In this file photo taken in January, a U.S. Predator drone flies above Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan.
In this file photo taken in January, a U.S. Predator drone flies above Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan. Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
A soon-to-be-released United Nations report will call into question the use of unmanned aircraft for targeted killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The report, to be released next week by the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, will call on the United States to stop allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to carry out drone attacks on suspected militants.
The special rapporteur, New York University law professor Philip Alston, told The New York Times that the CIA does not have the public accountability that's required of the U.S. military. Alston says the use of the drones and their firepower should be restricted to the armed forces.
Alston told The Associated Press that he sees "no legal prohibition on CIA agents" piloting the remotely controlled aircraft, but that the practice is undesirable because the C.I.A. doesn't comply with "any of the requirements as to transparency and accountability which are central to international humanitarian law."
A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, responded. "Without discussing or confirming any specific action or program, this agency's operations unfold within a framework of law and close government oversight. The accountability's real, and it would be wrong for anyone to suggest otherwise," he said.
Alston, an Australian, is expected to deliver his report on the subject to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.
He told the Times that the report will not say it is a war crime for nonmilitary personnel to fly combat drones, but some legal experts have said the pilots who operate the aircraft for the CIA could be liable for criminal prosecution.
David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says he agrees that the drone strikes are not war crimes. But he says that the CIA pilots who fly the drones could be regarded as common criminals. "They have no legal authority to be killing anyone," Glazier says. "They have committed the crime of murder under Pakistan's law."
Glazier says that the issue comes down to who is considered a "privileged belligerent" in a conflict. Soldiers in organized armies are considered privileged belligerents who can't be prosecuted for war crimes if they kill enemy soldiers in battle.
But someone who doesn't wear a uniform, or belong to an army — such as a member of a terrorist group, or a civilian CIA pilot — might be prosecuted for murder, Glazier says.
That comment drew a response from a U.S. official: "Those who think we strike at terrorists over the objections of the Pakistani government are mistaken. This is a common fight against those who menace both our countries. That fact alone renders absurd the notion that U.S. officials might be tried in a Pakistani court for counterterrorism operations."
The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity because the United States has never officially acknowledged that the CIA has a program to use Predator drones and other remotely controlled aircraft to attack suspected Taliban and al-Qaida militants, but the program has been widely reported in U.S. media.
Last December, U.S. counterterrorism officials told reporters that the Obama administration had approved an expansion of the program, which has been credited with the killings of militant figures such as Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who reportedly died in a CIA drone attack.
Most recently, security officials in Pakistan said a U.S. drone attack killed six militants in a village in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.