Harold Hongju Koh, Hillary Clinton’s former legal advisor at the State Department has been invited as an ‘endowed speaker’ at the U.I. College of Law, twelve days prior to the November election. Koh, currently a Yale Law School professor and former Dean, is a close friend of Yale Law School graduates Bill and Hillary Clinton. He was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and by President Obama, as senior legal advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: he provided legal advice to her during the 2009 coup in Honduras, the 2011 US/NATO attack on Libya, and Obama’s ongoing drone assassinations – as well as damage-control in her email controversy. He won’t say what that advice was, claiming “attorney-client privilege” – despite the Supreme Court ruling against attorney-client confidences between government lawyers and government officials.
An avid advocate of the targeted killing program, “Killer Koh” supports the legality of what he terms “extrajudicial killing” in Pakistan, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries in the US “war on terror,” saying it complies “with all applicable law, including the laws of war,” and citing the ‘principle of proportionality’ in “taking great care in planning and execution to ensure that only ‘legitimate’ objectives are targeted and that collateral damage is kept to a minimum.” In a feeble attempt at transparency, the Obama administration recently released a modest admission that some “116 civilians” may have been victims of U. S. drone attacks – a figure that is not reconcilable with the accounts of eyewitnesses, journalists and human rights researchers, who have documented many thousands of casualties. President Obama said – in a revealing moment of self-reflection – “Turns out I’m really good at killing people … Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine” (from Mark Halperin & John Heilemann, “Double Down: Game Change 2012”).
If Hillary Clinton is elected president, with the advice of Tim Kaine and Killer Koh, she may be even more eager to mass-murder than her predecessor: the number of casualties would likely exceed that of Obama’s kill list, just as his toll today greatly outnumbers G. W. Bush’s.
Late on Friday 5 August, the White House grudgingly complied with an Federal Court order (from an ACLU suit) and released a redacted “President’s Policy Guidance” (PPG) on Obama’s program of targeted killings. The PPG stipulates that “nothing in this PPG shall be construed to prevent the President from exercising his Constitutional authority … to authorize lethal force against an individual who poses a continuing, imminent threat to another country’s persons.” (Killing US citizens requires specific approval by the President). Death lists are drawn up weekly by the ‘nominating committee’ and are reviewed by lawyers of the nominating agencies (CIA, Pentagon, NSC, officials of the State Department and “deputies and principals of the nominating committee”).
Of the seven Middle Eastern countries where drone assassinations take place, “active war zones” – Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (it’s not clear if Libya is included) – do not require prior approval. With this protocol in place, the White House and the National Security Council are insulated from outside scrutiny, even by Congress. It assumes that the Commander in Chief can do anything s/he wants; it would provide a President Clinton #2, with the approval of hawks Tim Kaine and Harold Koh, immense power and license to kill.
Koh as the (former) State Department lawyer has publicly defended extrajudicial killing as “due process under the Constitution in the age of moral and political degeneration.” In a speech at the Oxford Political Union in 2013 he said, “This Administration has not done enough to be transparent about the legal standards and decision making process … fostering a growing perception that the program [extrajudicial killing] is not lawful and necessary…,” adding that this lack of transparency is counterproductive and has led to the “negative public image” of targeted killing. Does Prof. Koh think the recent exposure of the (heavily redacted) PPG ordered by the Court provides the “transparency” to satisfy critics of the legality of targeted killing?
Although Koh has been described as a prominent advocate of human and civil rights (apparently exclusively of US citizens), he has been an “equal opportunist” as a legal advisor to Reagan, Clinton and Obama administrations – all of whom have violated the human rights of foreign nationals. He hardly represented human and civil rights as a member of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to the President in the Reagan administration, when that office justified violations of international law, the Charter of United Nations and the US Constitution, in grievous violation of human rights and attempts to destabilize the countries of Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua (attempting to withdraw from the International Court of Justice, which denounced the US for bombing Nicaraguan harbors), Guatemala, Libya, Angola and elsewhere in southern Africa; and when it supported the South African apartheid government against its black population, supported Israel’s invasion and massacres of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and supported illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories – for which the US exercised its veto in the U.N. Security Council, in opposition to sanctions against US. In addition, the Reagan administration and its legal advisors refused to support nuclear test ban treaties, instead proliferating first-strike nuclear weapons, SDI (“star wars”) and MX missiles. Not a record to be proud of for someone serving as legal counsel to the president.
The opportunity extended Harold Koh to lecture potential scholars of political and international law poses the question, Is the University of Illinois College of Law – with its record of sanctions – qualified to educate future lawyers, when it sponsors a person of Harold H. Koh’s character in these politically charged times?
The Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1947 stated unequivocally that the crimes of the ten civilian Nazi defendants who were convicted of murder and other atrocities, conspiracy to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity of civilians and nationals of occupied territories, were liable to severe penalty whether or not they had engaged in military action. The Nuremberg judgment still stands in international law.
A reception to protest Professor Koh’s appearance is planned at the north courtyard of the College of Law before the lecture on the afternoon of October 28.
(Midge O’Brien was an academic professional in U. of I. life science laborotories over twenty years and secretary in the Union of Professional Employees; was an election judge twelve years; a member of Nuclear Freeze, and Prairie Alliance against nuclear power; and an anti-war activist since 1965. She is a member of the Green Party.)