Free Markets, Free People

UAVs, extrajudicial and targeted killings

If you haven’t wondered about the morality of this or its legality, I’d be surprised.

It’s easy to overlook, after all it’s the “good guys” doing it, right?

While I usually ignore most of what the UN says, I think there’s some substance here:

The US policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings presents a major challenge to the system of international law that has endured since the second world war, a United Nations investigator has said.

Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva 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.

In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Heyns suggested some may even constitute "war crimes". His comments come amid rising international unease over the surge in killings by remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

A lot of times I apply the “what if some other country was doing this to the US” standard to things we do.  Take Fast and Furious.  What if Mexico had run that operation on us?  We’d be “furious”.  We’d condemn them roundly.  We’d be seeking redress.  We’d be initiating some sort of action.

Now given, in certain of the cases with UAV’s, governments of countries effected are cooperating and, in some cases, even giving permission.  But that isn’t always the case as we well know.  In fact, many times this country just executes an extra-judicial and/or targeted killing without the knowledge or consent of the government of the state in which it takes place.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of death of innocents that is euphemistically waved away as “collateral damage”.

Certainly the use of UAVs as a military asset that can both gather intel and be used to attack legitimate enemies makes sense.  But we’re into a very gray moral area with “extra-judicial” and targeted killings in other countries. 

The irony, of course, is the administration that arrogantly condemned its predecessor for secret jails and military tribunals and insisted that the judicial system be used in the war on terror instead now acts as judge, jury and executioner in these UAV killings. 

I just wondered what we’d think if Pakistan began flying UAVs into the US and knocking off politicians who supported UAV strikes in Pakistan, calling them “war criminals” and all?

Think we’d find that outrageous, a violation of our sovereignty and international law and be whining to the UN about what was being done by that country (not to mention beating the war drums here at home)?

Yeah, me too.

Would we have a legal or moral leg to stand on?


Twitter: @McQandO

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54 Responses to UAVs, extrajudicial and targeted killings

  • All part of the outlaw Obamabanana Republic.
    And I repeat Drago’s First Law: no value the Collective imposes on others applies to them.
    Sort of a sweet, sweet Nelson Muntz HA, HA! moment for the Prince Of Peace Prize idiots.

    • I thought for a moment that you were referring to William Joyce (AKA Lord Haw-Haw of Zeesen)

  • They talked about this yesterday on RT (Russia Today), the home of #Occupy and anything that is subversive towards the US.
    The good points they made were that, while completely avoiding the topic of non-state players, Obama has gone off on a fight against a tactic, terrorism.  The problem as they saw it was the terrorism (or any other tactic) has no bounds and the war will never end.  The war against a tactic must be fought any place on the globe that it comes up.  So, this means that Obama is at war with the world .. or something.

  • The following day, the New York Times published a long article documenting how Obama personally selects the victims of his drone attacks across the world. He does this on “terror Tuesdays” when he browses through mug shots on a “kill list”, some of them teenagers, including “a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years”. Many are unknown or simply of military age. Guided by “pilots” sitting in front of computer screens in Las Vegas, the drones fire Hellfire missiles that suck the air out of lungs and blow people to bits. Last September, Obama killed a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, purely on the basis of hearsay that he was inciting terrorism. “This one is easy,” he is quoted by aides as saying as he signed the man’s death warrant. On 6 June, a drone killed 18 people in a village in Afghanistan, including women, children and the elderly who were celebrating a wedding.
    The New York Times article was not a leak or an expose. It was a piece of PR designed by the Obama administration to show what a tough guy the ‘commander-in-chief’ can be in an election year. If re-elected, Brand Obama will continue serving the wealthy, pursuing truth-tellers, threatening countries, spreading computer viruses and murdering people every Tuesday.

  • “Heyns suggested some may even constitute “war crimes”. ”

    It would be absolutely hilarious if Obama was actually charged with war crimes while Bush got off scot free!  I don’t like either of ’em, but I would love to see the left’s reaction…

    • As has been pointed out a few places .. Bush got the Congress to authorize the Iraq War .. but .. nobody has ever specifically authorized the “Drone Wars” outside of Iraq or Afghanistan/Pakistan theaters.  Obama only in the last two weeks has sent the required (according to the War Powers Act) documents to Congress in regard to Yemen and Somalia.

  • Ironic isn’t it that those who were (some still are) calling for Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld to be arrested for war crimes are holding up the drone war as “Obama keeping the U.S. safe”.

