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The new normal warfare. Opponents still die.
July 11, 2012 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Back in December American Conservative talked about The Changing state of War stating:
One of the most discouraging aspects of the current Republican presidential candidate debates is the discussion of drone warfare, or rather the fact that it is not being discussed at all except to approve of the practice.
Tom Junod of Esquire now discusses in a long article the targeted killing of an American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki.

See also Nick Turse - The Changing Face of Empire
posted by adamvasco (154 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"You have made a historic opportunity into your personal obligation, and in so doing you have made sure that no man can become president unless he knows that he has it within him to kill another man — one whose face he has probably seen, one whose name he probably knows."

I think that is what the article is really about. It describes the personal lives of Awlaki and his son not to glorify them, but to personalize them. It shows Obama and his administration as honorable, intelligent, lawful people having to make direct orders to kill an individual, and how that is different from bombing a target full of people you can't know or identify, whose faces you have never seen and family history you aren't aware of. It's a decision that may be necessary, but will have to weigh on the soul of any good person who decides to do it.

In the end, this isn't an anti-Obama article as much as it is critical of the concept of a Lethal Presidency and the power it puts in the hands of whoever inherits it:

You have made sure that you will not be the only Lethal President. You have made sure that your successor in the White House will also be a Lethal President, as well as someone somewhere else in the world.

What if the next Lethal President is not as good and as honorable as you? What if he is actually cruel or bloodthirsty?

What if he turns out to be — like you, Mr. President — just a man?

posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:40 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you for posting this and fleshing it out. I hadn't seen the Nick Turse link yet. I hope journalism like this begins to wake people up to the fact that their(Americans) government is now killing people for the content of their speech.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:01 PM on July 11, 2012


Exclusive Pics: Inside Yemen’s Shadow War
posted by homunculus at 5:01 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Pentagon's Vision: Drones Everywhere
posted by homunculus at 5:03 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The president of the U.S. is the commander in chief of the armed forces. It has always been true that "no man " (or woman) "can become president unless he knows that he has it within him to kill another man."

What I don't understand is, why is it worse to kill the particular person we believe is attacking us, than to drop a bomb that kills a hundred who faces and names we can't be sure of?
posted by msalt at 5:04 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


The author mistakes Republicans for a political party, they are, in their current form, more accurately described as a cult. c.f. the apoplectic response to their formerly beloved Justice Roberts.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:07 PM on July 11, 2012


having to make direct orders to kill an individual,

Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. They don't HAVE to do this.

Civilized countries believe in trials. The government only has the right to kill someone who is a direct threat in the immediate moment... that is, on the battlefield. If someone pulls a gun on a cop or a soldier, or threatens an innocent with a weapon in their presence, he or she is fair game.

Other than that? Killing people without trials is the central tenet of fascism. Sometimes the government is wrong. Frequently, the government is wrong. They're so wrong, so often, in fact, that they have moved to automatically defining themselves as being correct. It is stated policy that any male killed by a drone strike is automatically classified as a militant unless proven otherwise.

Except, what with being dead and all, these guys have a real hard time proving their innocence.

It is BULLSHIT, top to bottom. It is MURDER. It is not okay for a civilized country to do this. It just isn't. If they're not on a battlefield in the present moment, you cannot legally, morally, or ethically kill someone without giving them a chance to examine the evidence against them and rebut it in a court of law.

"Having", my ass. Total bullshit framing. We didn't have to start these wars, and killing whole families with drone strikes is absolutely unacceptable for any country, period, but especially one calling itself The Land Of The Free.

History will not look kindly on our drone murder program.
posted by Malor at 5:15 PM on July 11, 2012 [32 favorites]


History will not look kindly on our drone murder program.

It better, or history is going to be hit with a targeted drone strike.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:19 PM on July 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


And this is why Obama is so much more dangerous than Bush, because if Dubya was doing this, you guys would be fucking sideways. But get a reasonable-sounding, professorial man up there shooting people dead without a trial -- well, he's on Our Side, so it must be okay.
posted by Malor at 5:20 PM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


you are the first who has made use of your power to target and kill individuals identified as a threat to the United States throughout your entire term.

Surely this is not true.
posted by vorpal bunny at 5:24 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I don't understand is, why is it worse to kill the particular person we believe is attacking us, than to drop a bomb that kills a hundred who faces and names we can't be sure of?

The problem is that this program is done in secrecy and with no outside accountability. There is no "we" deciding who is attacking "us" and where to target the drones. It's just the president and his advisers. Considering they have already decided to target a 16-year-old US citizen, and that any military-aged casualty of a strike is to be defined as a "militant," and that the entire world including the US is a battlefield in the war on terror... it doesn't bode well for things to come.
posted by eurypteris at 5:29 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I don't understand is, why is it worse to kill the particular person we believe is attacking us, than to drop a bomb that kills a hundred who faces and names we can't be sure of?

Because it strains credulity. Modern warfare is an evolution of physical combat, something present in all human societies and probably most animals. But the idea as you say, that this particular person is "attacking us" is far more credible when we're say, in their country doing "nation building", and they're shooting at our troops. Now maybe even calling in an airstrike, or a robot airstrike, can be defended (not that I would)

But to just sit at home with a joystick and send some robot planes to drop bombs on various people in an expanding list of countries with all the courage of some encrypted TCP/IP packets ... well, it seems to ask the question, in what way was that person "attacking" us? If they were actually attacking us in any real sense, couldn't we just kill them in person?
posted by crayz at 5:30 PM on July 11, 2012


And this is why Obama is so much more dangerous than Bush, because if Dubya was doing this, you guys would be fucking sideways. But get a reasonable-sounding, professorial man up there shooting people dead without a trial -- well, he's on Our Side, so it must be okay.

Apparently you never heard the words "Surely THIS will..." for the last ten years.

Crying blue murder at every step of the massive expansion and overreach of executive power did precisely nothing, and those new powers were passed on the next guy who, surprise surprise, entirely as predicted and warned, took it and ran with it.
Big fucking surprise.
But don't pin it where it don't fit. If you've got a plan that's likely to work better than "kick up the biggest fuss we can", feel free to share it.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:33 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you've got a plan that's likely to work better than "kick up the biggest fuss we can" "hand the country to Romney", feel free to share it.

FTFY.
posted by Talez at 5:36 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Civilized countries believe in trials. The government only has the right to kill someone who is a direct threat in the immediate moment... that is, on the battlefield. If someone pulls a gun on a cop or a soldier, or threatens an innocent with a weapon in their presence, he or she is fair game.

This complaint applies equally well to the use of artillery, missiles or aerial bombing, all of which involve lobbing high explosive from a safe distance (usually with a great deal more death and injury due to the relative lack of accuracy). It seems like you are saying that infantry combat is the only acceptable way to wage war, but most of the world seems content to think otherwise.

