April 28, 2010
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of the ACLU and its 500,000 members, I am writing to express our
profound concern about recent reports indicating that you have authorized a
program that contemplates the killing of suspected terrorists – including U.S.
citizens – located far away from zones of actual armed conflict. If accurately
described, this program violates international law and, at least insofar as it
affects U.S. citizens, it is also unconstitutional.
The U.S. is engaged in non-international armed conflict in Afghanistan and
Iraq and the lawfulness of its actions must be judged in that context. The
program that you have reportedly authorized appears to envision the use of
lethal force not just on the battlefield in Iraq, Afghanistan, or even the
Pakistani border regions, but anywhere in the world, including against
individuals who may not constitute lawful targets. The entire world is not a
war zone, and wartime tactics that may be permitted on the battlefields in
Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be deployed anywhere in the world where a
terrorism suspect happens to be located. Your administration has eschewed
the rhetoric of the “Global War on Terror.” You should now disavow the
sweeping legal theory that underlies that slogan.
Even in an armed conflict zone, individuals may be targeted only if they take
a direct part in hostilities, for such time as they do so, or if they have taken up
a continuous combat function. Propagandists, financiers, and other non-
combat “supporters” of hostile groups cannot lawfully be targeted with lethal
force. Applicable international humanitarian law also prohibits targeted
killing except in order to prevent an individual’s future participation in
hostilities; fighters cannot be targeted solely as retribution for past actions.
Furthermore, basic law-of-armed-conflict principles require that in such
operations, civilians who are not taking di