  • “Would we have a legal or moral leg to stand on?”
    No, we wouldn’t, and no, we don’t.    Flinging missiles into other countries that are too small to prevent us from doing so, and too small to retaliate is NOT exactly what I think of as “American”.  I’ve never liked it and it has nothing to do with which administration is doing it.

  • I hate to be fair to Baracky but we all cheered when he launched a boots on the ground operation into an ostensibly sovereign nation to kill a terrorist….

    • Didn’t we declare to the world after 9/11 that we’d go anywhere to get Bin Laden, yeah or nay from the country sheltering him?   I take that one as a little different from Tuesday death warrants from the White House.

      • They are all violations of sovereignty. There are no differences. If tomorrow, Pakistan declares Salman Rushdie to be their state enemy, we wouldn’t say “oh, that’s cool, its just like Bin Laden.”
        It doesn’t really matter anyways. There is no such thing as international law, and sovereignty can only be maintained by military force.
        The whole problem with the drones and the WoT is that the enemy is not a state, but a nebulous network. It makes “ending” the violence much harder.
        Also, would you view going into Mexico after Pancho Villa to be a “death warrant” vs. a military target?

  • “In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Heyns suggested some may even constitute “war crimes” ”
    Does this mean his Peace Prize can be repossessed?
    As they say, ‘What goes around, comes around’. Building drones is not rocket science, and even if it were, the basic technology would be over half a century old. And it could be done untraceably. The hardest part would be getting the explosives, and we know how easy that is for anyone seriously interested in doing us harm. I mean, of course, all those right-wing militias, not anyone associated with the religion of peace or foreign organizations/countries.

    • Hell, the drug cartels have pretty serviceable subs…  Any old light plane could be “drone-a-fied” by a moderately talented mechanic.

  • I don’t understand the problem. If we used piloted aircraft to kill people, the result is the same. So what’s the big deal with drones?
    If you are concerned about a “kill list” then why wasn’t the playing cards in Iraq a problem? Was ambushing Yamamato’s plane a war crime? How about the attempt on Rommel?
    What about decapitation attacks we have done in other conflicts like Gulf War I and II, plus Serbia, plus Libya?

    • If the difference is that those are all state enemies…well, that’s why the War on Terror is so special. I think the only way to end the war on terror will be a national consensus that its “over” and we slowly wind down the military aspect and go back to law enforcement. A transition in Afghan from troops to drones will be a part of that.
      The biggest fear would be it becoming like the War on Drugs, i.e. never-ending.

      • Also, a kill list has good points as well as bad points:
        1) Its limited rather than unlimited. We don’t go firebombing Aden like we did Dresden. (Well, not us, but you get the idea.)
        2) The people making the list have to be a little worried about any mistakes coming back to haunt them. That at least puts some pause into the procedure and maybe some accountability.
        If I were in charge I would have a cut-off…say 500 people. So the guys picking and choosing will be careful not to just add another guy to the list for the hell of it.

        • “If I were in charge I would have a cut-off…say 500 people. So the guys picking and choosing will be careful not to just add another guy to the list for the hell of it.”
          And what is the current reality since citizen Harun isn’t running for election this year? 🙂

          • How do you I am not Romney, sitting here drinking a beer and enjoying my alter ego for a moment?

        • Well except the Afghan president finally forbid us to hit houses in A’stan because of all the families we were killing (and of course, now the Taliban will use houses since they’re about as safe as anything there now). It stands to reason that such a prohibition isn’t being observed in Yemen, Somolia and Pakistan. Comfy with that?

          Again, the question posed: if Pakistan or Somolia start doing the same here, we okay with? Ce la guerre? If they pop Haurn’s house based on some faulty intel, no biggie?

          • Yes, if my country was essentially a war zone, then I would expect that my house could easily be targeted, even by mistake. It would suck big time.
            In the case of Pakistan, they do not fully control the border areas. They have their own problems with the said terrorists bombing WITHIN Pakistan. So those poor saps have double the chance to get hit.
            In the case of Somalia, Yemen, etc. these are all countries in civil war or close to it. I seriously doubt the governments we support there are against our drone attacks.
            Note, We don’t use drones to bomb a suspected terrorist house in France for a reason. Their government can take care of things within their borders.
            Karzai keeps limiting the ROE. Now, since I am not there and not an expert, maybe he is correct, but I recently have watched some documentaries on Afghanistan, including a Danish one, and you definitely get the vibe that the ROE’s are hurting as well as helping. (Battle for Majah on HBO was good – it on youtube now.)
            The fact is the world is getting very strange. An American imam in Yemen can reach out to people all over the world on the internet and promote terror attacks. It seems fitting he gets killed by a drone piloted by some guy at Beale AFB.
            I am also confused by the thinking that if we don’t use drones, no one else will.