Personally, I'm more focused on whether the overall body count is up or down; my equanimity with drones (although drones are not the sole focus of these articles) stems from a sense that it is substantially down.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:52 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


David Brin on the drones.
posted by bukvich at 5:52 PM on July 11, 2012


"Hand the country to Romney" my ass. What's the worst he could do, publicaly declare the presidential right to kill anyone anywhere to the resounding applause of his supporters?
posted by eurypteris at 5:54 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


(I should perhaps elaborate - American citizens lost the right to due process years ago, under the previous administration. That it took a while for citizens - no-longer protected by due process - to start finding themselves executed without trial, seems kind of a footnote, rather than the main story.)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:55 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


reposted as modified from the deleted thread:

I am glad that Junod's article was written in a mainstream publication. I am a fan of Glenn Greenwald, who posts about this issue regularly. But Junod, unlike Greenwald, recognizes that Obama's kill program is the outcome of a struggle - perhaps even a compromise - between the president's humanity and the political pressure to optimize the war machine. The president is a very good guy who does some very bad things. How we reconcile this is our moral dilemma as citizens.

When Cowboy Jesus invaded countries and shot from the hip with the help of the vampire living in the basement, we all figured that this sociopathy was an aberration. Now a highly decent, brilliant man who inspired a generation with his optimism and enthusiasm wields the same power. And that makes me so sad because now I know that it's permanent. We will never go back.
posted by moammargaret at 5:56 PM on July 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


If they're not on a battlefield in the present moment, you cannot legally, morally, or ethically kill someone without giving them a chance to examine the evidence against them and rebut it in a court of law.

And just what defines a battlefield? Is it a declaration of war? In that case, there hasn't been a legal killing in 70 years. Is it human feet on the battleground? Does someone have to be physically attacking our soldiers right this very minute? How about if there's an air battle going on? Was the Libyan conflict illegal and immoral?

Battlefield and war are extremely slippery concepts in this day and age. It's not like it is back in the 20th century.
posted by happyroach at 5:56 PM on July 11, 2012


Junod sure beats that 'American citizen' drum pretty hard. I don't think it matters that much.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:02 PM on July 11, 2012


And just what defines a battlefield?

Someone who's got a weapon and is threatening to kill someone in the present moment. This really isn't difficult to figure out, even though I'm sure you'd love to make a simple thing very complex.

If they're not offering lethal force right now, you can't kill them without a trial. You have to arrest them instead. That's how free countries work.

Was the Libyan conflict illegal and immoral?

That was battlefield all the way, military hardware attacking military hardware.
posted by Malor at 6:04 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Look, I'm all for trials over just plain killing, but there are people we can't bring to trial, because (for example) they're in countries who won't hand them over to us. Can you simplify that for me?

I'm ambivalent about drone strikes (and glad to see more and more discussion of them), but not because I think the choice is between drone strikes and trials...I think it's between drone strikes and either doing nothing (which might in fact be the better, safer choice overall) or invasion (which is obviously a non-starter, to me at least).
posted by uosuaq at 6:11 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Hand the country to Romney" my ass. What's the worst he could do, publicaly declare the presidential right to kill anyone anywhere to the resounding applause of his supporters?

One thing he would almost certainly do, and possibly not the worst, is invade Iran, as he and his advisers have publicly urged. Just like Bush started two major multi-year wars.
posted by msalt at 6:12 PM on July 11, 2012


You know, I became a naturalized US citizen last April, and anytime I read anything that broaches the idea that citizenship matters one whit in determining the morality or permissibility of an extra-judicial killing, I know there's another person whose name I can put on the List of Persons Who May Fuck Right Off. I don't give a good goddamn where you were born, and anyone who poses an argument that criticizes American exceptionalism in our use of force while needling about, worrying and picking at the scab of someone's citizenship? That person is a damn fool and I don't care what else he has to say.
posted by samofidelis at 6:13 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Battlefield and war are extremely slippery concepts in this day and age. It's not like it is back in the 20th century.

Perhaps these have become "slippery" concepts, only because we don't think of the other side as made up of human beings worthy of the benefits of trials, due process or other messy ethical procedures, but as inhuman targets. It's easier to help the public be morally ambivalent about nameless pixels on a computer screen. Sadly, the only way this drone program ends or severely curtailed, probably, is when some white, well-to-do American teen gets vaporized whilst on vacation abroad.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:16 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


uosuaq, this is why we have extradition. Yemen was (is) our satellite state. You think that we would let them get away with refusing to hand someone over?
posted by moammargaret at 6:16 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the same applies if you're a journalist or a public servant.
posted by samofidelis at 6:16 PM on July 11, 2012


Someone who's got a weapon and is threatening to kill someone in the present moment. This really isn't difficult to figure out, even though I'm sure you'd love to make a simple thing very complex.

So you oppose the attacks on Osama bin Laden ( in the 90s, when Clinton lobbed missiles at him, and the recent successful attack) and you oppose the US attack on Japanese General Yamamoto in 1943. OK, but that's a minority view in the U.S. and it's a democracy.
posted by msalt at 6:16 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


you cannot legally, morally, or ethically kill someone without giving them a chance to examine the evidence against them and rebut it in a court of law.

You do realize that U.S. doesn't have the power to go into foreign countries and arrest people, right?
posted by msalt at 6:19 PM on July 11, 2012


@moammargaret, I agree that we should extradite people where possible, of course. Assuming Yemen couldn't or wouldn't procure the person we wanted, what would we do to stop them from getting away with it?
posted by uosuaq at 6:22 PM on July 11, 2012


moammargaret: Awlaki was outside the reach of Yemeni authorities as well. In fact, they tried and convicted him in absentia.

What do you suggest if a country (such as Pakistan) is not willing to extradite the person?
posted by msalt at 6:22 PM on July 11, 2012


Personally, I'm more focused on whether the overall body count is up or down; my equanimity with drones (although drones are not the sole focus of these articles) stems from a sense that it is substantially down.

Down compared to war, but not compared to peace. One of the distinctions I see here between war and our current counter-terror policy is that wars tend to end. It's not so clear our current stance on terrorism will, not when the technology has made it so easy to continue.

One of the key passages from the GQ article: Since taking office, you have killed thousands of people identified as terrorists or militants outside the theater of Afghanistan. You have captured and detained one. This doesn't necessarily mean that you are killing instead of capturing — "that's not even the right question," says the former administration official, who is familiar with the targeting process. "It's not at all clear that we'd be sending our people into Yemen to capture the people we're targeting. But it's not at all clear that we'd be targeting them if the technology wasn't so advanced. What's happening is that we're using the technology to target people we never would have bothered to capture."

So we are now going after people, militarily, that we would not have gone after before because it is now possible to do so. But should we just because we can if, for example, it isn't reducing the number of terrorists in Yemen? What if it radicalizes one guy who is key in the next big attack, how does that factor in to our body counting? (And of course, what if we don't kill that one radical?)

I think that's a decision we need a clear, open, legal process to make on a case by case basis. A secret, quasi-legal process the executive won't even officially acknowledge exists does not rise to that standard even if you trust the judgement of that executive. The apparatus will be passed on to a Republican you don't like at some point.

Battlefield and war are extremely slippery concepts in this day and age. It's not like it is back in the 20th century.


Yes. We need to change the rules of war when war itself changes. If the law of the battlefield applies everywhere, the rules of the battlefield should not be the same as two groups marching at each other with muskets or shooting at each other from trenches. The modern battlefield, the whole world, these countries already have laws of their own. How do you decide when they are switched off to use battlefield law instead? When it was two armies, you knew the battlefield when you saw it. That isn't good enough now. Maybe the legal types here can explain more precisely the historical definition.

