An analysis of the legal status of CIA officers involved in drone strikes
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San Diego international law journal, Vol. 15, no. 1, 2013, p. 51-114
Donna R. Cline
The United States uses drone strikes to target and kill suspected members of al Qaeda and its supporters, and many of these attacks have been carried out by CIA officers. This article analyzes whether the CIA officers participating in the drone strikes should be considered as civilians directly participating in hostilities, and what the possible consequences are for this status. The article first provides a background on international and non-international armed conflicts and presents the key elements used to distinguish between the two. An explanation of the legal categories of actors found in armed conflict is also provided, including a discussion of the “terrorist” and “unlawful combatant” labels and why they are not recognized legal categories in international humanitarian law. The article includes a section on when targeted killings may be justified by self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Finally, the article examines whether the targeted drone strikes are being carried out inside an armed conflict and what the legal status is of the CIA officers carrying out the drone strikes.