Tara Murray: These attacks are illegal – until Obama declares war

There exists no legal justification for Barack Obama's use of drones in Pakistan and other states where there is no declared war. Yet his Administration, in an effort to justify its behaviour, has argued that because the US is at war with al-Qa'ida, the Taliban and associated forces it may "use ... lethal force, to defend itself" and it is "not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force."

This absurd rationalisation mimics the self-serving arguments behind the discredited US detention and interrogation policies at places including Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and in CIA black sites across eastern Europe. The Administration has also failed to address crucial legal issues, most notably including who exactly may be targeted by the drones and what is the precise scope of the conflict. Instead, the Obama Administration has attempted to ward off the human rights community by keeping the drone programme shrouded in secrecy.

Philip Alston, as UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, has condemned the "continuing refusal ... to provide the international community with the information that would satisfy its obligations in relation to transparency and accountability" and cautioned that the US role as "the most enthusiastic and prolific proponent of targeted killings" would result in "grave damage ... to the legal framework that the international community has so painstakingly constructed to protect the right to life."

But the Administration cannot keep the law at bay for much longer. Reprieve has partnered with Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar to bring civil and criminal litigation for families of drone victims. If the illegality fails to prick President Obama's conscience, the emergence of evidence in various courts just might.

The writer is a staff attorney at Reprieve