...he was saying goodbye to the friends he'd made. There were six or seven of them, along with a seventeen-year-old cousin. It was a night lit by a bright moon, and they were sitting around a fire. They were cooking and eating. It was initially reported that an Al Qaeda leader named Ibrahim al-Banna was among those killed, but then it was reported that al-Banna is still alive to this day. It was also reported that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was a twenty-one-year-old militant, until his grandfather released his birth certificate. There is the fog of war, and then there is the deeper fog of the Lethal Presidency. What is certain is only this: that a drone crossed the moonlit sky, and when the sun rose the next morning, the relatives of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki gathered his remains — along with those of his cousin and some teenaged boys — so that they could give a Muslim funeral to an American boy.

I don't think it's murder. I don't think it's war on the battlefield as that is commonly understood. I think it's something else that has elements of both and we need to come to terms with that out in the open and decide what to do with it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:24 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Someone who's got a weapon and is threatening to kill someone in the present moment. This really isn't difficult to figure out, even though I'm sure you'd love to make a simple thing very complex.

So the bombing raids against factories and Peenemünde in Wolrd War II were illegal and immoral. And a sniper taking a shot at an enemy general would be illegal. As were the attempts to target Saddam Hussein during the Iraq war. And since the attacks in Libya were against targets that couldn't possibly be a threat to our drones, cruise missiles and stealth bombers, that was also illegal.

So I guess you're looking for some sort of pre-gunpowder conflict to make you happy?
posted by happyroach at 6:34 PM on July 11, 2012


I don't really understand any defence of drone strikes by a country that claims to believe in due process. Because these killings occur without trial and often murder a lot of unintended people in the process, it's no different to me than, say, holding a trial in which the defendant is found guilty with only the prosecution having been allowed to present their case, and then the judge ruling that everyone else in the court room who's the same colour as the condemned will also be sent to the chair.
posted by gman at 6:45 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gman: Do bombing raids and cruise missile strikes and invasions get due process? Do they kill unintended people?

The drone attacks are no different on the criteria you name than any U.S. military strike since WW2. Except that they are by most accounts more accurate and kill fewer untargeted people. The flip side is, precisely because that cost is lower, the president is more likely to launch an attack.
posted by msalt at 6:50 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


One out of six posts from one person right out of the gate is probably a little bit excessive. Let it breath. People will still be wrong on the internet in an hour.
posted by absalom at 6:54 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


For the legal picture, one could start with the Military Law Review and look up articles on special forces and punitive actions in particular.

Claims that civilian law applies are specious. If you don't understand why, maybe go back and look through some previous discussions of this topic where it has been explained over and over and over again.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:03 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's murder. I don't think it's war on the battlefield as that is commonly understood. I think it's something else that has elements of both and we need to come to terms with that out in the open and decide what to do with it.
Very good point.
Maybe a start would be to define what it is exactly that America is at war with.
At the moment it seems that the Armed forces have a brand new shiney toy and can use it vaporise brown people who don't think like real 'mericuns.
There is no transparency and less accountability for what is going on.
America as a nation seem to have never really wanted justice only vengence and the cowboy culture sure runs strong in your military.
posted by adamvasco at 7:04 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


msalt: Do bombing raids and cruise missile strikes and invasions get due process? Do they kill unintended people?

Obviously there's no due process in those forms of war either, and obviously there's a lot of what the United States likes to refer to as "collateral damage" in most any military action, but I just can't wrap my head around why killing by drone seems to get more of a pass, even from a lot of people who self-identify as left wing. It's like because drones are unmanned and cheaper to utilize, it's somehow more sterile and acceptable. Like less risk for the "good guys" means it's somehow more civilized. Drones don't seem very accurate to the dozens of people who are killed at a Pakistani wedding when the United States believes a target is in attendance. Knowing what I know about how inaccurate their "lists" and "intelligence" are, it scares the piss out of me to think that these guys are playing judge, jury, and executioner.
posted by gman at 7:08 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald, Salon: Bravery and drone pilots - The Pentagon considers awarding war medals to those who operate America's death-delivering video games
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:20 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just can't wrap my head around why killing by drone seems to get more of a pass, even from a lot of people who self-identify as left wing.

Do drone strikes actually get more of a pass than soldiers shooting people? Is anyone. pro- or anti-military, arguing that there's an ethical difference?
posted by nangar at 7:25 PM on July 11, 2012


"Hey, Hey, BHO, how many kids did you kill in a row?"
posted by blue_beetle at 7:30 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's enough hypocrisy coming from both sides on this issue that NO ONE has the moral high ground. So you Martini drinking liberal elite, and you whiskey swilling rednecks can both just get over yourselves. I prefer the idea of surgical strikes that get the job done. Our tools and our intelligence network are not good enough yet that this is what we get. Someday our tools may be good enough, I have doubts about our intelligence. Now on the other side of this, as has been pointed out, HE WAS TRIED AND FOUND GUILTY IN ABSENTIA. Got it? There was due process. Is it perfect? No. I hear people laughingly refer to our allies in the region. Like Pakistan? Really? These are fair weather friends and if we thought that Yemen would have turned him over, we would have gotten him that way.
posted by evilDoug at 7:34 PM on July 11, 2012


But I'm a bourbon swilling liberal elite!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:35 PM on July 11, 2012


"Hand the country to Romney" my ass. What's the worst he could do [...]

Oh Jesus fuck here we go again.
posted by fleacircus at 7:39 PM on July 11, 2012


Alawki was never charged with a crime.

By the time Clinton shot a cruise missile at OBL he had participated in two U.S. embassy bombings and had declared war on us.

I'm guessing there was a warrant/indictment floating around in there too.
posted by wrapper at 7:40 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


He was tried in absentia by Yemen, not by the US. But anyway, for all we know Yemen was the country that killed him anyway,

In the official view of the Obama administration, it’s totally possible that the drone that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was owned and operated by the Yemen government.


Is anyone. pro- or anti-military, arguing that there's an ethical difference?

It's a positive that you can surrender to a man with a gun. You can't surrender to a drone you never even see. The cost of sending your own men must be balanced on a case by case basis, however.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:42 PM on July 11, 2012


I'm a redneck, and I prefer beer. I also know some liberals, and they like beer too. I don't know anyone who drinks whiskey or martinis. Maybe we could get back on the subject of drones?
posted by nangar at 7:53 PM on July 11, 2012


the cowboy culture sure runs strong in your military.

Slight tangent: I'm not certain, but from what I've been able to establish, describing someone as a bit of a cowboy doesn't carry the same meaning in the USA as it does outside it,
posted by -harlequin- at 8:05 PM on July 11, 2012


It's the modern form of warfare when you are battling enemies who wear no uniforms and are dispersed in cells around the world.
posted by ericb at 8:06 PM on July 11, 2012


you are the first who has made use of your power to target and kill individuals identified as a threat to the United States throughout your entire term.

Bullshit. Was Bay of Pigs not intended to take out Castro? Was the Afghan invasion of 2001 not intended to neutralize Osama bin Laden?

