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Drone Pilots Could Be Tried for ‘War Crimes,’ According to Law Professor

The pilots waging America’s undeclared drone war in Pakistan could be liable to criminal prosecution for “war crimes,” a prominent law professor told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

Harold Koh, the State Department’s top legal adviser, outlined the administration’s legal case for the robotic attacks last month. Now, some legal experts are taking turns to punch holes in Koh’s argument.

It’s part of an ongoing legal debate about the CIA and U.S. military’s lethal drone operations, which have escalated in recent months — and which have received some technological upgrades. Critics of the program, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that the campaign amounts to a program of targeted killing that may violate the laws of war.

In a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s national security and foreign affairs panel, several professors of national security law seemed open to that argument. But there are still plenty of caveats, and the risks to U.S. drone operators are at this point theoretical: Unless a judge in, say, Pakistan, wanted to issue a warrant, it doesn’t seem likely. But that’s just one of the possible legal hazards of robotic warfare.

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