Is it Legal for the U.S. to Kill a 16-year-old U.S. Citizen with a Drone?

16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi was one of three U.S. citizens killed by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen last year.  Abdulrahman was eating at a restaurant with his teenage cousin when they and 5 others were torn to shreds.  Abdulrahman was not accused of any crime.

This video about Abdulrahman, including photos of him as a young child and an interview with his grandfather, is hard to watch. But it tells the human story of drone killing in a way words can’t.

The Obama Administration has tried to justify drone killings by, in part, claiming they fully comply with domestic and international law.

But the Obama Administration is wrong on the law.

On Tuesday, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit in U.S court against CIA and military officials over the deaths of Abdulrahman and the two other American citizens killed with drones–including his father, the controversial Anwar Al-Aulaqi–because:

“These killings, undertaken without due process, in circumstances where lethal force was not a last resort to address a specific, concrete and imminent threat, and where the government failed to take required measures to protect bystanders, rises to a violation of the most elementary constitutional right afforded to all U.S. citizens – deprivation of life without due process of law.”

Last month, Amnesty International published a report, USA: ‘Targeted Killing’ Policies Violate the Right to Life,” that reviewed U.S. drone policies and practices in light of international law. The report found that:

“While some of the killings in question, if conducted in the context of specific armed conflicts, for instance in Afghanistan or at some times in some parts of Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, may not violate international human rights or international humanitarian law, the policy appears also to permit extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law, virtually anywhere in the world.”

The realization that the U.S. government’s drone policy – still largely shrouded in secrecy – is now also targeting U.S. citizens is bringing together concerned citizens across the political spectrum, including folks from the Tea Party and Occupy, to protest the government’s actions.

The worries about drone killing dovetail with bi-partisan concern over other abuses carried out by the government in the name of security, from indefinite detention (the infamous NDAA) to surveillance to solitary confinement to erosion of fair trial protections to torture.

A growing number of citizens are asking, “Who will protect us from politicians?

Urge the U.S. government to end unlawful drone killing.

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17 thoughts on “Is it Legal for the U.S. to Kill a 16-year-old U.S. Citizen with a Drone?

  1. I fail to see what the boy's nationality have anything to do with the "legality" of his death. Is Amnesty trying to tell us that if the young man was not an American and "merely" a Yemini or Mexican or Canadian, then the strike would have been legal? Let's get passed this nationality hangover: Torture is wrong regardless of whom it is applied to. Death of innocents by drones and other means is wrong regardless of the victim’s nationality. The main problem with drone strikes is that the perpetrator is well aware that there will be innocents killed. Hence if their own statistics show that 20% (or more) of the dead from drone strikes are innocents, then they have been committing murder. This sort of war is not a defensive war. It is pure aggression. The liberal use of drones is surely illegal. Failure to compensate the victims’ families is also illegal and immoral. Many of us had so much hope in this President. The main reason I for one will not vote for him this November is the drone issue.

    • In a way, yes. The US doesn't give crap about international law, and US law technically does not protect non-citizens outside its borders, terrible as that is (especially when the US is doing the killing).

    • Good plan, Mitt definitely will be more caring and generous to people of other races…oh wait….

  2. Hi there, thanks for your comment. In no way is the post meant to imply that it would be ok to kill a non-American. All people, regardless of nationality have equal human rights.

    The points of the post are that the ACLU and CCR were able to bring a lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of the killing and that the issue of killing Americans has promted outrage across the political spectrum–something, sadly, we didn't see before. Hopefully, these two developments will help put pressure on the government to end all unlawful drone killings.

  3. I totally agree this is outrageous. If we keep letting them get away with this, they'll be using it in our own country the way the Israeli government uses them in Palestine (with U.S. backing by the way). We have to get out of this killing people for what they MAY do mentality. People didn't tear down the Berlin Wall to have another one go up in Israel (again with U.S. backing) creating another apartheid state. There will NEVER be peace on Earth until the U.S. gives up their aggressive policies of shoot first, ask questions later.

  4. When I initially read the story about this attack the circumstances were unclear, nonspecific… but knowing now that it occurred in a restaurant kind of bothers me. Ultimately, no one here knows why it was carried out this way. I'm not one to blindly defend the military, but to a great extent our country as a whole puts a great deal of faith in the military and hopes that they make decisions with the best of intentions in minimizing civilian deaths and preventing greater destruction. I'm definitely affected by this video showing pictures of Rahman… but not entirely convinced that its the entire story… it never is.

  5. Dear US Army,
    The awkward moment when you realize that you are the terrorists
    A simple human being

  6. Hi Hunter: I think your comment underscores why we need the government to be transparent and accountable on drone killing. We have a right to know what is being done in our names, and the obligation to ensure that our government is adhering to its human rights obligations.

  7. When has legality ever bothered the US (or any government)in pursuit of its own ends especially when motivated by geo-political,ideological or economic interests.

  8. So why should I care that this kid is dead? He is part of a terrorist family, and as such should be wiped from the face of the earth. You want to stay alive and live a long life? Don't kill innocent people as a lifestyle and expect your family to stay safe. I for one would advocate going after every direct member of terrorists families.

    • Hey shouldn't he have felt the same way about YOU who thinks killing anyone, anywhere by robot bombing is OK — because they are "terrorists" who advocate killing of "enemies"? What makes YOU so special so as not to make OTHERS angry at your own ruthless arrogance?

  9. Hi Anon: Part of why people are so upset about unlawful drone killings is that they can imagine it happening to them or their families. In certain cases, these killings take place with little or no evidence of wrong-doing, little or no due process, little or no safe guards against mistakes, and little to no accountability. That doesn't sound like security to me!

    • "That doesn't sound like security to me!"
      Well it ISN'T.
      … but then again, it IS — if you're a conglomerate trying to "secure" resources or Control in the region ….

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  11. What a Question!!?
    Is it LEGAL??!
    Not only was he not apparently guilty of anything, he was neither accused not tried for any crime!
    Independent of nationality, on what basis could it be LEGAL to kill him or anyone else??????
    WAR, you might say. Even so, which declared war would you be talking about? This is a ruthless CRIME. Period. Covered in PR and flag-waving.

  12. Oh, BTW, Merry Christmas, etc.
    Maybe we should take a day off from anonymous killings. Out of respect.