U.S.| Control of US special forces in Afghanistan a step toward accountability

posted on 03.18.2010 by Chloe M

From Amnesty International, 17 March 2010: New US military measures to control the activities of US Special Operations forces in Afghanistan are a welcome step but more needs to be done to improve accountability for civilian casualties of military operations, said Amnesty International.


“Putting most Special Operations under the regular chain of command is a crucial step toward improving security for ordinary Afghans, but it doesn’t resolve the threat to civilians until all forces, regular as well as Special Operations, are subject to a proper, transparent accountability process,” said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific programme.

“A major part of the problem is that even regular US and NATO forces in Afghanistan have a very poor record of accountability. For far too long Western forces, especially US forces, have operated as if they’re above the law in Afghanistan. If there is a breach of the laws of war during a military operation, then there should be a credible, transparent investigation and those involved in carrying out or ordering the operation should be brought to justice and punished if found guilty.”

Special Operations forces in Afghanistan have been operating according to their own rules of engagement, leading to allegations that they are not taking enough precautions to avoid civilian casualties.


UNAMA says that International Forces and the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) were responsible for nearly 600 civilian deaths – 359 of which were caused in air strikes and 98 in night raids and search operations carried out by Special Operations forces.


On 4 March 2010, General McChrystal issued a new Tactical Directive with guidelines for the conduct of night raids by all ISAF forces operating in Afghanistan.

The killing of two brothers in Kandahar in the middle of the night in January 2008 is a notable example of the lack of accountability of international forces. Amnesty International documented their case, and the wider problem of impunity for special operations forces in Afghanistan, in a February 2009 report, Getting Away with Murder? The impunity of international forces in Afghanistan.

Amnesty International’s research in Kandahar indicates that Abdul Habib and Mohammed Ali, who were unarmed, were shot at home at point blank range by international forces in camouflage uniforms.

No one has admitted responsibility for the killings despite enquiries by Amnesty International, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

There are currently military personnel from more than 40 countries operating in Afghanistan, most of them under the mandate of the ISAF, provided by NATO, and a smaller number as part of the counter-terrorism mandate of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom.


“International forces, and in particular the US, should ensure that special forces, intelligence agencies, and civilian contractors are also governed by the rule of law; most Afghans do not recognize the distinctions between these forces, and at any rate, the victims are entitled to justice regardless of which branch of the military was responsible,” said Sam Zarifi.

U.S.| CIA expanding drone program in Pakistan

posted on 12.04.2009 by

The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas. The news comes after Philip Alston, the UN human rights investigator, questioned in late October the US use of drones, suggesting it could constitute a breach of international law. Read more

UK| A Moratorium on Secret Evidence?

posted on 12.03.2009 by

Editorial from the Guardian says the UK “government’s policy of imprisoning terror suspects without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence may now be over.” Read more

U.N. Rights Expert on Use of Unmanned Drones by U.S.

posted on 10.29.2009 by Lisa

Philip Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has voiced concern over the use of unmanned drones by the U.S. to target militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The independent human rights expert said such a practice will be regarded as a breach of international law unless Washington can demonstrate that the appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms are in place. Read more

On Administrative Detention

posted on 10.21.2009 by Lisa

From the International Law Observer:

Administrative detention has been a contentious topic for international lawyers since its invocation by governments claiming that it is a principal tool in the often-lawless global ‘War on Terror’. Despite the popularity that this mechanism has earned amongst a growing number of states, principally those participating in the ‘War on Terror’, it has been neglected that the use of preemptive detention is illegal when used arbitrarily and disproportionately in a manner that does not allow for any remedy at all to be sought against this egregious violation of the fundamental human right not to be subjected to arbitrary deprivation of liberty. [...]

More here.

Lawfare: Preserving the Balance Between the Law and War

posted on 09.29.2009 by Lisa

Geoffrey S. Corn writes in the World Politics Review:

The term “lawfare” is increasingly used to characterize the pervasive role of law in the conduct of war, but there is nothing new about the concept. Law has always played a role in war, requiring that a pragmatic balance be struck between the necessities of war and the need to protect the innocent. The significance of this balance between military necessity and humane treatment under the law has never been more central to the credibility of U.S. military operations than it is today. The real question raised today is whether “lawfare” will come to define a fundamental distortion of this historic balance. Read more

ICJ: Human Rights Council urged to protect judges and lawyers in times of crises

posted on 09.15.2009 by Lisa

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) urged the UN Human Rights Council as it opened its 12th session in Geneva on 14 September 2009 to establish a new expert mandate to improve protection of human rights of individuals in armed conflicts and generally in any crisis situations. The ICJ requested the Council to harness protection of judges and lawyers from violence and intimidation inflicted on them for their professional functions. It also sought accountability for human rights violations and international crimes committed by the Israeli Army, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups during the recent war in Gaza. Read more

ICJ: Broader mandate for prosecutor essential to achieve accountability over U.S. torture and other “war on terror” crimes

posted on 08.26.2009 by Lisa

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today welcomed the decision of United States Attorney General Eric Holder to mandate Assistant US Attorney John Durham to “conduct a preliminary review into whether [US] laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.”

The Attorney General’s initiative marks a first step towards full disclosure of and accountability for unlawful US practices concerning the treatment of detainees secretly held by the CIA as part of the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism strategy. Those practices included serious human rights violations amounting to crimes under international law.

The ICJ nonetheless is deeply concerned by the statement of the Attorney General that “the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.” Read more