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Thread: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

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    Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    For background, on January 13, 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union filed an official request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency seeking information/data in regards to armed US Predator attacks in foreign countries. The request specifically seeks information as to how the program is governed, who can be targeted, along with when and where, and the data on civilian casualties caused by the remote-controlled weapons.

    A report by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the Washington based New America Foundation also put increasing pressure on the US government. The report found that 32 per cent of those killed in drone attacks since 2004 were civilians. Their report - “The Year of the Drone” - studied 114 drone raids in which more than 1200 people were killed. Of those, between 549 and 849 were reliably reported to be militant fighters, while the rest were civilians. “The true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 per cent.” the foundation reported.

    None of US government agencies responded to the original ACLU FOIA requests. Consequently, the ACLU filed suit in federal court on March 16th, 2010 to obtain the basic data and legal justification for the Predator drone program. Which brings us to today...

    Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary
    MAR 26 2010, 11:15 AM ET

    Last night, the State Department's legal adviser, Harold Koh, delivered a keynote address to the American Society of International Law's annual meeting in Washington. He spoke in part about the administration's use of lethal force against terrorists, specifically drone attacks, and whether this was legal under international law and the laws of armed conflict. The bottom line was this: Lethal strikes against terrorists, including those involving unmanned drone aircraft, “comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war,” Koh said. If you'd missed the roiling controversy over this question that's been playing out in recent months, know that this question is one that many experts had been waiting for Koh to address, and that it goes to the very heart of the Obama administration's war on terrorists. Said Koh:

    “It is the considered view of this administration...that targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war. As recent events have shown, al Qaeda has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks. This administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles.”
    “Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meetings. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law.”
    “In U.S. operations against al Qaeda and its associated forces --including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles -- great care is taken to adhere to these principles in both planning and execution, to ensure that only legitimate objectives are targeted and that collateral damage is kept to a minimum.”
    Source: The Atlantic

    What Koh is saying here is that the US government can attack and kill enemies of the state such as al Qaeda and the Taliban anywhere around the globe under the international law justification of “defensive measures”. Every state is allowed the latitude to defend itself from dangerous individuals and/or groups who actively contribute to planning/fostering attacks on their citizens and territory.

    He is also saying that “distinction” (i.e. correctly identifying enemies of the state) is a critical element. Also critical is the concept of “proportionality”... in which civilian collateral damage (deaths/injuries) must be kept to a minimum.

    A US government official here articulates the position that “defensive measures” are necessary measures and legal under international law. But this position also conversely implies that assassinations of the hunter by the hunted are also legal and necessary “defensive measures”. This position also seems to imply that both armed combatants and unarmed non-combatants are fair-game if either is considered an identifiable and dangerous “enemy of the state”. Also stated is that civilian collateral deaths/injuries must be kept to a minimum, but the “minimum” threshold here is undefined. Unstated and yet implied is the legal position that every state enjoys the justification to invoke violent defensive measures against identifiable and dangerous enemies of the state beyond state borders.

    This is a complex web of issues. What are your thoughts on this? Do you consider the US position to be consistent with the intent and spirit of international law? Is this new legal ground? A slippery ethical-slope?

    Note: This thread is neither a vehicle for nor an invitation to bash. The questions raised here are intended to spur discussion on the broad moral, ethical, and legal issues involved. Please remain faithful to this menu.
    Last edited by Tashah; 03-27-10 at 09:29 AM.

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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    Quote Originally Posted by Tashah View Post
    For background, on January 13, 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union filed an official request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency seeking information/data in regards to armed US Predator attacks in foreign countries. The request specifically seeks information as to how the program is governed, who can be targeted, along with when and where, and the data on civilian casualties caused by the remote-controlled weapons.

    A report by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the Washington based New America Foundation also put increasing pressure on the US government. The report found that 32 per cent of those killed in drone attacks since 2004 were civilians. Their report - “The Year of the Drone” - studied 114 drone raids in which more than 1200 people were killed. Of those, between 549 and 849 were reliably reported to be militant fighters, while the rest were civilians. “The true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 per cent.” the foundation reported.

    None of US government agencies responded to the original ACLU FOIA requests. Consequently, the ACLU filed suit in federal court on March 16th, 2010 to obtain the basic data and legal justification for the Predator drone program. Which brings us to today...


    Source: The Atlantic

    What Koh is saying here is that the US government can attack and kill enemies of the state such as al Qaeda and the Taliban anywhere around the globe under the international law justification of “defensive measures”.
    Every state is allowed the latitude to defend itself from dangerous individuals and/or groups who actively contribute to planning/fostering attacks on their citizens and territory.
    The US then would need to get the permission of whichever country's air space it intended on doing this. I think law and Justice is better served by arresting them and bringing them before a court of law.


    Quote Originally Posted by Tashah View Post


    He is also saying that “distinction” (i.e. correctly identifying enemies of the state) is a critical element. Also critical is the concept of “proportionality”... in which civilian collateral damage (deaths/injuries) must be kept to a minimum.


