Not only does its secrecy evoke conflict, but it also brings to question its efficiency. According to CNN, between 1,932 and 3,279 people have been killed in Pakistan since 2004, of which at least 18 percent were non-militants. Within that same time frame, only two percent of those killed have been high-level targets.
Since drones do not require an in-vehicle pilot, their use allows the United States to survey and in some instances attack foreign enemies without risking the lives of human soldiers. Drones allow the U.S. military to go places they would not have feasibly been able to reach years ago. For example, drones allowed the CIA to carry out clandestine surveillance over Osama Bin Laden’s hideout, an act that would have been impossible otherwise.
All of this extended military capability is definitely a positive for the United States, but what about the fact that in Pakistan civilians have been killed 18 percent of the time since 2004? In fact, not only are foreign civilians killed, but also American citizens are being placed on what the Pentagon and CIA refer to as “kill lists.” These lists contain the names of suspected terrorists and consequently the targets of deliberate and premeditated killings by the United States.
These lists came into the public eye after the controversial deaths of Anwar Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen on September 30, 2011 and 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki on October 14, 2011. Each of these men were United States citizens and each of them killed by drone strikes. On July 18, 2012 the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against the government on this matter in Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta. The groups claimed the government’s attacks violated the 5th amendment of due process.
On February 5, 2013 NBC News released a “white paper memo” from the Department of Justice detailing what the guidelines were for using lethal force against a U.S. citizen suspected to be a terrorist on foreign soil. The U.S. government could only use lethal force in this scenario if, “an informed high level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States," or if, “capture is infeasible, and… the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with the applicable law of war principles.” If these conditions had been indisputably met before the Al-Awlaki drone strikes, then the U.S. government’s actions would be justified.
Drones should be used internationally during times of war solely as preventative defense mechanisms. For example, when deployed in other countries they would be used for intelligence purposes unless a threat became extremely pressing to the safety of the homeland; in that case there would be no other alternative but force.
In regards to the identity of the target being a U.S. citizen or not, there should be no distinction between non-citizens if they are on foreign soil and present an “imminent” threat to the national security of the United States. It is similar to the “self-defense” concept employed by police officers in cases where hostile suspects have the intent to kill.
After the Al-Awlaki trial, it became clear that certain rules needed to be established regarding scenarios such as these. This reason is exactly why the Justice Department created their white paper memo, to “set forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in which the U.S. government could use lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of active hostilities against a U.S. citizen.”
It ultimately ends with using drones as a means of defense rather than one of attack. The current situation is similar to that of the 1940’s when the atomic bomb was first introduced to the world. It was a huge advance in technology, and at first it was unclear how this new power would be regulated. However, once other countries began to get this technology it became clear that continuing to use nuclear power as an attack mechanism would not work. The same thing is occurring with drones. As more and more countries begin to construct their own drones, it is becoming increasingly clear that using drones to attack would only result in a similar form of retaliation.
The United States now faces the question of whether to use a drone strike to kill an American citizen in Western Pakistan. The suspect in question is believed to be a member of Al-Qaeda Central, the main branch of the terror group, headed by Osama bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri.
At the end of the day it will come down to the call of an “informed high level official of the U.S. government.”
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