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Talking in Circles

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
May 10, 2013
Foreign Policy

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Like many former senior Obama administration officials, Harold Koh has expressed his concerns about U.S. drone strike policies. As the former State Department legal adviser, he played an essential role in articulating and defending the international legal principles that supported "U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles," as he stated in a March 2010 speech. Koh was also responsible for coordinating the official U.S. government response to questions raised by U.N. special rapporteurs and within the Human Rights Council. As Koh proclaimed last summer, "I did not come to government because I wanted to work on killing people."

Unfortunately for him, because President Barack Obama authorized over 375 drone strikes killing over 3,000 people while Koh was the State Department's lead lawyer, he's been forced to dedicate a great deal of time to killing people.

Unfortunately, in a speech made two days ago at the Oxford Union, Koh demonstrated that he plans to maintain the fundamental myth of the Obama administration's targeted killing program: that everyone killed is a senior al Qaeda official or member who poses an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland. In April 2010, Koh claimed, regarding targeted killings: "I have never changed my mind. Not from before I was in the government -- or after." Apparently, that sentiment remains true today. Consider several passages from the "disciplining drones" section of his most recent speech:

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