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Biden administration disclosed Trump-era rules on terrorism suspects

Valerie Mai Valerie Mai

mnghonganh@gmail.com

May 03, 2021 | 13:07

The Biden administration disclosed Trump-era rules on Friday regulating the use of deadly force against terrorist suspects abroad after the Trump administration refused to make them public.

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Biden administration disclosed Trump-era rules on terrorism suspects
US Air Force (Photo: Reuters)

While the Biden administration censored some passages, the visible portions show that in the Trump era, commanders in the field were given latitude to make decisions about attacks so long as they fit within broad sets of “operating principles,” including that there should be “near certainty” that civilians “will not be injured or killed in the course of operations.”

The rules, which President Joe Biden suspended on his first day in office while his administration began reviewing them, according to the Times, have come under criticism for making exceptions to standards about how and where "direct action" attacks were allowed outside war zones, CNN cited.

The rules, titled "Principles, Standards, and Procedures for U.S. Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets," allow for US direct action against lawfully targeted terrorists "whose removal, either independently or as part of a broader campaign, is determined to be reasonably necessary to U.S. efforts to address the threat posed by the terrorist group."

"The United States will continue to take extraordinary measures to ensure with near certainty that noncombatants will not be injured or killed in the course of operations, using all reasonably available information and means of verification," the rules state, before adding: "Variations to the provisions in this section may be made where necessary" in keeping with other laws and guidelines.

Biden administration disclosed Trump-era rules on terrorism suspects
Targeted killings away from conventional war zones have been a central feature of the sprawling war on terrorism, raising legal and policy questions that remain in flux. (Photo: Reuters)

It's those "variations" that caused concern. "Over four administrations, the U.S. government's unlawful lethal strikes program has exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black civilians in multiple parts of the world," Kaufman said in his statement. "Secretive and unaccountable use of lethal force is unacceptable in a rights-respecting democracy, and this program is a cornerstone of the 'forever wars' President Biden has pledged to end. He needs to do so."

The release comes after an October ruling by a federal judge in Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by The New York Times and by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Hill reported. The ACLU filed the suit in December 2017 against the Departments of Defense, Justice, and State after the Trump administration refused to make the rules public. Last fall, a federal judge ordered that the Trump administration had to confirm or deny the rules' existence.

Biden administration disclosed Trump-era rules on terrorism suspects
Biden had suspended the Trump-era rules on his first day in office and adopted a new policy requiring the White House to sign off on proposed strikes outside of war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. (Photo: AP)

The Biden administration in January mandated a new rule that the White House itself must greenlight operations outside Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as it reviewed the Trump guidelines. It is still unclear how that rule will be impacted by the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which is expected to be complete in September. The deliberations have also been complicated by Biden’s decision to end the Afghanistan war by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks this year. The administration intends to maintain an ability to strike at any emerging terrorism threats that may subsequently emanate from there, which will make it subject for the first time to the rules for airstrikes, including by drones, outside conventional war zones.

Drone strikes began under the administration of George W. Bush and soared during Barack Obama’s first term — along with political and legal battles over reports of civilian casualties and, in 2011, the government’s deliberate killing of an American citizen suspected of terrorism, Anwar al-Awlaki, without a trial. Many Obama-era national-security officials have returned in the Biden administration, raising expectations that Mr. Trump’s changes would be at least partially rolled back. Still, some military and intelligence professionals chafed under Mr. Obama’s system, saying it was too bureaucratic, according to people familiar with internal deliberations, said NYT.

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Valerie Mai