Clarification about drones: they should be used only on a real battlefield

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.



One comment on “Clarification about drones: they should be used only on a real battlefield
  1. SC says:

    Being a US citizen is an “Avoid Hell Free” card? (We’ll likely never agree on this “don’t touch a US citizen” issue.) Especially not in this war. And it is a batlefield war, just a new kind and place. Why is it a battlefield war?

    1) Most of the people killed by drones (including the American, al-Qaeda cleric al-Awlaki) had declared war against the US– or at least they’d urged killing as many Americans as possible. That’s enough declaration of war for me, especially in this era where the US most often participates in undeclared wars.

    2) Terrorism is a different kind of war. Terrorists don’t have armies. Small groups do targeted attacks in populated areas. That’s the new battlefield. Standard armies can’t repel such attacks. So how do we protect ourselves? Drones are part of the combat plan, only after we meticulously spot a terrorist and launch a highly focused attack. Drones are much safer and more effective than bombing someone’s house or a shoot-out in an urban area.

    Don’t get me wrong: Drone usage needs strong limits. Next will drones kill drug lords and bad dictators overseas? (Of course the US has helped kill leaders already.) There should be oversight on the oversight of drone attacks. (Even so, the spy agencies will continue using them however they wish.)

    What worries me most is drone surveillance in the US. Again, there should be many limits. But I already can buy a 4-inch, hovering drone that can take pictures unnoticed outside someone’s third-floor window. (Let’s not expand this into an ownership debate, eg, “They can take my drone when they pry my nerdy dead fingers off the controller.”)

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