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The CIA and Targeted Killings Beyond Borders


Philip Alston


New York University School of Law

September 16, 2011

Harvard National Security Journal, Forthcoming
NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-64

Abstract:     
This Article focuses on the accountability of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in relation to targeted killings, under both United States law and international law. As the CIA, often in conjunction with Department of Defense (DOD) Special Operations forces, becomes more and more deeply involved in carrying out extraterritorial targeted killings both through kill/capture missions and drone-based missile strikes in a range of countries, the question of its compliance with the relevant legal standards becomes ever more urgent. Assertions by Obama administration officials, as well as by many scholars, that these operations comply with international standards are undermined by the total absence of any forms of credible transparency or verifiable accountability. The CIA’s internal control mechanisms, including its Inspector-General, have had no discernible impact; executive control mechanisms have either not been activated at all or have ignored the issue; congressional oversight has given a ‘free pass’ to the CIA in this area; judicial review has been effectively precluded; and external oversight has been reduced to media coverage which is all too often dependent on information leaked by the CIA itself. As a result, there is no meaningful domestic accountability for a burgeoning program of international killing. This in turn means that the United States cannot possibly satisfy its obligations under international law to ensure accountability for its use of lethal force, either under IHRL or IHL. The result is the steady undermining of the international rule of law, and the setting of legal precedents which will inevitably come back to haunt the United States before long when invoked by other states with highly problematic agendas.

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Date posted: September 18, 2011 ; Last revised: September 20, 2011

Suggested Citation

Alston, Philip, The CIA and Targeted Killings Beyond Borders (September 16, 2011). Harvard National Security Journal, Forthcoming; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-64. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1928963

Contact Information

Philip Alston (Contact Author)
New York University School of Law ( email )
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
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