Letter to the Editor from Gabor Rona, Airstrikes in Yemen and Government Transparency

Thanks Ryan and Sarah for an excellent analysis of the NY Times article on the recent military activity in Yemen. In noting that the article is imprecise in its reference to “alleged militants” vs. “militants,” one might assume that we should have no quarrel with killing “militants.” However, “militant” has no legal meaning and may, or may not, mean the same as “targetable” either under IHL or in self-defense. Also, as Ryan and Sarah note, not every militant is an enemy of, or threat to, the United States. For these among other reasons, we need much greater transparency from the government about targeted killing criteria before we can determine whether it’s legal. Perhaps yesterday’s Second Circuit decision ruling that the government has waived confidentiality of its legal memos regarding the killing in Yemen of Anwar Awlaki due to its selective disclosures will help lead the way to more transparency. True, as Steve Vladeck notes in a separate Just Security post, that the decision may result in just the reverse by discouraging the government from disclosing anything in the future. But it’s also possible that in the grander scheme, including impending disclosure of the Senate report on CIA torture, a new Guantanamo Military Commission ruling requiring the government to disclose details of detainee treatment to the defense, and generalized displeasure with NSA overreach, the winds may be shifting.

Gabor Rona is the International Legal Director of Human Rights First and teaches International Humanitarian Law at Columbia Law School. 

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