Drone strikes do not make me happy or pleased. But they are a damn sight less harmful than invasions that result in thousands of innocent civilians killed, injured or displaced.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:07 PM on July 11, 2012


The United States does not allow trials in absentia. If someone flees or avoids the U.S., and no foreign power extradites them, there is no way under our legal system to give them a trial. That's the crux of the problem.

Also, of course, if you are hiding in a lawless region of a country halfway around the world, developing plots to attack the U.S., it's more difficult to develop evidence for a trial. EG bin Laden in the 90s, Awlaki in Yemen. And if the US did present the evidence they have, they might destroy the value of the spy or monitoring system that got the evidence and might get future evidence.

Of course, unscrupulous or incompetent military types can use these reasons to protect and expand their power. No easy solutions that I see.
posted by msalt at 8:13 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


THE BUSH APPROACH: More or less to provide avenues for your buddies to make a shit load of money (i.e. war profiteering) with alot of the fighting and rebuilding contracted out to their previous, as well as current companies (e.g. Halibutron, Blackwater, etc.).

Use of Contractors Added to War’s Chaos in Iraq.
posted by ericb at 8:14 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has the Obama administration killed any Americans inside the United States? Has it killed any Americans outside the United States except for Anwar al-Awlaki?
posted by kirkaracha at 8:19 PM on July 11, 2012


Drones are a fairly new technology that the military has that they didn't have before. It's not Democratic or Republican technology, and it's not "cowboy" or "liberal elite" technology.
posted by nangar at 8:23 PM on July 11, 2012


Has it killed any Americans outside the United States except for Anwar al-Awlaki?

I dunno, did you look at the publicly released listing of each person we have targeted and killed to check?

We do know that Awlaki's son died in a drone strike, at least.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:33 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Right, Awlaki's son was a U.S. citizen. According to the article in this FPP, it's not clear whether he was targeted personally or not (as opposed to being with someone else who was.) His killing seems a lot more problematic than his dad's. The Bush administration also killed a U.S. citizen (Kamal Derwish) with a drone strike back in 2002, and there was a second US citizen (Samir Khan) killed in the Anwar Awlaki strike. I think it's generally accepted that neither was directly targeted. I don't think there were any others.

Inside the U.S., the only thing I could find was Bonnie and Clyde, who were ambushed in what, 1939, and obviously with guns not drones.
posted by msalt at 8:49 PM on July 11, 2012


It's not Democratic or Republican technology

That's the point of the article, in a way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:55 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drone strikes do not make me happy or pleased. But they are a damn sight less harmful than invasions that result in thousands of innocent civilians killed, injured or displaced.

This strikes me as a bug, not a feature, in one sense (although it's obviously better if fewer people are murdered), since reducing the number of people affected apparently makes such activities legitimate in the eyes of people who would otherwise be opposed. It's all murder. The "lethal president" epithet is a good one: as things currently stand, and have stood for quite a while, running for national office (in several different countries) is a de facto admission of willingness to be complicit in murder, and people who do this should be judged accordingly. In fact, people who vote for these people are, in so doing, also making a tiny equivalent admission, and should be judged, to a tiny extent, accordingly. Their enemy-du-jour is also quite likely a murderer. The only tragedy in the whole fucked-up business worth lamenting is that it's prohibitively hard to dissociate oneself, and impossible to effect any meaningful change.
posted by kengraham at 8:59 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Who in Yemen is a threat to our country? This is a variation on what I've said in previous threads but let me restate it here. The fact that some Americans somewhere may be threatened does not give the U.S. government the legal or moral right to bomb whoever it thinks need bombing. This is fascism plain and simple. We are a nation sleepwalking through a fascist metamorphosis that seems to be accelerating under Obama not slowing as some had hoped.

The only tragedy in the whole fucked-up business worth lamenting is that it's prohibitively hard to dissociate oneself, and impossible to effect any meaningful change.

During the Bush regime I moved to Central America for several years. That seemed to work for me, but then my wife found me and I wasn't long for Nicaragua. But yeah if anything the Obama presidency has proven my own assumptions about our political system to be correct. Not only that, but watching the interplay and differences between my "liberal" and "conservative" relatives and friends was also quite illuminating. Things that were "evil" were suddenly "realistic". Things that were done to "keep us safe" were suddenly the machinations of a "socialist". I've basically gotten to the point that i'm about ready to write off anyone who claims either party or ideological label as braindead. Cause at this point if you believe anything either of them(or the media for that matter) are telling you that's what you have to be.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:22 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


One thing he would almost certainly do, and possibly not the worst, is invade Iran, as he and his advisers have publicly urged.

Advisors like John Bolton.
posted by homunculus at 9:25 PM on July 11, 2012


1. Recall Obama's joke about drones at the correspondent's banquet.

2. Recall Bush's joke about the whereabouts of the weapons mass destruction evidence.

The whole thing is fundamentally horrific and the blood is upon almost all our hands.

Ewwww please get it off of me.
posted by bukvich at 9:25 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The fact that some Americans somewhere may be threatened does not give the U.S. government the legal or moral right to bomb whoever it thinks need bombing.

That depends on how you mean "threatened."
posted by Amanojaku at 9:57 PM on July 11, 2012


That depends on how you mean "threatened."

You're right it does. Are you currently aware of any existential threats to the United States? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that peasants in Yemen do not count as an existential threat let alone a legal or moral justification for indiscriminate drone warfare.

There is of course an existential threat to our country(well to all of humanity actually), but it surely isn't from any "terrorist organization."
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:21 PM on July 11, 2012


Existential threats? You mean the U.S. can't respond to anything less than nuclear annihilation, or something else that would destroy us? World War 2 wouldn't even pass that test, either from the Japanese or Hitler.
posted by msalt at 10:51 PM on July 11, 2012


[Deleted some comments. Please make your point without attacking other users.]
posted by vacapinta at 2:01 AM on July 12, 2012


> Existential threats? You mean the U.S. can't respond to anything less than nuclear annihilation, or something else that would destroy us? World War 2 wouldn't even pass that test, either from the Japanese or Hitler.

Except that, even if you include 9/11, your chance as an American of dying from terrorism is a lot less than slipping and falling in the bathtub.

If you are only interested in the last 10 years, your chances of dying of terrorism are less than the chances of being struck by lightning.

The incorrect reasoning pattern we see time and time again is moving from "Some threats to America are large enough require a violent response" (which no one denies) to "Any threat against America, no matter how small, is enough to require a violent response" (which is the current state of affairs).

This is a problem, because if you allow yourself to kill random people if you think they might possibly pose any threat at all to America, well, you're going to kill a lot of innocent people...

This idea that America is terrified and needs to strike out violently and repeatedly was old even soon after 9/11 - by the end of 2001, the US had already killed more foreigners than had ever been killed in all foreign terrorist attacks on its soil, up to and including 9/11.

There's also the question of legality. There is a general consensus that your Constitutional rights are somehow suspended on "the battlefield". Perhaps so, but when the battlefield is redefined so it's anywhere, and any time, and and the US can literally kill people in their sleep in their own homes and call it a battlefield death, there's a problem. The Constitution guarantees US citizens due process. When the government redefines due process so that it means that they have a secret discussion and never tells us the details, there's a problem.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:45 AM on July 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Really, the next big step in the drone program is using them to target heads of state. I am sure that someone, somewhere, has got a contingency plan to ram a UAV down Ahmadinejad's throat; perhaps the next time he makes a "threathening" remark about Israel.

