Atheists who love religion »« How to deal with the ‘Craig Con’: Part 3

When can drone strikes be justified?

The UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson says that the US drone strikes in Pakistan, that have caused over 400 civilian deaths, violate Pakistani sovereignty and are illegal.

And Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, says that “President Obama’s attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards” and may even constitute war crimes.

The response of some people is that the US government has no other option to counter terrorists. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch has an excellent essay that looks at what might constitute reasonable criteria for taking such drastic action.

What does international human rights and humanitarian law require? Not necessarily abolition of the drone program.

There are several conceivable rationales for the use of drones in such places, but the Obama administration has articulated none of them with clarity.

Should the administration really have the right to attack anyone it might characterize as a combatant against the United States? What if that person is walking the streets of London or Paris? The administration, in a statement by John Brennan, says as a matter of policy that it has an “unqualified preference” to capture rather than kill all targets. But away from a traditional battlefield, international human rights law requires the capture of enemies if possible. Failing to apply that law encourages other governments to circumvent it as well; they may summarily kill suspects simply by announcing a “global war” without there being an actual armed conflict. Imagine the mayhem that Russia could cause by killing alleged Chechen “combatants” throughout Europe, or China by killing Uighur “combatants” in the United States. Indeed, China may already be applying this elastic definition of war, as it reportedly considered using a drone to kill a drug trafficker in Burma.

Any program that kills on the basis of secret intelligence risks abuse. The administration could go a long way toward minimizing the possibility of illegal killings—and discouraging others from acting in kind—if it explicitly recognized clear limits in the law governing drone attacks and allowed as much independent consideration of its compliance as possible.

He argues that a lot depends on whether the threat is ‘imminent’, but that the Obama administration has interpreted that word so elastically that it has ceased to have any real meaning.

Roth’s piece is well worth reading in full.

Comments

  1. fastlane says

    When can drone strikes be justified?

    Well, there’s the Vatican, for one…..

    I kid, mostly. :D

  2. Henry Gale says

    It’s a bit ironic that a person who was given the Nobel Peace prize just a few years ago should be charged with crimes against humanity today.

  3. says

    The same time as any other premeditated murder. Seriously, the argument is that they kill civilians? That’s different from any style of warfare in the history of ever how, exactly? Maybe, instead, we shouldn’t be invading and occupying foreign countries; that would really reduce the ‘imminent threats’ to Americans by a stunningly huge amount. Also, if we spent less time installing and propping up murderous dictators, there’d be a lot fewer people taking violent exception to the U.S. generally. Just a thought, you know? I don’t give half a damn if we’re murdering random dark-skinned foreigners with bombs, guns, drones, or weaponized anthrax, I want it to stop yesterday if not sooner. As for dealing with terrorists, what’s wrong with using law enforcement techniques for dealing with organized crime? They’ve gotten fairly good at that sort of thing, I hear.

  4. Psychopomp Gecko says

    As has been recorded on here, I used to be pretty gung ho about their usage. Y’all have had some very good points about how they are used. I can see drones being used in warfare. Assassination of high value targets is iffier, just because I don’t know how oversight of that goes, but it needs to be more than the President’s say-so. It always needs to be more than his say-so.

    Problem there is this whole notion that we have a war on terror. It’s just not acceptable to keep granting any administration powers it shouldn’t have, like the ability to bomb anyone anywhere, all because we’re afraid of a few guys who attacked us. War on Terror: no. Real war against hostile enemy forces: yes.

  5. Jockaira says

    Ben Emmerson says that the US drone strikes in Pakistan, that have caused over 400 civilian deaths, violate Pakistani sovereignty and are illegal.

