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The EditorsJuly 16, 2012

Drone warfare presents new challenges to the way the United States wages war. Under President Obama drone attacks have become the characteristic way this country fights terrorism. The United States now routinely employs drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Recent revelations by the reporters David E. Sanger (in The New York Times and Confront and Conceal) and Daniel Klaidman (Kill or Capture) make it possible now to do informed ethical and legal analyses of the president’s use of drones in counter-terrorist attacks on Al Qaeda and its confederates.

Drone strikes are now conducted out of the White House, with the president himself approving targets. The president’s direct role in this process is problematic. The head of a democratic state should have distance from the application of force, both to avoid the risk of international prosecution for wrongful use of force and also to ensure that those professionally responsible for the control of force are accountable to a system of military justice and international humanitarian law. To that end, the Law of Armed Conflict needs to be updated to include issues of counter-terrorist drone warfare, and intelligence services routinely engaged in antiterrorist attacks should be made subject to it.

Another practice requiring closer attention is that of signature strikes, so-called because facts on the ground, particularly the presence of fighting-age men, are taken as a “signature” of terrorist activity and therefore of a legitimate target. Without further on-the-ground intelligence, however, it is hard to know whether such clusters are made up of convinced terrorists or mere bystanders. So the conventions of military ethics that make those who actively threaten the United States legitimate objects of direct attack are stretched in a way that will inevitably result in the deaths of nonthreatening civilians. Clearer restraints on signature attacks are necessary.

The targeting of alleged terrorists also raises questions of extrajudicial killing of suspects without due process. The experience of the selling of the Iraq War in 2003 by means of false and mistaken information should make the public dubious of intelligence as a warrant for execution from the air. Due process must mean more than careful deliberation by officials. The authority and conditions for killing suspected terrorists must be clarified in both U.S. and international law. U.S. antiterrorist law ought to reflect John Adams’s proposition that ours must be a government of laws, not of men.

The ability of drones to penetrate foreign air space has also played havoc with traditional principles of sovereignty and noninterference along with the prohibition in international humanitarian law against military strikes on neutral territory. In the past, these principles deterred attacks on foreign soil. The spread of global terrorism and the availability of smart weaponry, however, have eroded those diplomatic restraints; and President Obama has invoked the right to self-defense in ordering these attacks even when the local governments object.

Sovereignty and noninterference play important roles in reducing the occasions for armed conflict. No one exception harms the rules, but the cumulative effect of repeated violations is deleterious for the international system. As President Obama insists, the United States does have a duty to protect its citizens from attack, arguably even to striking on foreign soil when a second government cannot or will not police the terrorists on its own. But the more the United States invokes the self-defense justification in attacks on foreign soil, the more other countries have an incentive to do the same.

Already world public opinion has come to resent the freedom with which the United States employs drone strikes in its antiterrorist campaign. At the same time, more than 50 countries now possess drones. (In late June, Bolivian police destroyed 240 jungle drug labs detected by Brazilian surveillance drones.) How long will it be before one or more nations begin to employ these weapons for cross-border strikes? How long will it be before terrorists target drones against sites within the United States? The proliferation of drone technologies and the growing risk of their use by rogue regimes and terrorist groups point to the urgent need for an international convention to set standards for the use of drones in cross-border operations.

Absent an international convention, U.S. interest lies in upholding international standards for nonintervention even as diplomats work in the long term to adapt international law to the reality of combat with non-state actors, like Al Qaeda. Given the proliferation of drone technology, American exceptionalism in its application will be short-lived. The United States can better advance its long-term security with a global compact than without one.

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ed gleason
11 years 7 months ago
That War is evil we must continue to say...  ....but before launching into  complaints about drone attacks lets mention that 50,000 French civilians were killed in the Month of June 1944 by Allied air attacks..no editorials ..only war hero movies..  
one month in Normandy not  4 years in Afghanistan  with a tiny fraction of the civilian casualties.
Tom Maher
11 years 7 months ago
Fortunately for United States security President Obama understands that as Commander and Chief he would be unendingly be blamed for any lapse of secuirty that allowed the United States homeland to be successfully attacked again by international terrroist.

A President that fails to protect the United States homeland can expect the very worst political results immeadiately.  On the other hand everyone Democrats and Repbulicans highly approve of the final removal  of terrosist threats such as bin Laden's and his decades long reign of terror. It is unacceptable and will not at all tolerated by the U.S. pulbic to be attacked by international terrorist who plan, fund and organize attacks on the United States from the safety of third party nations.  

So that is the deal.  The Presdient as Commander and Chief's highest concern must be the continued saftey of the U.S. homeland from international terroristm by the elimination of known terrorist threats wherever they exists.  Drowns have been effective during the Obama adminstration of eliminating several several known international terrorist who with certainty did plot the downing of airlines in U.S. territories.  These terrorist threats were eliminated by drownes stopping the terrorist and disrupting their organizations.  The public demands and supports the President's ordered drowne strikes as an effective means of self-defense.
LaRue Withers
11 years 7 months ago
Such irony, when the "oppostion" accuses the Preident of aqppeasement - and get away with it, too. He's damned if he does and he's damned if he doesn't. War is hell, is it not? As far as the President calling the shots, he IS the Commander in Chief. I'm sure that he gets plenty of counsel before he makes any decision (in all things). So far the information he has received seems to have been reliable, much more so than the last administration claimed. Now we are paying Pakistan to let our soldiers out - insaity prevails. With friends like they,who needs enemies. I am finally "old," using the same expression my grandmother did: "The whole world is going to hell in a hand-basket."
Carlos Orozco
11 years 7 months ago
The industrial-military complex has been succesful in selling to the public the idea that drone technology is a slam dunk. Putting aside the immorality of the illegal judge-jury-executioner powers of the President, one would think that Iran's recent jamming and hijacking of an American drone flying over its territory and a similar demonstration by professor Todd Humphreys of the University of Texas, should cast doubt on the wisedom of policing the world with them.