The questions of morality, legality, and ethics around drones are important; but from the point of view of everyone involved in that waging of war this is the "big thing". So, you have to ask yourself where do they go from here? Once you have a gadget, like an iPhone say, you are always looking to increase its capabilities. Same thing with drones, so aside from all the discussion in the civil society about the propriety of drones will do nothing to dent their development or use; as mentionned, it isn't even an election issue.

The only way public opinion will be swayed against drones is when they start being used regularly on home soil, which is inevitable in my opinion, but will likely not happen for another 10 yrs or so.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:24 AM on July 12, 2012


You do realize that U.S. doesn't have the power to go into foreign countries and arrest people, right?

It doesn't?

It sure acts like it does.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:57 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno, did you look at the publicly released listing of each person we have targeted and killed to check?


This is the closest thing we've got
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:08 AM on July 12, 2012


I agree that drone strikes are not to be condoned or taken lightly. We all must question them and, basically, try to get out of the remote-controlled murder business.

But I do not see clear evidence that this is somehow more evil or further down the slippery slope than all-out invasions. I don't see the US taking the next step of drone hits on heads of state, outside the context of a declared war. Besides, for that they have polonium. Likewise - drone strikes will certainly NOT be used within the US. Get real. It would be Waco times 100.

From a tactical point of view, there may be a stronger deterrent effect to drone hits. If the only possible US reaction to a terrorist cell in a sympathetic country is invasion (after a threshold event occurs), the terrorists know they're fairly safe to operate, and the invasion if it comes is a great recruiting tool. If, on the other hand, the response to terrorist activity is a small, clean strike that can come at any time, without warning... well it's certainly a clear sign to others that they probably shouldn't hang with those people. Terrorist X in country Y can't tell the average citizen of Y that the great Satan wants to hurt you, when the great Satan is only targeting X and his friends.

How are we to put your hand-wringing over the legality of a drone hit against the large-scale destruction of invasion and war? If the choice is between drones or invasion, why not drones?
posted by Artful Codger at 5:21 AM on July 12, 2012


What do you suggest if a country (such as Pakistan) is not willing to extradite the person?

I actually don't have (much of) a problem with special ops going in and making an arrest, if the host government is not cooperative. I had no problem with invading Osama Bin Laden's compound, up until the point that they shot him in the head while he was unarmed. A country that valued law over fear would have arrested the asshole and tried him before a jury of his peers in the Southern District of New York.
posted by moammargaret at 5:48 AM on July 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


> But I do not see clear evidence that this is somehow more evil or further down the slippery slope than all-out invasions.

> If the choice is between drones or invasion, why not drones?

FALSE DICHOTOMY.

What about doing nothing? Why can't the US just not kill people in foreign countries for a while, just because they *might* be dangerous?

This strategy has gone on for decades and it has worked badly every time.

And frankly, if they could promise that there would be no more invasions, then I'd really not care as much about the drone attacks.

But there will be further full-on invasions by the US - who would doubt it? AND there will be drone attacks between the main events.

So we don't get the choice of "no invasions" - we get the choice of "intermittent invasions" or "constant drone attacks and intermittent invasions".

And it all fails. Everyone will hate America more - young kids will grow up dreaming of ways to strike back against the country of the faceless, cowardly drone attacks.

How awful.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:02 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


> A country that valued law over fear would have arrested the asshole [Bin Laden] and tried him before a jury of his peers in the Southern District of New York.

Amen!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:03 AM on July 12, 2012


Did Osama bin Laden really have a bunch of "peers" in the Southern District of New York? (Wealthy Islamist Saudi heirs?) There aren't too many historical precedents for going into another country and capturing someone to take him back to your country for trial. Different cultures, legal systems, etc.

It's interesting that Gerson's two counter-examples are in fact arrests that required invading and taking over foreign countries. I don't think it is clear that there will be future invasions by the U.S. Certainly not by Obama, who seems to understand full well what a disaster they are.

Technology keeps advancing. Those same advances have helped terrorists strike across continents, and help governments strike back. It's all pretty disturbing but it seems unrealistic that either side is going to un-invent or stop using advanced technology, any more than people gave up artillery, the rifle, aerial bombing or missiles.
posted by msalt at 6:30 AM on July 12, 2012


Imagine how fun (read: nightmarish) diplomacy with Pakistan would be if our dealings with Bin Laden had not swift and irreversible.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 6:53 AM on July 12, 2012


The Constitution guarantees US citizens due process.

No, it doesn't. From The Bill of Rights:
No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
Emphasis mine.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:57 AM on July 12, 2012


Did Osama bin Laden really have a bunch of "peers" in the Southern District of New York? (Wealthy Islamist Saudi heirs?) There aren't too many historical precedents for going into another country and capturing someone to take him back to your country for trial. Different cultures, legal systems, etc.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
posted by moammargaret at 7:04 AM on July 12, 2012


Mr Yonderboy, I gotta disagree.

Zero hostile actions would be lovely. But, c'mon - the US doesn't follow Gandhi-ji, and is not likely to for a while yet. And there are still people and interests hostile to the US (either as proxies, or all on their lonesome) who do pose threats. The current political and national reality is such that the US will not sit idly, if there's a detectable threat. Pacifism is not on the menu yet.

Given this unfortunate reality... what tools are in the toolbox, and which do the least harm, overall? Re moral hazard... are you all absolutely certain that the bin Laden raid was a planned hit and not an arrest attempt?

It still seems to me that drone hits are the lesser of two evils, as a response to terrorist groups. I believe that careful use of drone hits will lessen the perceived necessity of invasion, when a country is sheltering known terrorists . I do believe that, again in regards to genuine terrorist organizations, a drone hit is a stronger deterrent and less effective for terrorist recruiting. If the drone hits are reliably on-target and collateral damage is low, I think most people would for practical reasons avoid contact with the terrorist organization.

My argument is of course hopelessly simplistic, and doesn't account for entire countries who are controlled by hostile groups.

In regards to progress overall... what wars has Obama started? What Vietnam has festered under his watch? What are his Iran-contra-grade skeletons? Have extra-legal renditions and lawless gulags increased during his term? (yes...still have gitmo. -sigh-). Despite the work remaining to be done, and the troubling ethics and legalities of foreign drone strikes, I would still suggest that the US is less hostile than when Obama took office.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:05 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


are you all absolutely certain that the bin Laden raid was a planned hit and not an arrest attempt?

yes. Was that ever seriously in doubt?
posted by moammargaret at 7:09 AM on July 12, 2012


moammargeret, your article points to a likelihood but not a certainty:

"If he had waved a white flag of surrender, he would have been taken alive," the official added. But the operating assumption among the U.S. raiders was that bin Laden would put up a fight -- which he did.

