Droning on about Drones

Charles Krauthammer has written a thoughtful column supporting the use of drones by the Obama administration to kill terrorists.  He writes that there are two situations which warrant the use of drones in this way:http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/191480301.html

1.  Situations in which there is an “imminent threat” to our national security and safety.  Our response to kill the people posing the threat is based on the laws of self defense.

I agree with Mr. Krauthammer.  The idea of self defense is so ingrained in all people that this situation provides an obvious use for drones.  Still, there should be some criteria established—before the drones are used—defining what actions constitute an “imminent threat.”

2.  He also justifies the use of drones in situations of a “mutual state of war.”  We are in such a state of war now with Al-Qaeda, since they vowed years ago to kill Americans.  We can use drones to kill these terrorists who are at war with out country.

I have some questions about this:

a.  What is defined as a “mutual state of war?”  Just because some representatives of Al Qaeda make statements about “destroying the west,” can we still call this a “state of war?”  How do we know they speak for anyone but themselves?  Exactly which members of Al Qaeda are “at war” with us?  All of them?

b.  How can we identify the enemy?  Mr. Krauthammer references WWII enemies and our unrestricted bombing of military and civilian targets.  But in WWII, the enemy and it’s real estate were clearly identifiable—today individual Al Qaeda members aren’t always clealy identified and they often live in a variety of places.  No longer do we find them massed in one country, like Germany in WWII.  This leads to the problem of collateral damage . . .

c.  Collateral Damage.  The Dept. of Defense has never released data about the collateral damage inflicted on, perhaps, innocent people who have been in the vicinity of drone explosions.  Although this has become an acceptable by-product of all-out war, (Such as WWII) in the past, those civilians were members of the enemy.  Today, individual terrorists often live in civilian areas of countries—whose citizens are often allies of ours.  Although drones are some of the most accurate bombers ever used, they still make mistakes in targeting and the explosions can kill many innocent people.

d.  How would we react?  Just like the U.S. use of torture during the Iraq war—which violates the Geneva Convention on War to which we subscribe—I often wonder how we would react in the U.S. if other countries started bombing Minneapolis or Cleveland, claiming that they had a right to do so because they were targeting their enemies who were hiding in our country.  What do you think we’d do?

If we practice activities like torture or drone killings, aren’t we inviting the same kind of behavior against ourselves?  And if our cities are bombed, what moral ground do we have to stand on in opposition to such bombing?

About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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