State Department’s top lawyer stepping down

State Department’s top lawyer stepping down

State Department Counselor Harold Koh will leave government and return to teaching at Yale law school, after four years in a key role in setting the Obama administration’s legal policies dealing with international terrorism, the State Department has confirmed.

"Harold Koh was thrilled to serve Secretary Clinton and President Obama as State Department legal advisor over the last four years. But his life is teaching, and he is ready to start the next chapter," a senior State Department official told The Cable.

There is no word yet on Koh’s replacement. His resignation comes only days after the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, also announced his plans to leave the administration.

The Yale Daily News reported that Koh will return to Yale law as a full-time professor. He was dean of the law school from 2004 until 2009, when he was appointed by Obama to his State Department post. Koh is often noted as a defender of the Obama administration’s use of drones to kill suspected terrorists in foreign countries, which some say is at odds with his previous statements criticizing the George W. Bush administration’s tactics in fighting the war on Islamic extremists.

"In this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks," Koh said in March 2010, in the administration’s first public defense of the killings.

Koh was also the target of some GOP senators, who alleged he was jeopardizing American sovereignty by supporting American acquiescence to parts of international law, such as when the State Department agreed to abide by two additional protocols to the Geneva convention in March 2011.

"Some Americans, including many leading academics and some high-level government officials, view sovereignty as an outmoded notion," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said in an infamously longwinded speech on international law at a think tank dinner last year, referring to Koh. "In certain American intellectual circles, sovereignty is viewed not as a principle to be upheld, but a problem to be remedied. That view, with roots that reach back decades, is particularly strong among some faculty members at our prestigious law schools."

Koh declined to be interviewed for this article. Kyl is also retiring this year.