In the Obama administration’s drone war, there are two sets of laws. First, there is constitutional and international law which the United States and he, as president, is obliged to follow. Then there are much broader, mostly secret bureaucratic rules and unorthodox interpretations of the first set of laws.
Often times, the administration will violate or supersede the first set of laws. Unless you intend to completely marginalize yourself from mainstream politics, you don’t dare suggest that these criminal violations be prosecuted. Instead, “serious people” are supposed to understand that the administration is following its own set of rules.
But what happens when the second set of laws is violated? Then are we allowed by polite company to demand accountability and prosecution?
In its investigation of a December drone strike in which four Hellfire missiles struck a wedding procession in Yemen, killing 12 and injuring 15, Human Rights Watch says the Obama administration appears to have violated its own self-imposed rules, which the president referenced in a speech in May.
A deadly US drone strike on a December 2013 wedding procession in Yemen raises serious concerns about US forces’ compliance with President Barack Obama’s targeted killing policy, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 28-page report, “A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen,” calls on the US government to investigate the strike, publish its findings, and act in the event of wrongdoing. The December 12 attack killed 12 men and wounded at least 15 other people, including the bride. US and Yemeni officials said the dead were members of the armed group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch the casualties were civilians. Obama said in a major address in May that US policy requires “near-certainty” that no civilians will be harmed in targeted attacks.
“The US refusal to explain a deadly attack on a marriage procession raises critical questions about the administration’s compliance with its own targeted killing policy,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “All Yemenis, especially the families of the dead and wounded, deserve to know why this wedding procession became a funeral.”
According to Obama’s own explanation of his policy, there has to be “near-certainty” that the target is present and that no civilians will be killed, that it preempts a “continuing and imminent” threat to the U.S., and that the target can not feasibly be arrested. Not only has the administration failed to show that these criteria were met, it has refused to even acknowledge the strike took place.
Obviously, the first set of laws seem also to have been violated: “The attack on the wedding procession also may have violated the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or by causing civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage.”
Notice that there isn’t even the slightest pretension of the rule of law in America. Hardly anybody, aside from human rights organizations that get no play in the big media outlets, is calling for prosecutions or even investigations. In practice – and even in theory – laws simply do not apply to the executive branch.