Considering that in the US, someone waving a toothbrush menacingly will most likely be shot dead by police, sure the probability was high that bin Laden would be killed. That might even have been his intent, in preference to being taken alive. This doesn't make it a hit.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:17 AM on July 12, 2012


"This was a kill operation," one of the officials said.
It's pretty pointless to debate over your personal definition of "a planned hit", but I think it's pretty clear that it wasn't "an arrest attempt".
posted by cdward at 7:26 AM on July 12, 2012


So you choose to ignore the 'white flag' part of the linked quote, from the same officer? whatever.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:37 AM on July 12, 2012


Jeez, what are you guys, CNN? Parroting the government line as truth?
How about this: Officials described the reaction of the special operators when they were told a number of weeks ago that they had been chosen to train for the mission. “They were told, ‘We think we found Osama bin Laden, and your job is to kill him,’” an official recalled.
posted by moammargaret at 7:41 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation

So a kangaroo court and institutionalized murder is preferable to simply killing the person? Well I suppose it's exciting to be able to publicly condemn a man to death, but don't try totell me that it would be possible to give OBL a fair trial anywhere in the US, or Europe for that matter.

The only thing to do would be to politely ask Pakistan to put him on trial, or maybe deport him to Saudi Arabia where they would have a fair trial. Or we could start a Facebook campaign against him or something.
posted by happyroach at 7:45 AM on July 12, 2012


> drone strikes will certainly NOT be used within the US. Get real. It would be Waco times 100.

I'm guessing the camel's nose will be strikes in inaccessable areas along the US-Mexico border. I doubt the drone operators will care greatly which side of the border the missiles land on.
posted by jfuller at 7:55 AM on July 12, 2012


The United States does not allow trials in absentia. If someone flees or avoids the U.S., and no foreign power extradites them, there is no way under our legal system to give them a trial. That's the crux of the problem.

Trials in absentia are already allowed in certain circumstances. To the extent they are prohibited the courts have so far held that they are prohibited only because of statutory law (specifically the rules of criminal procedure), not because of the Constitution. "Because we find Rule 43 dispositive, we do not reach Crosby's claim that his trial in absentia was also prohibited by the Constitution." Crosby v. United States, 506 US 255, 262 (1993).

It's entirely possible that the law could be amended to allow trials in absentia for terrorism suspects. I don't really favor that approach (I prefer proper trials), but it would be a damn sight better than secret, unappealable decisions by the executive branch.
posted by jedicus at 8:03 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also wonder if there's an Eighth Amendment issue here as well. The administration claims that due process is required before depriving these alleged terrorists of life and that the "kill list" is that due process. But if due process is required, then surely the execution must also be carried out in a non-cruel and non-unusual manner?

Now, I suppose we could say that we don't apply the Eighth Amendment to enemy soldiers, but then we don't give them due process, either. It's very strange to me that the administration has decided that the subjects of the targeted killings get certain constitutional rights but not others.

According to one law review article [pdf] the justification is that the killing is not a punishment but rather a military operation. But why is due process required before beginning a military operation? There's some vague stuff about how the targeted, specific nature of these operations requires due process, especially notice and the opportunity to surrender and thus avail oneself of the courts. But I don't find this persuasive. Either it's a military operation (in which case it needs to be authorized under the war power and that's that), or it's not (in which case the full panoply of constitutional protections apply).

However, I don't think calling it a military operation is an easy way out because I don't think the Constitution actually authorizes the kind of war we're engaged in. I think that, constitutionally, war means war between nations (though it does not necessarily require a formal declaration of war). So in my opinion the only way we could constitutionally do what we're doing is if we were at war with Pakistan, Yemen, etc, which the administration is not willing to do, and for good reason.
posted by jedicus at 8:30 AM on July 12, 2012


From a strategic standpoint, this is actually far superior to the old methods. Instead of sending in a bunch of soldiers (who, by nature, are going to break things and hurt people), we target specific individuals who are in leadership positions or who incite others to fight. That'd have a chilling effect on people who would, similarly, rise up to tell others to take arms, or take leadership positions.

It's a perfectly logical extension of the concepts involved in destroying an enemy's will to resist, rather then destroying the enemy itself. Previously, we simply never had the technology or ability to target an individual in this way before.

If people like it or not, this sort of thing is just going to become more common (and more precise) as time goes on. There was a similar outcry against aerial bombardment, and similar outcry against every other innovation in warfare, at some point.
posted by dethb0y at 9:36 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Likewise - drone strikes will certainly NOT be used within the US. Get real. It would be Waco times 100.

It Couldn’t Happen Here, It Does Happen There: The Value of American -- and Afghan -- Lives
posted by homunculus at 10:32 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tom Junod: Secrets and World Ties: Obama's Killer Contradiction

Glenn Greenwald: Excuses for assassination secrecy: A high-level defender of Obama's drone secrecy says "it's not to cover up wrongdoing." Let's see if that's credible
posted by homunculus at 11:35 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


msalt wrote: Also, of course, if you are hiding in a lawless region of a country halfway around the world, developing plots to attack the U.S., it's more difficult to develop evidence for a trial.

Wait, you need more evidence for a trial than for an execution? In any event, despite the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki could easily have been prosecuted for a whole lot of offenses (e.g., conspiracy with al-Qaeda members, or with the Fort Hood shooter or the "Underwear Bomber") he wasn't actually charged with anything. I don't know why they didn't do this for at least a pro forma attempt to make things look legal; perhaps they'd have looked silly if he actually defended the charges. Or perhaps they were just rarin' to go.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2012


Down compared to war, but not compared to peace. One of the distinctions I see here between war and our current counter-terror policy is that wars tend to end. It's not so clear our current stance on terrorism will, not when the technology has made it so easy to continue.

I'm conflicted on this because I just finished watching the BBC Battlefields series on WWII battles. The Allies were both incompetent and massively lethal. Killing refugees, fireboming German cities, and killing hundreds of thousands of German soldiers while also dieing themselves in the hundreds of thousands. War was truly epically awful. It was also 6 years or so.

The war on terror has been 10 years and all over the world and still going fairly strong but is not even near to the death tolls civilian, military or terrorist of even one major WWII battle. Ten years of war probably doesn't even equal the killing totals of the allied invasion of Italy. BUT and it is a big but that, I cannot lie, I do not like, war is evil and and even targeted specific controlled war is evil. Evil corrupts. There are probably already simple political opponents on the no fly list. There are probably some drone kills that are made to kill political opponents of allies. Eventually this will expand even further because nobody can stop them.
posted by srboisvert at 12:39 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


but is not even near to the death tolls civilian, military or terrorist of even one major WWII battle.

Probably a reflection of the fact that the 'war' on terror is a US attempt to exterminate what, a few thousand people at most? Comparing the various instances of Al Qaeda and its sympathisers to the Wehrmacht, supported by the industrial base of most of Europe, is absurd.
posted by pompomtom at 2:53 PM on July 12, 2012


Joe in Australia: Wait, you need more evidence for a trial than for an execution?

What trial did the Barbary Pirates face? People in foreign lands attacking and killing you has always been considered war, not something you arrest and try people for. No evidence at all has been required, except the judgement of the army or commander-in-chief that an attack was sent. Obama is giving a level of due process I don't think has ever been seen before, except possibly in the Nuremberg trials, which were only possible after Germany was conquered. Admittedly, it's imperfect, and totally dependent on the good faith of the administration officials involved which is worrisome at best, and I share the concern that this "war" will never end.

