Just recently the UN announced that they would be investigating the US Drone program, as potentially a war crime. Now before you get up in arms either agreeing or disagreeing with this this IS the same body that keeps putting places like Syria and North Korea on “human rights” commissions. Also you have to keep in mind that even if the UN DOES find that it’s a war crime, and even if they DO send it to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, we are not bound to that court by treaty or any other obligation in any legal sense, and even if all of Europe and the rest of the people that have a mild distaste for America were to try to actually prosecute any American for war crimes. . . well they’d have to get through the United States Military first.
Sadly though, it has taken the bloated, stinking carcass that is the UN to raise this question; is our Drone program going too far? Remember that when President Bush started putting Hellfire missiles on the Predator drones, it was seen as a logical step, and at the time was used for purely tactical missions. We’re watching Route X-ray to see if anyone emplaces IEDs, hey, there’s some guys putting some in now. . . gee wouldn’t it be nice if we could do something about that. From there, there were drone strikes against high valued targets, but usually with over watch. Remember when we bagged Abu Musab al Zarqawi? He was a legitimate target at the time, and pretty much everyone that was in Iraq at the time would agree he was a very bad boy. It’s actually hard to argue a rationale for NOT killing him. But the problem is in killing him; we also killed his wife and a few kids. How do you balance that? Well the guy WAS running around sending car bombs (and pretty big ones) into Shi’a holy sites causing the Shi’a to predictably try to slaughter all Sunni.
The Drone program and air power in general always has that tricky little problem. Yes we can use it to kill people we can’t get any ground pounders to in a timely manner, but regardless of how “surgical” we are the fact remains 500 pounds of explosives, will kill anyone in the vicinity regardless of if they’re good bad or ugly. What the program has become though has been much more strategic. We’re not just aiming for people in our battle space, we’re hitting people all over the world. It’s not just observing the bad boys and waiting for them to do bad things, its hitting them where they live, white literally. In the process we’re also killing everyone they happen to be with. Doesn’t matter if it’s a goat farmer and his family that are being forced at gun point to provide sanctuary, they’re getting killed right along with the bad guys we meant to kill.
There’s also another problem with this program. The “kill list”. Put simply there is a list of people that are- no questions asked- GOING to be killed if we ever find them. That’s not unusual in a lot of ways. We all remember the “deck of cards” that we were issued in the initial phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The whole idea was to eliminate the Baathist chain of command and *hopefully* eliminate organized resistance. We learned quickly that it doesn’t work quite like that in the 21st century, but the idea is sound except for one major glaring difference. We were trying to capture these guys. Even Uday and Qusay were given the opportunity to surrender before the 101st and Delta brought down the house around them.
Keep in mind that this isn’t just happening in Afghanistan. We had two drones flying over Libya when our Consulate was being attacked. We seem to be racking up quite a body count in Yemen, and we are apparently killing Al Qaeda’s #3 guy almost every other week in Pakistan. We’ve had these drones shot at or shot down in or near Iran. We’ve even seen what MIGHT be drone action in Mali. So this once tactical program has ballooned almost out of control. Right now in the United States Air Force there are more drone pilots than actual-at the stick, flying an honest to God airplane- Pilots, and no one seems to question how that happened or if this is actually a good thing.
Remember how I said Iran shot down a drone? Well does “interfered with the programing, and hacked into it” count as “shot down”? The worst part was this was supposed to be a super-secret squirrel stealth drone. Maybe the words “Stealth Technology” and “Iran” in the same sentence ought to make you sweat. Could a pilot in the cockpit have made a difference? We’ll never know, but it’s kind of hard to affect the plane if you’re not physically touching it.
And then there’s WHO we’re targeting. You think that there are as many honest to God terrorists in the world as we’ve managed to kill with our drone program? What about Anwar al-Aulaqi? He was a US Citizen. Yes he was a very bad boy who MAY have had a hand in 9/11, yes he CERTAINLY had a hand in egging on Major Nidal Hassan to do what he did (maybe even Nasser Abdo, though that one is a bit fuzzy) but he also happened to be a US citizen. When we killed him, he wasn’t directly shooting at our troops, or actively engaging in what we might call “acts of terror”. He was calling for Jihad, and encouraging his fellow Muslims to kill Americans. Now that’s a strong case for all sorts of legal action, but you can also make an honest legal argument that he was within (very narrowly) his 1st Amendment Rights. Much as we would like to we don’t blow up a Klu Klux Klan rally when they call for the killing of all blacks. Neo-Nazis, Black Panthers, Communists, Occupy Wall Street. . . all have called for violent action against one group of people or another at one point. We didn’t launch missiles at them. If we owe American Citizens more than a missile to the face, then what do we owe non-Americans?
So is the program guilty of War Crimes? Well that’s actually not as easy to answer as you might think. You see the wonderful Geneva Convention, gives us a lot of really nice rules for civilized warfare. Don’t kill the enemy when they’re drinking tea, don’t eat their women or rape their dogs, and definitely don’t chuck their babies into mosh pits, but the funny thing about all those rules, is they apply only to UNIFORMED enemies. In fact you have a grand total of three days once conflict begins, to put on something even approaching a uniform. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrapping yourself in a giant flag toga, as long as it’s clear you’re on one side or another, you’re protected. All those rights and protections go out the window when the enemy doesn’t wear uniforms.
There’s also another problem with the “War Crimes” argument. Essentially the ICC and the UN have cried wolf so many times that even if the US is actually committing what might legally constitute a war crime, there’s literally no credibility left. When faced with actual genocidal rampages like in Darfur, or Somalia they’re mum, but when the US conducts legitimate military operations, and people get caught in the cross fire, tragic as it may be, they scream like they’ve just found Nazis hiding out. Even if the targeting is morally questionable, the tactics a professional affront, and the whole damn thing stinks to high heaven, the UN has absolutely NO room to point fingers.
As much as I could care less about the ICC or the UN, We owe it to ourselves, as a nation, and more importantly as men and women who have put on the uniform and sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, and bare true faith and allegiance to the same, to ask ourselves if this program HAS gone too far. Where do we draw the line? What’s the risk, what’s the reward? Should we talk about how much we rely on these things, and where might this lead if played out to its conclusion? I’m not suggesting this could go full Skynet, but we ought to think about this strongly. The soldier on the ground is taught time and again DO NOT FIRE if there are women and children in the way. Always wait for a clear shot. Shouldn’t our Drones do the same thing? I want you to sit down and actually think about this. Figure out what you believe, for or against. Ask your elected officials. Write letters call their offices, go visit even. The fact that it’s take the UN to step in to make us gut check ourselves tells you we’re not really examining how we prosecute this war.