          • Not my question (i.e. “war zone”) … if, because of the actions of your country … the US … a nation in which we were doing this suddenly began returning the favor here, would it be all right with you? Since we’re doing it there without their permission, then is it alright if they do the same here? Like I said in the article, targeting politicians, etc. Think we’d raise hell about it, call it an illegal attack, or claim “fair is fair”?

            Finally … your last point is the key. If they do, and they use them here without our consent (and kill US citizens), are we all right with that since we’re doing that already in their country? That’s one of the points of the article linked. Our actions are setting a precedent. Will we be all right with the precedent if it is eventually used on us?

      • With these types of killings it is already like the War on Drugs. In one we’re making war on a product. In the other, a tactic.

        • Fine. When I refer to “The war on terror” you may consider that shorthand for “The war on Al Qaeda and various other Islamic militants that threaten the US or its allies at some level above law enforcement nuisance”

          • I knew what you meant, but I’m simply pointing out that the war on terror (a tactic) most likely won’t stop with those named “enemies”. There’ll always be more terrorists. So in essence we’re fighting a tactic that will most likely be in use forever by many diverse and to this point, unknown groups (some of whom will morph out of the named groups you mention).

    • UAV’s are just the means …. is extrajudicial killing done with violations of national soverignty (i.e. without the cooperation or consent of the nation) ok? If it is, is it ok if another nation begins doing it here?

      • OK, I re-read your piece and see what you are saying. Here are my questions back to you:
        1) Pakistan – officially against drone attacks. What do they say unofficially? How about the Bin Ladin Raid? They were against that, so we should not have done that raid?
        2) Yemen – the government of Yemen is fighting AQ. Are you sure our drone raids aren’t sanctioned there? I would bet that our intel there comes partially from the government.
        3) Somalia – same thing.
        So, of the examples we see, only Pakistan seems to officially complain. Why don’t they kick us out entirely then? Why not refuse our aid, and start massing troops on the Afghan border and formerly say “the next drone attack means war?”
        Because they have a schizophrenic society which hates America, thus cannot accept drone attacks, but also had major terror attacks on their own armed forces…this is not a clear cut case if you ask me. They truly are a “frenemy”

        • I’m very happy about the bin Laden raid, however, again I apply the “how would we react” template and wonder if a country did that here would we be likely to tolerate it?

          As for the other two countries, I’ve seen nothing to this point that says they sanction them but, it seems, they at least tolerate them. That would likely change if popular pressure (much like what has happened in Pakistan) were applied to government to have them stopped. Would we stop them?

          The experience with Pakistan says no.

          The point, of course, is to ask what leg we’d have to stand on if, say Iran, started using drone strikes in Iraq to remove Sunni muslim leaders. How could we credibly condemn that?

          • Well, if you don’t worry about “international law” you don’t worry about it at all.
            What you do is you tell Iran to stop attacking our ally or face our wrath.
            The example would be better if you used the Iraqi based anti-Iranian “terror” group as the target. I note that they were disarmed…not sure if we sent them back to Iran or not.

    • “then why wasn’t the playing cards in Iraq a problem? ”

      That wasn’t a kill list. It was more like wanted posters.

      “Was ambushing Yamamato’s plane a war crime?….Rommel”

      Nope. We were in a state of war with those folks (WWII), and military personnel of whatever rank are legitimate targets. Ambushes and sneak attacks are an acceptable and widely used tactic. Headquarters units are prime targets. Serbia and Libya were ‘authorized’ by someone, so I guess technically the targets were legal. I think that is the theory, anyway. No that I agree with it.

      • We are at war with AQ. They even declared war on us. We passed war authorizations. We have bounties on their heads if they are captured alive, too. However, it turns out that its hard to capture them, just like some of those guys on the playing cards, so we ended up killing some.
        The Geneva Conventions don’t apply to people who refuse to wear distinguishing marks…and that’s International Law as well. It doesn’t mean that suddenly these enemy combatants are considered “civilians” though.

  • You miss that critical distinction between homicide and self-defense.

    • The problem is we are dealing with vendetta societies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They may not view it as we view it. “Yes, you killed my cousin when he was raping your sister, but HE IS MY COUSIN!!!!!”
      I listened to a US army officer talk about his Afghan exprience and he said that a lot of the violence occurs because men in Afghanistan are bored and fighting is what they do when they are bored. He suggested air dropping X-box and Call of Duty.

