A dozen human rights and civil liberties groups are asking national security adviser H.R. McMaster to tighten the existing standards for targeting terrorists outside of active war zones.
The 12 organizations sent the letter following reports that the Trump administration is considering weakening current constraints on the use of targeted killing and drone strikes in counterterrorism operations.
“We find these reports particularly troubling in light of the significant increase in the number of civilians who have reportedly been killed in U.S. strikes during the last several months,” the letter states.
“As more countries and non-state armed groups around the world acquire armed drones, it is critical that the United States seek to set an example for other nations and demonstrate that its use of force practices adhere to its obligations under international law.”
The Presidential Policy Guidance places limits on the use of lethal force outside “areas of active hostilities,” where wartime rules are not as clear. The guidance limits the use of lethal force in such areas to situations where the targeted individual is an imminent threat to the United States, capture is not feasible and there is near certainty that no civilians will be harmed or killed if lethal force is used.
“Weaker standards for use of force would put the United States at odds with its allies and local counterterrorism partners on the ground, and fuel the very terrorism that these strikes are meant to address,” said Rita Siemion, the international legal counsel for Human Rights First.
The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, among others, also asks the administration to “prioritize transparency and accountability” by putting in place in all relevant agencies policies that disclose all uses of lethal force, “detailed strike and casualty information,” and notifications to Congress.
The Pentagon in April said more than 350 civilians have been killed as a result of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in those two nations from August 2014 to March 2017.
Airwars, a journalist-led monitoring group, estimates 3,164 civilian deaths as a result of coalition air strikes. Their estimates also include civilian deaths in Libya.