    .
    I suppose that this means the US has only two alternatives:
    .
    1. Get a public declaration from Pakistan that drone strikes are wanted if they comprise a significant portion of a public education program and are also a part of ongoing infrastructure development. This should not be too difficult. After all, this is the primary purpose of foreign aid programs…and of course, governments the world over have developed efficacious techniques for the selling of any idea.
    .
    2. Lacking legality, the US has no alternative but to go back to the use of B-52′s and B-2 carpet-bombing. Surgical air-strikes using fighter-attack bombers such as the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22, should yield much reduced illegal civilian casualties especially if the US declares war on Pakistan.
    .
    It’s interesting that #2 would allow the US to deal with Pakistan’s violation of nuclear-proliferation accords by taking out those sites holding Pakistani nukes with the US’s own strategic and tactical thermonuclear weapons.
    .
    It would be a whole new world, a little shop-worn perhaps, but still new.

  6. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Imagine the mayhem that Russia could cause by killing alleged Chechen “combatants” throughout Europe

    An inquest is taking place in London over the death of Anatoly Litvinenko, an alleged traitor to Russia believed to have been murdered by Russian agents with old-fashioned poison.

    It’s interesting that #2 would allow the US to deal with Pakistan’s violation of nuclear-proliferation accords by taking out those sites holding Pakistani nukes with the US’s own strategic and tactical thermonuclear weapons

    If the translations i’ve read are correct, Jockaira, North Korea has said it wants to develop a missile able to deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S.A. and will carry out a pre-emptive strike when it does. What is the U.S.A.’s legal position here and what are its legal rights, I wonder?

  7. starskeptic says

    Simply rename them in military-ese: RPA Kinetic Events (it’s easier to ask for forgiveness…)

  8. says

    By “safety” I am referring only to the drone pilot’s safety in the situation.

    About the only positive thing I can see about drone strikes is that it eliminates the argument that pilots are brave heroes for raining down bombs on targets from high-flying aircraft. The inherent cowardice of air warfare against unarmed or barely-armed civilians is exposed more clearly.

  9. left0ver1under says

    When can “drone strikes” be justified? Never. Indiscriminate killing of civilians is a war crime, an act of terrorism.

    Liars will try to equate “drone strikes” to snipers murdering specific targets, under the false claim of “minimizing danger”. The only danger that is minimized is the danger to the lives of Americans, not anyone else. At least a single shot from a sniper won’t kill 200 people around the target, it will only terrorize them.

    A better comparison of “drone strikes” is a suicide bomber or a 9/11 hijacker. Those terrorists are targeting specific people and buildings. They may not plan to murder the hundreds of innocent bystanders, but they certainly aren’t concerned about the fact that they do. The same is true about US terro…uh, drone operators murdering bystanders.

    There is only one difference between remote control mass murder by US terrorists and manually controlled mass murder by a suicide bombers and hijackers. The difference is one fewer death, whether the terrorist dies while committing the act. The American doing the killing isn’t in any danger. Bill Maher was right when he said the 9/11 hijackers were brave, having the courage to die for their cause.

  10. left0ver1under says

    Ironic? Not at all.

    Henry Kissinger was already a mass murderer in Vietnam when he got a “peace prize”.

  11. Jockaira says

    the 9/11 hijackers were brave, having the courage to die for their cause.

    .
    NOT bravery, but an act of faith. If one believes that a specific act of suicide will cause an immediate forgiveness of all sin from god himself and an immediate transportation to a wonderful heaven filled with houris, splendid food, no-hangover spirits, a nation of slaves and sycophantic admirers for the rest of eternity, then how could one possibly justify any other course.
    .
    Life on earh is short and even for the very wealthy sometimes nasty. It doesn’t take a brave person to sacrifice it, only one stupid enough to believe Allâh’s promises as detailed in the Qur’ân.

  12. Jockaira says

    The USA’s “official” policy is that it will not deliver the first blow in any war. It’s legal position is that it has a sovereign right to defend itself from attack.
    .
    If the PRK were to lob a missile targeted to the US, then the US would likely respond with a defensive attack on that missile and presumably follow it up with a few ICBM strikes on the PRK’s launch zone and any other areas suspected of launch capability to the US. I believe all that would be within the legal rights of the US.
    .
    Launching retaliatory strikes against the PRK would probably not be wise, it might cause the PRC to withdraw the US’s credit line.

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