But it's only the same technological advances that make drone attacks possible, that make consideration of any kind of due process possible. We're in the midst of a huge and consequential shift from anonymous group war to personal war, driven by information technology, and I don't think anyone has gotten very far working out the ramifications.

I just think "Undo it all, I don't like this!" is unrealistic.
posted by msalt at 3:11 PM on July 12, 2012


The US isn't going to be the only country utilizing lethal drones forever. Things will get interesting when China or Russia or the Mexican drug cartels decide to get in on this too.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 3:52 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US isn't going to be the only country utilizing lethal drones forever.
posted by pompomtom at 5:37 PM on July 12, 2012


The US isn't going to be the only country utilizing lethal drones forever.

Of course not. Thousands of hobbyists use versions of this technology just for fun. And likewise, the U.S. not using it wouldn't stop other nations from doing so.
posted by msalt at 6:59 PM on July 12, 2012


Msalt wrote: What trial did the Barbary Pirates face?

Which Barbary Pirates? You're very mistaken if you think that pirates were not committing criminal offences; and that no attempt was made to capture them and bring them to trial. One of the express powers granted to Congress by your Constitution is "To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas...." Perhaps you're thinking of the wars waged against the Barbary States? Real wars, declared wars, with limited scope and defined goals.

People in foreign lands attacking and killing you has always been considered war, not something you arrest and try people for.

Wait, who was Anwar al-Awlaki attacking? He was preaching, and was possibly conspiring to advance a crime or crimes, but the first is a right guaranteed by your Constitution and the second is a criminal offence.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:36 PM on July 12, 2012


The Barbary Pirates/corsairs attacked ships and coastal cities in the Mediterranean for several centuries. There were some wars fought against local leaders at the end of that period. I can't find any evidence where a pirate was arrested and taken to the US (or any other country) for trial. Can you?

I can find ships authorized to attack them outside of the war period, which is anaologous to drone attacks. Where do you get the idea that nations routinely arrest people in other countries for crimes?
posted by msalt at 10:25 PM on July 12, 2012


Well, piracy was once considered a crime so heinous that pirates were declared 'enemies of all mankind' (I forget the phrase in latin), and the concept of universal jurisdiction first arises from agreements that pirates should be pursued to the utmost, and if the host country couldn't or wouldn't do it then other countries might.

Universal jurisdiction is not exactly a popular concept in the US, mostly because elites like Henry Kissinger are terrified they might be arrested while taking a holiday overseas, and they frame the debate as being about an assault on sovereignty, or something. Personally I've no problem with a treaty that says terrorists can be hunted down and attacked as if they were old-timey pirates, seeing as it would just codify what's already taking place.
posted by Ritchie at 10:55 PM on July 12, 2012


Agreed, and if there was some kind of international court jurisdiction to challenge being on the list, so much the better. Then of course there are the newfangled pirates (Somalia, Phillipines).
posted by msalt at 12:43 AM on July 13, 2012


Of course, the US is all about respecting international courts. Ho ho ho.
posted by pompomtom at 4:25 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And likewise, the U.S. not using it wouldn't stop other nations from doing so.

No, but the US might start to think a little harder about the downsides to running unilateral aerial assasination campaigns when Russia is whacking Georgian dissidents, to name one example.

One of the alarming aspects of the drone attacks is how there doesn't seem to any incentive for them to ever stop. But when other big powers are running their own world wide, free fire zones the US might decide that, hey, maybe there ought to be a more transparent set of rules around these things.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 8:07 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


msalt wrote: I can find ships authorized to attack them outside of the war period, which is anaologous to drone attacks.

No it is not. Ships do not swoop from the air and kill people. And pirates, believe it or not, were not always easy to identify. They did not generally, e.g., fly a skull-and-crossbones from the mast; have a one-legged captain with a monkey and/or parrot on his shoulder; and the crewmembers did not lurch about declaiming "Pieces of Eight! Yoho me hearties! Arrr!" The pirate ship might, for instance, be a merchant ship that was formerly captured by pirates, and the pirate crew might be on their best behavior in order to sneak past other vessels. In those cases the navy would actually have to board the ship and study its papers in order to identify it as a pirate. In the event that a pirate ship refused to surrender there would be a battle; but the object of the battle would be to force a surrender, not to kill everyone aboard.

For the legislative side of things I recommend this American University Law Review PDF: How Piracy Has Shaped the Relationship Between American Law and International Law. It discusses how USAn courts grappled with the definition of piracy and how it was treated as a legal issue, not a military one. For the practical side of things you could do worse than read The Repression of Piracy in the West Indies. I draw particular attention to this passage:
Congress had refused authority for the commanders of our public vessels to "destroy pirates and piratical vessels found at sea or in uninhabited places," holding it inconsistent with the laws to punish without trial. [...] As for the retreat of the banditti into uninhabited parts of the islands, the commodore was told to pursue "only as long as there is reasonable prospect of being able to apprehend them," turning captives over to the local authorities for trial and punishment, or, if prosecution was not promised, holding them subject to the department's order. In port and in settled districts he could act only to aid the local authorities "to seize and bring the offenders to justice"[....]
Of course, that was then. And this is now.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:56 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oops. Here's a link to the page in The Repression of Piracy in the West Indies from which my quote is drawn.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:58 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tiny 2-Foot Missile Could Be ‘Months’ Away From Drone War
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:22 PM on July 13, 2012


Of course, the US is all about respecting international courts. Ho ho ho.

A lot better since 2009. But it tends to vary a lot every 4-8 years.
posted by msalt at 7:25 PM on July 13, 2012


Malor: "It is BULLSHIT, top to bottom. It is MURDER. It is not okay for a civilized country to do this. It just isn't. If they're not on a battlefield in the present moment, you cannot legally, morally, or ethically kill someone without giving them a chance to examine the evidence against them and rebut it in a court of law. "

But Obama won the Peace Prize!
posted by dunkadunc at 9:07 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot better since 2009.

So Obama's paid those reparations to Nicaragua then?
posted by pompomtom at 5:36 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


A Cartoon
posted by homunculus at 7:57 PM on July 14, 2012


NYT Sunday Review: The Moral Case For Drones
posted by msalt at 10:16 AM on July 15, 2012


Related: What Would Augustine Do? The President, Drones, and Just War Theory
posted by homunculus at 11:22 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the Times article:

By the count of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, which has done perhaps the most detailed and skeptical study of the strikes, the C.I.A. operators are improving their performance. The bureau has documented a notable drop in the civilian proportion of drone casualties, to 16 percent of those killed in 2011 from 28 percent in 2008. This year, by the bureau’s count, just three of the 152 people killed in drone strikes through July 7 were civilians.

Even the highest reported rate of civilian deaths from drones was much lower than the lowest rate of other ways of attacking (ground troops, bombing.) In Pakistan, for example, troop attacks resulted in 46% civilian deaths. Generally over the last few yeas, civilian deaths in military attacks range from 33% to 80%.
posted by msalt at 11:45 AM on July 15, 2012


More from Junod: What Happens When Assassination Replaces Torture?

