A United Nations expert on Thursday rejected the "myth of a surgical strike" and said the U.S. violated international law when it assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
"No evidence has been provided that General Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against U.S. interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified," Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, wrote in her report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Callamard wrote that "absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the U.S. was unlawful."
The U.S. killed Soleimani in January with drone strike while the general was at the Baghdad International Airport. The attack took place without Iraq's consent. President Donald Trump claimed Soleimani posed an "imminent" threat to the U.S.—a claim undercut by administration officials and by Trump himself.
"Targeted killings until very recently to drones had been limited to non-state actors," Callamard told journalists Thursday, saying the Soleimani strike appears to be the first instance in which a "drone targeted a high-level official of a foreign state and did so on the territory of a third state."
But other nations may follow suit. Callamard sounded alarm about a looming "drone power club" with other nations seeking to expand the weaponry into their arsenals.
Callamard said there's a "very real prospect that states may opt to 'strategically' eliminate high-ranking military officials outside the context of a 'known' war," and justify such assassinations "on the grounds of necessity—not imminence" because a prospective target is deemed a "terrorist who posed a potential, undefined, future threat."
The special rapporteur wrote that among her key findings were that in "this instance, the use of force by the United States was directed not only at Iran but also at Iraq. By killing General Soleimani on Iraqi soil without first obtaining Iraq's consent, the U.S. violated the territorial integrity of Iraq."
She also warned the "application of a 'first shot' theory to the targeted killing of a state actor translates into the real possibility that ALL soldiers, anywhere in the world, could constitute a legitimate target."
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Soleimani's killing, Callamard wrote, "coming in the wake of 20 years of distortions of international law, and repeated massive violations of humanitarian law, is not just a slippery slope. It is a cliff."
Though the assassination may not have legal justification, Callamard said it "did not justify Iran's subsequent actions against the United States," referring to the missile strikes at bases in Iraq with U.S. forces.
Both the U.S. targeted killing of Soleiman and Iran's retaliatory missile strikes revealed "scant concern for the wellbeing of the people of the countries affected," wrote Callamard, "including an absence of concern for the rights and demands of the young demonstrators who across the region cry out for democracy and human rights. "
Callamard highlighted part of the report on social media:
As of 2020, at least 102 countries have acquired an active military drone inventory, and 20 armed non-State actors reportedly have obtained armed and unarmed drone systems. This expanding use of drones is accompanied by an increasing disregard of central int'l law principles.— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) July 8, 2020
For the first time, a State drone targeted a high-level official of another state on the territory of a third one. The int'l community must now confront the very real prospect that States may opt to “strategically” eliminate high ranking military officials outside “known” wars— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) July 8, 2020
The int'l community needs to regain control over the development, export and use of drones through: 1.Adequate mandatory reporting on drones strikes; 2.Control over export and use of drones. In addition, it must provide effective oversight over claims of Art. 51 UN self defence.— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) July 8, 2020
The Trump administration has rejected Callamard's assessment of the drone assassination, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying Thursday that her conclusions were "spurious."
Pompeo asserted in a statement that the strike "was conducted to deter Iran from launching or supporting further attacks against the United States or U.S. interests, and to degrade the capabilities of the Qods Force" and claimed the "United States is transparent regarding the international law basis for the strike."