was an American citizen. Did our government mean to kill an American this way? No one outside the cone of silence knows, and the CIA will neither confirm nor deny. Now, several German citizens with links to al-Qaeda have suffered the same fate in Waziristan.

The attacks described above are targeted killings: extra-judicial, premeditated killings by a state of a specifically identified person not in its custody. States have used this tool—secretly or not—throughout history. In recent years, targeted killing has generated new controversy as two states in particular—Israel and the United States—struggle against opponents embedded in civilian populations. Israel expressly adopted targeted killing against Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza. Less expressly, the United States adopted a similar policy against al Qaeda—particularly in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Targeted killing by any state poses frightening risks of error and abuse. It is therefore not surprising that targeted killing has generated a wide range of commentary about its legality. Some condemn targeted killing as extra-judicial execution. Others accept it as a legitimate aspect of armed conflict against determined, organized terrorists from al Qaeda and other groups.  From the technical stance of the law, much of the controversy over targeted killing stems from the fact that it does not fit comfortably into either of two models that generally control the state‘s use of deadly force: human rights law and international humanitarian law.


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