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News Posted on November 6, 2013

Professor Gary Solis '71 Speaks on 'Drones and Targeted Killings' in CILC Event

Professor Gary Solis '71, an internationally recognized scholar on the law of war, delivered a lecture on "Drones and Targeted Killings" at King Hall on November 4.  The event, sponsored by the California International Law Center (CILC), drew a large audience of students, faculty, and community members to the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom.

Solis, who is teaching at King Hall during the Fall 2013 semester as a visiting professor, retired in 2006 from his position as a Professor of Law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he had taught since 1996. He is a retired U.S. Marine with 26 years active service and has worked as a Marine judge advocate, a court-martial judge, and head of the Marine Corps' Military Law Branch in Washington, D.C. Solis has been an expert witness in courts-martial and Guantanamo hearings, and has provided expert commentary for a wide range of national and international media. His publications include The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law (2010), Marines and Military Law in Vietnam (1989), and Son Thang: An American War Crime (1997).

Following a brief introduction from Professor Anupam Chander, CILC's director, Professor Solis began by outlining some of the basic principles of the law of war, including the concept of combatant's privilege, which permits lawful combatants to kill or wound enemies and destroy objects without penalty of law. He talked about how the use of unmanned military aircraft known as "drones" in the targeted killing of civilians as part of the war on terror has raised legal questions of who may be targeted, where a drone strike may occur, and other issues. Many of these questions take the law of armed conflict into "uncharted waters," Solis said, but some guidelines may be understood by reviewing existing law.

The U.S. Army's use of drones against military targets in Afghanistan appears to fall within established definitions of actions that privileged combatants may engage in on the battlefield, said Solis. On the other hand, the targeted killing of civilians believed to be engaged in terrorist activities and operating in countries the United States is not at war with has been controversial, he noted.  The fact that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents, who are civilians and thus not privileged combatants, have authorized and conducted strikes in Pakistan and other countries raises serious legal questions, Solis said.

"Mind you, I am not suggesting the CIA should be prosecuted because I think they do a hell of a job of protecting the country," Solis said. "But as American citizens, I think we need to know what's being done in our name.  There are unprivileged belligerents, unlawful combatants who are killing in our name."

"The war on terrorism has forced dramatic changes in the law of armed conflict," he said in closing. "All laws change, morph, and mature, but since 9-11 the law has changed at lightning speed.  Defining a previously undefined battlefield, considering enemy fighters with constitutional rights, employing unlawful American combatants, these are changes that only history will decide are or are not advances in the law."