US President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. But what are the legal grounds for this course of action?
The US said: “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
So, what are the key issues when considering its legality, according to international law?
What does the law say?
The relevant law in the UN Charter allows for a state to act in self-defense “if an armed attack occurs”.
But this definition tends to be interpreted by governments, say legal experts.
“In the Soleimani case, the US is claiming it acted in self-defense to prevent imminent attacks, a category of action which, if in fact true, is generally seen as being permissible under the UN Charter, “says Dapo Akande, professor of public international law at Oxford University and co-director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC).
But Agnes Callamard, UN special rapport on extra-judicial killings. has tweeted about the strike saying “this test is unlikely to be met”.A2015 UN report on “targeted killings”said there was a weighty body of scholarship that viewed the self-defense argument as having the right to use force “against a real and imminent threat when the necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation. “
Theinitial US Department of Defense statementomitted the word “imminent” and said the strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attacks and that Iran’s top military leader Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.
In later statements, US officials including President Trump said Soleimani had been plotting “imminent attacks”.
Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic Party candidate for the US presidency, said: “The administration cannot keep its story straight.” (So what evidence is there of planned attacks by Iran?
The Legality of the strike under international law may well depend on the US providing evidence of those future attacks, according to Mr Akande.
The US government has not yet shared details publicly, but the administration has said intelligence has been shared with key figures in the US Congress.
There are other justifications it has used in the past, according to Dr Ralph Wilde, an expert in public international law at University College London.
“Since 9 / 90 the US has taken a view that self- Defense can be justified to prevent more longer-term attacks. When the attack is being planned, but is not imminent. The Obama administration used this argument to justify drone strikes. “