Final Thoughts: Obama's Real Killing Problem... Is Our Problem, Too
posted by homunculus at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2012


I thought assassination referred to the killing of political or civilian leaders, not participants in an armed conflict. Am I mistaken, or is this a point of contention?
posted by msalt at 1:13 PM on July 15, 2012


not participants in an armed conflict.

Define 'participant.' Define 'armed.' Define 'conflict.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:07 PM on July 15, 2012


All military-age males in a strike zone are combatants.
posted by homunculus at 7:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


homunculus: "All military-age males in a strike zone are combatants."

Christ, that's quite a precedent to set when fighting terrorism.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:02 PM on July 15, 2012


Define 'participant.' Define 'armed.' Define 'conflict.'

We're trying to define "assassination." If you want to play word games, why don't you tell me what kind of killing is NOT assassination?

Classically, assassination is someone trying to kill a political or social leader (Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Archduke Ferdinand). But I'm open to discussion, which is why I'm asking.

Are you arguing that al Qaeda is not involved in armed conflict with the U.S.?
posted by msalt at 9:49 PM on July 15, 2012


No declared war exists between the United States and any other nation or group. Current legal doctrine is woefully inadequate for the post-Westphalian environment.

what kind of killing is NOT assassination
The killing done in armed (that is, with both participants carrying or employing armaments) conflict (where both participants recognize that a state of belligerence exists).
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:08 PM on July 15, 2012


Interrogation has been replaced with assassination
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:49 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Weekly Standard: A Drone Strike for Assad
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:41 PM on July 16, 2012


The New Inquiry: Louder Than Bombs
Where it concerns Pakistan, mainstream American media hardly ever seems to get around to the actual men, women, and plenty of children ripped apart by drones. Sadaullah and others like him are waiting to be heard in the mainstream U.S. press. They’ve volunteered time and again to speak to reporters. Photo and videos of them exist. The lawyer for some of these survivors and families of victims has offered interviews, and yet each time, the mainstream press refuses. No space. No time. Not right for us. The staff is too busy to verify.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:10 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Gaddafi killed the President of the United States during the Libyan intervention, assassination or they just killed a target on the battlefield?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:21 PM on July 16, 2012


The Lily-Pad Strategy: How the Pentagon Is Quietly Transforming Its Overseas Base Empire and Creating a Dangerous New Way of War
posted by homunculus at 12:35 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that Lily-Pad link, I read it the first time round and it is interesting to revisit it in lieu of everything else that has gone down since then.
posted by adamvasco at 11:46 AM on July 17, 2012


I think the term and strategy lily-pad was first coined ny Thomas Barnett. If you are interested in strategy you should check him out.
posted by adamvasco at 11:54 AM on July 17, 2012


The Lily-Pad link now has its own FPP. Behold the link-power of Homunculus, cower before his mighty URLs.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:16 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look upon my links, ye mighty, and despair.
posted by homunculus at 3:44 PM on July 17, 2012


I am not mighty enough to despair. But I totally would, if I was.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:17 PM on July 17, 2012


Bureau of Investigative Journalism: Analysis: CNN expert’s civilian drone death numbers don’t add up
posted by homunculus at 4:24 PM on July 17, 2012


Reason: 'No Innocent Pakistanis Killed by Drones in 2012' Still Untrustworthy Summation of Incomplete Data
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:06 PM on July 17, 2012


U.S. Officials sued over drone killings in Yemen

(This confirms that Awlaki's son was not targeted in the drone strike that killed him; he was apparently in the company of a different al Qaeda operative.)
posted by msalt at 10:24 AM on July 18, 2012


Tom Junod: For Obama's Lethal Presidency, New Suit Aims at Justice
posted by homunculus at 10:42 AM on July 18, 2012


Al Jazeera: Attack of the Drones
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:26 AM on July 20, 2012


Fear of drone GPS hacking raised by Congress as FAA deadline looms: After pushing FAA to allow UAVs, Congress now has second thoughts on safety.
posted by homunculus at 4:46 PM on July 22, 2012


NYTimes: Drone Pilots Are Changing, And Changed By, Remote Warfare
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:26 PM on July 30, 2012


Killer-Drone Showdown Set as Lockheed Unveils Jet-Powered ‘Bot
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:24 PM on July 30, 2012


Are y'all duelin' or what?
posted by Burhanistan at 7:33 AM on July 31, 2012


All of my drone post updates are done semi-autonomously via remote script. {/}
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:54 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mine are piloted by 19-year old video gamers in Arizona.
posted by msalt at 10:40 AM on August 2, 2012


Russian Drones Lag U.S. Models by 20 Years

Giant Drone's Laser Cannon Nixed By Congress

Army Eyes Robot Rescue Copter for Wounded Troops

Navy Robot Copter Clears Probation, Chases African Pirates
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:40 PM on August 6, 2012


That last link would make a great buddy movie. I'm thinking Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the part of Navy Robot Copter, and some non-threatening black guy for the partner who gets killed by pirates at the start of the movie. So just like a normal buddy movie, except the lead is a robot copter.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:58 PM on August 6, 2012


The Philosopher Making The Moral Case For US Drones: 'There's no downside.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:54 AM on August 7, 2012


That philosopher is really addressing the tough questions against the use of drones:
Another objection is that risk-free remote killing degrades traditional conceptions of valour. "You hear that from within the military and the average American on the street. That's a real concern, I share it. But when you speak to these pilots – or operators, there's a debate over the correct term - they'll tell you it's a very stressful job. Several of them have had PTSD. Think about
what they see all day … you're watching people die on your screen."
Yes. That has troubled me too: is it unmanly to kill people from a distance? Will it cheapen the sacrifices made by people who kill people with their hands, or at least with a tool that gives the soldier some physical sensation when he takes a life? And the answer is no. As anyone who plays Call of Duty can tell you, watching people die on a video screen can be stressful. We can rest easy, knowing that American soldiers will not become girly-men without intestinal fortitude.

Also, they could probably get joysticks with haptic feedback. Those rock.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:05 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arnold Schwarznegger is great at playing robotic copters.
posted by msalt at 9:30 AM on August 7, 2012


Wait, is Gordon-Levitt playing the voice of the Navy Robot Copter, or is he playing its human pilot? Maybe, he's like some kind of reverse Batman where he pretends to be a robot, and the entrance to the Robot Copter is hidden so no one knows there's actually a human inside there?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2012


Wow, that's a lot more sophisticated than my mental image of a guy with fuselage strapped to his arms and a propeller on his head. You know, like Robocop, but a copter. And he would need a catchphrase too. Maybe "There's a new cop... ter on the block!" Well, something like that anyway.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:04 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, so his torso is wired in permanently? That's workable. So many options.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:08 PM on August 7, 2012


As the technology improved you'd need less of the original person, eventually using just the head, like these guys from Doctor Who.
posted by homunculus at 3:33 PM on August 7, 2012


Since Danger Room is the source for many of these links, I'll put this here: NCIS Targets Danger Room in Silliest Leak Investigation Ever
posted by homunculus at 10:20 AM on August 8, 2012


I'm going to have to put the screenplay on hold while I sort out the rights. It looks like someone already did it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:09 PM on August 8, 2012


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