Supreme Court denies review of drone strike

The US Supreme Court stated on Nov. 27 that it would not review (PDF) a lawsuit over a drone strike in Yemen that killed five people. Earlier this year, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed (PDF) the lawsuit by the families of two Yemeni men allegedly killed by a US drone strike in 2012. The plaintiffs argued that the two family members were victims of a "'signature strike," an attack in which the US "targets an unidentified person…based on a pattern of suspicious behavior as identified through metadata." Further, the plaintiffs argued that the drone operators waited until the two men joined the other three men initially targeted in the strike, in direct violation of international law. A unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel upheld a lower court's finding that "a court should not second-guess an Executive's decision about the appropriate military response" to a potential threat.

The appeals court went on to say that it is a congressional, rather judicial, power to check the executive branch's authority of military power. It urged the Executive and Congress to work together to "establish a clear policy for drone strikes and precise avenues for accountability."

Drone use has been a controversial issue, both in terms of small domestic drones and larger drones being used abroad by the US military. In October 2014 UN experts urged the international community to have greater accountability and transparency when it comes to the use of drones. In August of 2014 the UN stated that if the US is to use drones they must comply with international law.

From Jurist, Nov. 27. Used with permission.

Note: The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism has already opened an investigation the legality of the use of drone strikes by the US. "Signature strikes" have been defined as those in which "surveillance data suggest a terrorist leader may be nearby but the identities of all others targeted is [sic] not known."