I’ve read up a bit on drones, but I am left wondering about their morality. The current topic is the legality of the U.S. Executive branch killing U.S. citizens abroad, but obviously the real topic is much, much broader than that. . .
One (pro-drone) argument is that the U.S. legitimately killed Confederate soldiers (who were, in the U.S. view, U.S. citizens) in the Civil War (1861-1865) without any need for prior judicial or legislative review. O.K., true, but the Confederates were wearing uniforms and operating under the “Stars and Bars” flag of the Confederacy. So there wasn’t a big risk of killing innocents if the U.S. troops shot at them on the battlefield.
People getting “droned” are not so attired, and might therefore include civilians.
Well, but–the retort goes–if it was OK to kill Confederates who were *open* about their anti-U.S. insurrection, why would it be *worse* to kill Al Qaeda who are skulking about in disguise. In terms of generally accepted law of war principles, open combatants have more rights-e.g., to be treated as POW’s rather than to be executed as spies, than do clandestine combatants. Note that these principles would seriously jeopardize US CIA agents if caught, bc they are also not open combatants!
Yet the conundrum arises–if one can kill “disguised Al-Qaeda” how is one to be certain that one is killing the *right* people? Doesn’t that open the door to Obama killing whomsoever he wants as long as he *claims* they are “Al Qaeda”?
Yes–but I nevertheless remain perplexed-surely the U.S. or France (I have Mali in mind here-and the shrines and libraries in Timbuktu that I had frankly hoped to, as a Pakistani-American Muslim, visit someday) *should* be able to kill Al Qaeda members, given their open declaration of warfare against and attacks on the West, even though they do not regularly appear on a traditional battlefield. This is a West I have joined in at least the formal sense but also to some non-trivial degree culturally and psychologically (but of course keep in mind that Al Qaeda has to date killed far more Muslims than Westerners or Hindus–and it should go without saying why I would not want to live in any sort of Al Qaeda or Taliban-type jurisdiction).
So, then, what should the *limits* be? Probably not zero droning, but probably not unlimited droning. Perhaps some sort of judicial review as long as the Al Qaeda members to be droned are not an actually imminent threat? Not that we should think U.S. judges would be *better* guides than the U.S. Executive branch, but having *two* institutions rather than one might limit abuses while (generally) allowing the “correct” strikes to go through?
It’s a bit surprising that 1000′s of years of warfare appear to have left this question open. Or, have they? My general sense is that traditional international law allows for and justifies rather extreme measures towards non-uniformed combatants-e.g., summary execution of pirates.
Drones are a new technology, but let’s not forget that targeted killings are surely as old as homo sapiens, and that “assassination” is, of course, desi in origin!
Drone-strikes, with limits, seem preferable to relatively less-targeted artillery barrages, which are what seem to event when the Pakistani army moves in on the enemy (and let’s not pretend such enemy doesn’t exist).