San Diego International Law Journal


Donna R. Cline

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type



This Article introduces international humanitarian law as the applicable legal standard, and develops the distinction between international and non-international armed conflict. Section II will define the key elements used to determine whether a situation of hostilities rises to the level of an armed conflict: the intensity of the conflict and the organization of the parties. Furthermore, this section will analyze the idea of internationalized armed conflict and examine the standard for determining when an attack by an armed group may be attributed to a State. Section III of this article describes the different categories of actors found in situations of armed conflict, including combatants, noncombatants, and civilians. This section also discusses members of organized armed groups, terrorists, and unlawful combatants, and analyzes whether they are recognized classifications under international humanitarian law. The principles of “direct participation in hostilities” (“DPH”) and “continuous combat function” (“CCF”) are introduced and distinguished here. Section IV of this article discusses the legality of targeted killings. This section also examines the right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, and whether it permits States to use force against non State actors. Finally, Section V of this article examines the facts surrounding drone strikes conducted by the United States. It first considers which legal forum the United States is operating in with regard to the locations of the drone strikes; specifically, whether it is an armed conflict and whether the United States may lawfully assert its right of self defense against al Qaeda. It concludes with an analysis of the legal status of the CIA officers who are participating in the drone strikes and the potential legal consequences of that status.