Friday, April 30, 2010

Drone war and the laws of war

Drone war has some real problems: Nathan Hodge and Noah Shachtman writes in Drone Pilots Could Be Tried for ‘War Crimes,’ Law Prof Says Danger Room 04/28/10:

Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That’s because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant’s privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.

“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause,” Glazier continued. “But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”

The drones themselves are a lawful tool of war; “In fact, the ability of the drones to engage in a higher level of precision and to discriminate more carefully between military and civilian targets than has existed in the past actually suggests that they’re preferable to many older weapons,” Glazier added. But employing CIA personnel to carry out those armed attacks, he concluded, “clearly fall outside the scope of permissible conduct and ought to be reconsidered, particularly as the United States seeks to prosecute members of its adversaries for generally similar conduct.”


Drone attacks haven’t just become the primary weapon in the American bid to wipe out Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks. “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership,” CIA director Leon Panetta said.

But that “embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radical new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force,” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer recently observed. Before 9/11, the American government regularly condemned Israel for taking out individual terrorists. "Seven years later, there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy." [my emphasis in bold]
The Obama administration has adopted some of the Cheney-Bush administration's worst polices in the area of Executive power in national security, including the use of "targeted assassinations", even claiming the right to target American citizens for such assassination attempts. That's not a Glenn Beck Bircher fantasy, that's announced US Government policy, though so far they haven't claimed to target alleged terrorists inside the United States for assassination. But they have employed drone strikes of this kind a lot during their months in office.

The Obama administration needs to be unwinding the abusive practices of the previous administration committed with "national security" as the excuse. And they especially need to be prosecuting torture perpetrators. Instead, they're continuing many of the reckless approaches the Cheney-Bush administration took. And sheltering criminal perpetrators from the Cheney-Bush administration from prosecution, while going after whistle-blowers and journalists like James Risen that exposed some of the criminal practices of that administration. This is not good.

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