One of my Twitter followers asked a rhetorical question on Twitter and the OpEdge blogsite in response to my recent blog on drones being used to kill American citizens.
The question: Terrorism = war? If so, drone kill is ok.
My response is that even if terrorism is war, that definition in itself doesn’t make it legal or moral to use drones in civilian populations or to hunt down U.S. citizens.
Terrorism is a type of warfare that takes advantage of one of the loopholes in conventional warfare in the 21st century: Don’t attack civilians if you can avoid it and don’t invade countries that are not parties to the dispute. By operating while concealed in civilian populations, often in peaceful countries, terrorists take advantage of these humane rules. It makes it harder to seek out a battle terrorists. On the other hand, a terrorist army is so small that the long-term damage it can do is much less than an army with an air force and bombs. If you don’t believe me, then ask the Iraqi people.
My point, which I may have not made as clearly as I could have the other day, is that drones are okay on the legitimate battle field but not to hunt people in civilian settings. And drones are never okay against a U.S. citizen. Now if that citizen is in an airplane attacking a U.S. ally and we shoot him or her down, that’s fine. But by virtue of singling out the U.S. citizen in a non-battlefield environment, we have changed the context from hot warfare to peacetime (or wartime) crime. And when we’re talking about crime, we’re talking about due process.
My opinion may or may not have a firm basis in international law. That doesn’t matter to me. I know what’s right and fair, and hunting down U.S. citizens instead of capturing them and bringing them to trial is neither right nor fair. I‘m not willing to pervert our way of life to take out a terrorist. It lowers us to their level—makes us no better than they are. Besides, it’s not needed: we were winning the war against Al Qaida before we started using drones.