    • Killing an innocent family in the pursuit of your enemy is homicide.

      • So, you and Kerry agree on our actions in Vietnam…amazing.
        OK, snark aside, If you target an innocent family, its murder. If you target the enemy who happens to have located himself among the innocent family it gets trickier.
        So, now here’s a good parallel for you: how did you feel about attacking the Ho Chi Minh trail in areas that were not in Vietnam proper? this is very similar to the drone attacks…or did we get permission from Laos and Cambodia?

        • And that really was snark…don’t take that personally at all. If your website had an edit function that line would be deleted by now.

        • We did in Cambodia, not sure about Laos, but yes, that’s the point.

          It all boils down to what is sauce for the goose can also be sauce for the gander. With the precedent we’re setting, are we setting ourselves up for the same and if we are, are we willing to pay that price? And do we have any legitimate basis to protest such an action in our country given what we’re doing in others?

          • We did not get permission in Laos, and in fact that is where the bulk of the trail was. So, if we were replaying history would you bomb the trail or not?
            Note we did not bomb Haiphong until later and never bombed supply routes in China for example. This was not due to international law stopping us, but China’s force.
            If you don’t want someone to play turnabout, make sure to its not worth there while aka deterrence.
            Maybe another parallel would be in Israel – do the guys shooting rockets expect to be counter-attacked? Yes. And the Israeli’s assume they will get hit in return for their actions. Now, do you think if Israel swore off air strikes that they could expect their enemies to do so as well? I doubt it.

        • “did we get permission from Laos and Cambodia?”

          I am not sure permission was required under international law to attack NVA forces in those countries. Although they were alledgedly neutral, international law requires them to enforce that neutrality. They didn’t.

          • “Although they were alledgedly neutral, international law requires them to enforce that neutrality.”
            Really? So wouldn’t that apply to drones over Pakistan? Pakistan is “neutral” but allowing enemies on its territories, thus we are allowed to bomb?
            That seems weak to me.

  • “Would we have a legal or moral leg to stand on?”

    Depends on the circumstances, but it’s probably irrelevant. What actually matters is the relative strength of the parties involved. We bombed Libya. Why? Because we could get away with it-Libya was weak. Are we bombing Syria? No-Syria is too strong. Iran was indirectly (and maybe directly) killing US soldiers in Iraq for years. Did we retaliate? Why not? Because Iran has the ability to escalate the violence to a politically unacceptable level. For years terrorists such as The Red Brigade, Bader-Meinhof, etc. took refuge behind the iron curtain. Did we target them? No, because the East Bloc was too strong. Has South Korea and/or the US retaliated for numerous attacks by North Korea over the last half century, even though we certainly have had moral and/or legal grounds?

    • Stronger powers have always practiced these forms of Battleship diplomacy (perhaps less so when you had to send in a legion and your target was three days march across the Tigris…Hello Xenophon).
      So let’s admit that state craft has always allowed a certain look the other way espionage and sometimes that involves putting an end to bit players inside someone else’s country.
      Official (elected or anointed by God) leaders are almost always “out of season”.  Consider also that one Serbian whackjob (without government sanction) and the heir to the Austrian/Hungarian empire managed to demonstrate small arms alone can cause a big problem.
      Also we’re forgetting is the phase of anarchy that the west went through prior to WW I – hell, we lost a President to it – McKinley.   Aside from their goals, the tactics of the anarchists look very similar to the tactics of your average Allah worshiping road-side bomber.
      But I don’t think it gives us license to go to other countries, mark targets, and brazenly kill people (yes, I prefer it be done discreetly, quietly, ‘delicately’ as the Witch of the West said).  And all this brazen, extra curricular killing (complete with collateral damage to ensure we piss off the maximum number of formerly disinterested parties) we’re doing in foreign countries is leading to a protracted ‘war on terror’ that has no conceivable end in sight.  The people’s of the Middle East have been revenge killing each other for so long they can’t even remember if it started because of an attack on Acre, of if it started because Samuel’s dog got loose and killed one of Wakim’s goats.
      Our War on Terror is just invitation to blood feud to some.
      Let’s face it, we don’t have an issue with terrorists when they terrorize each other.  We don’t have an issue with Afghans riding down out of the hills in goat carts and attacking another Afghan village, or Sudanese and Somali’s killing each other provided they do it quietly.  The issue we have is they decided to bring it HERE and involve us directly, they have passed into the protected reserve.  Growing up, I remember the night clubs exploding in Germany and Italy, but no one did it HERE (well, except for that guy that Obama had a 4th of July cookout with….but that was years ago, you know? I mean, shoot, move on!).
      And the problem with them bringing it here, unlike the Japanese, who we could easily locate, and who got this wild idea of deploying an actual uniformed army against us, TERROR isn’t a group, it’s a weapon most effectively wielded by the small.
      We’re so screwed, because if you thought the war on drugs gave the government some license (surveillance drones, no-knock warrants, confiscation of property, civil forfeiture) you just wait till your friendly TSA asks you to register your next trip out of town by car once they have the trains, planes, buses and roadways locked down to their liking for your protection against ‘terror’.
      It’s the mother of all reasons to take away almost every freaking freedom you ever enjoyed and it’s happening around us all day, and we’re giving ‘them’ every reason in the world to continue to want to do us harm directly.