    A US government official here articulates the position that “defensive measures” are necessary measures and legal under international law. But this position also conversely implies that assassinations of the hunter by the hunted are also legal and necessary “defensive measures”. This position also seems to imply that both armed combatants and unarmed non-combatants are fair-game if either is considered an identifiable and dangerous “enemy of the state”. Also stated is that civilian collateral deaths/injuries must be kept to a minimum, but the “minimum” threshold here is undefined. Unstated and yet implied is the legal position that every state enjoys the justification to invoke violent defensive measures against identifiable and dangerous enemies of the state beyond state borders.
    I think that concerning civilians if we are prepared to risk the lives on a greater scale than we would be prepared to risk the lives of our own, then we lose any moral superiority.

    I do not see unarmed combatants as fair play. I think it is concerning that the rule of law is not seen as important or rather that the rule of law appears to be changing to something it never was.

    The US is well within the capability of using people similar to the SAS if they want to capture them. Of course we all know that the US has always tried to assinate people worlwide and sometimes been successful but this was never seen as legal before.

    I believe that it bodes ill for the world if such concepts are accepted. I am hoping we are moving away from this and going back to sanity because I think the psychology that this and torture and all sorts of things which had not been alright for a very long time seems to have come into being after 9/11

    Quote Originally Posted by Tashah View Post

    This is a complex web of issues. What are your thoughts on this? Do you consider the US position to be consistent with the intent and spirit of international law? Is this new legal ground? A slippery ethical-slope?

    My guess would be not consistent with the intent and spirit of International Law. What would happen if we all started doing this and International Law must be applicable to us all.

    To me a very slippery slope, though as I said above I am hopeful we may move out of it. I would prefer the world moved back to what I know as law. Capture and try before a court of law.
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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    I think the fact that they even let this information out is just a tactic to ease the idea of security to the masses. The fact is if the United States causes civilian causalites in a country we are not fighting for or at war with will cause war. This is not any great legislation that will effect civilized nations thats why terrorist hide in them.

    This is just a tool to say to the American people that the government will do all that is possible when the times comes and only if we get approval from foreign nations.

    I also think the mentality of collateral damage should be done away with. If you cant succeed in capturing or killing the terrorist the right way and must bomb civilians to kill 8 terrorist then we ourselves have just aided the terrorist cell as a whole.
    Last edited by thoughtprocess; 03-27-10 at 11:07 AM.

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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    The ACLU needs to go back to rotting the country from the inside out while the grown-ups fight the war.

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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    A good decision, by all means.
    "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

    Dante Alighieri

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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    I'd much rather use Drones than real soldiers.

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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    Quote Originally Posted by Libs_Luv_Weakness View Post
    The ACLU needs to go back to rotting the country from the inside out while the grown-ups fight the war.
    Yeah rights should be applied only where I like them applied!!
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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    The legality of flying into other countries air space without permission to perform military strikes is laughable. However, I don't mind attacks across a porous border like Afghanistan/Pakistan provided Pakistan doesn't get too pissed in the process.

    The civilian casualty rate is what disturbs me. Although I can't trust the ACLU numbers, I didn't see any alternative statistics coming from the government. That kind of sloppy attack is simply unacceptable and hurts our mission. The extended family of every dead civilian are prime candidates to become our enemies in their rage and grief. If the civilian/combatant killed ratio is anywhere close to that bad, we will simply make more enemies per attack than we neutralize. Our drone strikes need to get a lot more precise, or we are better off grounding them.

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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    Quote Originally Posted by Deuce View Post
    Yeah rights should be applied only where I like them applied!!



    Sounds like a great description of the ACLU...
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    Re: Administration Says Drone Strikes Are Legal and Necessary

    I think UAV attacks are applicable under international law particularly when other courses of action are not available, as is the case in the remote regions of Pakistan. Making careful “distinction” as to the identity of the target and the nature of the threat represented is essential. For example, I am more troubled by the U.S. targeting of Taliban leadership than al Qaeda; the Taliban has been a regional threat, not an international one.

    But, there's more than just the legal justifications surrounding such actions. There are the aspects of what follows having committed the action.

    Israel recently is alleged to have assassinated a Hamas leader traveling to an Arab country. There is enormous controversy regarding the action for a number of reasons; e.g., foreign countries passports were forged and individuals' identities were stolen. One could make all the same legal arguments about this action, “distinction” and no other available action, etc., as I have made about UAV attacks against high value targets in remote Pakistan.

    But, I don't sense that the legality of the action is the most important controversial aspect of Israel's alleged action; and the same could be said of America's UAV attacks in Pakistan.

    The real controversy surround these two programs is: where does it take us down the road? Does it win the war? The problem with going around killing leadership targets is that over time, the leaders are replaced; and, oftentimes, with people of even more violent and unstable persuasions. It doesn't lead to peace. I don't think it leads to peace in Palestine and don't think it ends al Qaeda's threat to America's interests in the world.

    Hence, the only really effective attacks of this sort make the “distinction” of the truly, unique targets, the irreplaceable ones: the Osama bin Ladens of the world, or even better yet, the Ayman al-Zawahiris of the world.

    For America, the ultimate solution is to achieve a nigh universal consensus that violent jihad is not a good thing for anybody and that peaceful resolutions of our conflicts can serve everyone. And, for Israel, negotiating a peaceful co-existence with the Palestinian people is the only end-of-war strategy.

    UAV attacks and assassinations can be effective, legal, short term tactics, but, they must be applied within more comprehensive strategies that address the underlying causes of continued conflict.
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