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US Airstrike Syria

A massive smoke cloud rises following U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Kobani, Syria on October 18, 2014. (Photo: Murat Kula/Andalou Agency/Getty Images)

Over 110 Groups Urge Biden to End Unlawful Lethal Strikes

"It is past time to change course and start repairing the damage done. Disavowing and ending the lethal strikes program is both a human rights and racial justice imperative in meeting these commitments."

Brett Wilkins

Decrying the United States' "forever wars" and their deadly consequences, a group of over 110 advocacy groups from around the world on Wednesday published an open letter imploring President Joe Biden to end airstrikes "outside any recognized battlefield" and "abandon this war-based approach and chart a new path forward that promotes and respects our collective human security."

The letter demands "an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones," that are "a centerpiece" of the so-called War on Terror and have "exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black communities in multiple parts of the world."

The letter continues:

Successive presidents have now claimed the unilateral power to authorize secretive extrajudicial killing outside any recognized battlefield, with no meaningful accountability for wrongful deaths and civilian lives lost and injured. This lethal strikes program is a cornerstone of the broader U.S. war-based approach, which has led to wars and other violent conflicts; hundreds of thousands dead, including significant civilian casualties; massive human displacement; and indefinite military detention and torture.

It has caused lasting psychological trauma and deprived families of beloved members, as well as means of survival. In the United States, this approach has contributed to further militarized and violent approaches to domestic policing; bias-based racial, ethnic, and religious profiling in investigations, prosecutions, and watchlisting; warrantless surveillance; and epidemic rates of addiction and suicide among veterans, among other harms.

"It is past time to change course and start repairing the damage done," the letter's authors write. "Disavowing and ending the lethal strikes program is both a human rights and racial justice imperative in meeting these commitments."

"Twenty years into a war-based approach that has undermined and violated fundamental rights, we urge you to abandon it and embrace an approach that advances our collective human security," the letter concludes. "That approach should be rooted in promoting human rights, justice, equality, dignity, peace-building, diplomacy, and accountability, in action as well as words."

Garett Reppenhagen, executive director of letter signatory Veterans for Peace, said in a statement that "our nation has been involved in seemingly endless war for nearly two decades. We are tired of our country using military force as a tool of first resort and the enormous physical and psychological toll this has caused for service members, as well as civilians harmed by our country's actions abroad.

"An entire generation of veterans and lost civilian lives later, it's past time for a new way forward," he added.

Radhya al-Mutawakel, chair of the Yemen-based group Mwatana for Human Rights—which also signed the letter—said that "the U.S. has been killing people for nearly 20 years in Yemen, but to this day it has not adequately investigated civilian deaths and injuries, or clearly recognized the severe harm caused to families and communities."

"Twenty years into a war-based approach that has undermined and violated fundamental rights, we urge you to abandon it and embrace an approach that advances our collective human security."
—Letter signers to President Biden

"The Biden administration should break with these damaging practices, and ensure thorough investigation and accountability for harms that have occurred," al-Mutawakel added.

The groups' letter comes two days after officials in Iraq condemned new U.S. airstrikes targeting facilities the Pentagon claimed were used by Iran-backed militias as a "blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

The strikes—which also hit Syria, reportedly killing a child—prompted fresh demands for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) blasting the "constant cycle of violence and retribution" as "a failed policy" that "will not make any of us safer."

The letter also comes less than two weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of legislation by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq. This authorization was cited not only by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations to invade and occupy Iraq, but also by Obama to wage war against Islamic State and former President Donald Trump to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Lee called the House vote "an important step" toward repealing the 2001 AUMF on which the so-called War on Terror has been waged for nearly 20 years. Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the measure.

On Tuesday, the House voted to end AUMFs from 1957 and 1991 that authorized U.S. military action against the perceived threat of communism in the Middle East and the first Gulf War, respectively.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are expected to vote next month on bills repealing the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs for Iraq, with more opposition to the measures anticipated than in the House.

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