As regular readers of this blog now, the ethical implications of drone warfare are an interest of mine. The technology has progressed so far and so rapidly since the 9/11 attacks that the West, and particularly the United States, has an efficient and, one might argue, addictively simple means of eliminating (killing, to be blunt) its enemies. Documents being made public this week by the Obama Administration will, I hope, be a useful first step in developing policies for the use of these weapons. Skeptics might pause to note that the interest shown in these documents by memebrs of the US congress seem largely driven by the executive branch’s use of drones to order the killing of US citizens associated with terrorist organizations, vice the approximately 3,000 people killed by drone strikes during US actions against Al Qaeda. With more and more countries pursuing drone technology, at some point the international community will need to decide how to include drones within international treaties and frameworks known collectively as the Laws Of Armed Conflict (LOAC), unless we want a complete free for all of targetted, extrajudicial killing.
I was pleased to see that the New York Times issued an editorial today calling for a greater degree of transparency on the use of drones and for guidelines on their use against US citizens. Here’s an excerpt: “At a minimum, United States rules should specify that no one can be killed unless actively planning or participating in terror, or helping lead the Taliban in Pakistan or Al Qaeda. Killing should be authorized only when it can be demonstrated that capture is impossible. Standards for preventing the killing of innocents who might be nearby should be detailed and thorough.”
A helpful primer on drones can be found here, courtesy of Propublica, “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.”