The complacency with which the public has greeted the new military technology has  left the door open to corrupt government officials thinking of excuses to fill and "secure" the skies of the homeland. So the phony war on terror goes on...
Charles Erlinger
11 years 7 months ago
The introductory paragraphs definitely gave the impression that, since an ethical and legal analysis is now possible, one was forthcoming in ensuing paragraphs.  Instead, the article wandered aimlessly among the old briar patches of political stratagems and PR considerations .
Tom Maher
11 years 7 months ago
Carlos Orozco # 4

Phony war on terror?  Well the President who certianly is no war hawk doesn't think or act as if there was nothing to worry about. 

You remember the underwear bomber in 2009 on an airline arriving at Detroit and the 2010 Time Square bomber in New York don't you?  Both bombers set the bomb off but by dumb luck both bombs fizzled and failed.  Had the bombs exploded they would have casused massive casulties of innocent people.

Even Presdient Obama realized that someone was trying real hard to create mass destruction in the United States and sooner or latter we would have another World Trade Center "man created disaster" as the left likes to call it.  The President knew better.  He said " We just dodged a bullet."  He understood that with the numerous nearly successful attempts one would eventually succeed.  And Obama knew very well that he and his admisnstration would be held accountable if another act of mass distruction was allowed to happen in the United States. 

So the President ?order drone strikes ???a?g?a?i?n?s?t? ?????????????????????t?h?e? ????????????guy in ?Yemen ?w?h?o??? ?w?a?s? ??o?r?g?a?n?i?z?i?n?g? ?a?n?d? ?p?l?a?n?n?i?n?g? ?????????????????????t??h?e? ?t?e?r?r??o???r???i???s???????t?????? ??a?t?t?a?c?k?s??.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
Carlos Orozco
11 years 7 months ago
Tom #6:

Yes. Phony war.

The so called "war on terror" is the mask of an imperial struggle with China (and Russia, to a certain degree) for the natural resources of the planet. It's this century's crude version of the Great Game. The military interventions against Iraq, Afghanistan, Lybia, Syria and Iran use "terror"as an excuse to control oil, gas and drugs.

General Wesley Clark on the plans of these multiple wars:


If Obama is no war hawk then he is war enabler.
Carlos Orozco
11 years 7 months ago
1. On the idiot patsy known as the "Underwear  Bomber":


2. Anwar Al-Awlaki dining in the Pentagon before turning to an "evil terrorist".


3. The following is hilarious. Marines guading opium cultivation so it doesn't get it the hands of the Taliban.

Tom Maher
11 years 7 months ago

Carlos # 7

The war on terrorism can not be trivialize.  To much damage over a twenty five year period has been done with great loss of life, destruction terror and always with the great potential for even increasing and worse attacks without limit up to and including the detonation of a nuclear device in a major city.. As a nation we owe it to ourselves to remove once and for all the unlimted threat of international terrorism.  This constant terrorist threat to peace and security needs to be eliminated as a matter of policy. .

Ironically in this one area of peace and security and terrorism President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize winner has correctly understood the seriousness of the problem of terrorism and has aggressively and very effectivly acted against terrorists and their organizations.  His use of precision targeted drone attacks is succeeding in greatly reducing and in some cases eliminating terroriist as a threat to peace in the world.  The war on terrorism is significantly being won by agressive use of drone attacks polcy of President Obama.  

11 years 7 months ago

@Carlos re: your news source


What or who is moxnews.com? Are they a credible source? Methinks not.

Carlos Orozco
11 years 7 months ago

I agree with you that terrorism has to dealt with. Nobody sane can argue otherwise. My opinion is that the most cost effective measure would be to find out what the hell the intelligence services are doing with their budget (drug money included).

Still, we can't put our heads in the sand and not demand answers from this hypocritical Administration. All sorts of atrocities are justified in the "defense of our liberties".

What Secretary of State Clinton calls "terrorists" in some countries (Iraq, Afghanistan), become "freedom fighters" in others (Lybia, Syria) that need to be supported and financed. Doesn't that remind you of the CIA's pals in Afghanistan back in the 80's? That would be al-Qaeda.


The videos posted are mostly of footage of FoxNews, the neocon channel. My point being that when the war boys report (and try to justify) some grotesque activity on the "war on terror" and nobody follows on it, there is something really bad going on in the country.
11 years 7 months ago
After you cut through the technology and the accidentals, what you have to be left with is that the President of the United States is carrying out assassinations. The inventor of political assassinations was Rashid ad-din Sinan, a/k/a "The Old Man of the Mountain," who sent trained assassins against the Crusaders and the sultan Saladin. Rashid was a warlord's warlord - no messing around with diplomacy for him.
 That was in the 12th Century. Not until the 21st Century did the United States produce a worthy successor in Barack Obama, if you consider Rashid all that worthy of having a successor.

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