Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2012

Publication Title

Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


drones, national security, humanitarian law, al-qaeda, cia, obama administration, international law


After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government began to use drones against al-Qaeda targets. According to several media reports, the United States developed two parallel drone programs: one operated by the military, and one operated in secrecy by the CIA. Under the Obama Administration, the latter program developed and- the number of drone attacks in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen has steadily increased. Because the drone program is operated covertly by the CIA, it has been impossible to determine the precise contours of the program, its legal and normative framework, and whether its operators have been lawfully implementing the program.

This article focuses on four distinct issues linked to the United States' use of drones: the definition of the battlefield and the applicability of the law of armed conflict; the identity of targetable individuals and their status as combatants or civilians under international law; the legality of targeted killings under international humanitarian law; and the location and status of drone operators. The article concludes that the Obama Administration, as well as any future administrations, should consider installing military-led drone operations, which would be subject to public scrutiny to ensure that the rule of law remains the guiding principle of the United States' use of force abroad.




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