      • Drones may be far less bloody than other options. I think people need to remember that.
        Also, some of the innocents are killed because the enemy lives among them and does not construct special bases and wear special uniforms to make sure they can be differentiated easily.
        Imagine if we sent the families of our troops to live with them in Afghanistan. Does anyone doubt we’d suddenly see an increase in innocent American women and children killed senselessly at a Kindergarten on base?
        By the way, I would not blame the Taliban if their weapons accidentally struck a civilian target as such unless it was a deliberate attack.

  • Part of why we do this in those types of nations is because they’re either failed, or lawless, or our enemies. if Pakistan or Somalia were a stable, rule- of -law nation, we’d have recourse. (Of course, the terrorists wouldn’t be there if they were stable but that’s another story) If Pakistan or Somalia were stable, rule of law nations and they had a target here, they wouldn’t need to drone attack because if it was a bad guy, they could alert us and we’d seize him.

    • That may be, shark, but it doesn’t change the precedent. Another country, given what we’re doing, could decide we’re “unstable” and “failed” and rationalize doing what we’re doing here.

      What moral or legal leg do we have to stand on and, other than denial, what defense would we have?

      • My answer would boil down to “we’re right when we do it” and that’s nowhere near acceptable….

  • but it doesn’t change the precedent. Another country, given what we’re doing, could decide we’re “unstable” and “failed” and rationalize doing what we’re doing here.

    Oh please!  The relationships between countries doesn’t go by “precedent”.  None of what Germany did to Poland, what Japan did to Hawaii, what North Korea did to South Korea, what China did to Tibet, what USA did to Japan, etc. had anything to do with “precedent”.  The relationship goes by power.

    If, say, Iran used Hiroshima as “legal precedent” to drop a nuke on New York, we wouldn’t roll over and say, “Yeah, you got us there.”  We’d say, “Hope you enjoy your country being turned into a glowing glass slag.”

    Take Fast and Furious.  What if Mexico had run that operation on us?  We’d be “furious”.  We’d condemn them roundly.  We’d be seeking redress.  We’d be initiating some sort of action.

    Action.  Right.  Not whining to the UN or the IJC or paging through “international law” books. 

    What moral or legal leg do we have to stand on?
    Where do you get the idea that there is a legality issue?  Inter arma enim silent leges

    other than denial, what defense would we have?
    Well, their contention would not be true, but so what?  Even if they were right, it wouldn’t matter.  You don’t step on superman’s cape, you don’t poke a tiger with a stick. 

    • THIS.

    • OK, power … they have the “power” to launch UAVs and kill people here. What moral leg do we have to stand on to protest what they do?

      Hiroshima was a legal act of war against a declared enemy (an actual declaration of war). If they had been able to muster a nuke and drop it on NY at the time it would have been as legal as our act. Not in the realm of the relevant in this discussion.

      Action – so Mexico has every right to take “action” against us, given F&F was an obvious violation of their sovereignty – right?

  • Thing is, stable countries tend to take care of terrorists living within their confines.   There are plenty of small countries that we could beat the snot out of in a day that we don’t fire missiles into – in fact more that are than are not.
    It sort of helps make an argument for nation building if we’re going to carry this crap on.  Problem is, there are some other countries that don’t want places to succeed, they like the turmoil because it keeps us busy.  Tell me where Hezbollah would be without ‘soviet’ weapons funneled from countries that the Russians can legally sell to.
    As long as we’re still killing collateral targets, and so long as we consider that acceptable on a FAR too daily basis, it becomes a matter of scale as to whether or not we’re terrorists ourselves.  The families of wedding guests annihilated to reach one ‘terrorist’ sure are going to see what we do as terrorism.