This week an independent investigator for the United Nations (UN), Philip Alston, called for a halt of the US’ targeting of terrorists with drones until a review has been conducted. According to Mr. Alston, a professor at New York University School of Law and the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, targeted killing of terrorists is equivalent to “a license to kill without accountability.” He feels the use of armed drones to eliminate terrorists can “be justified only when it was impossible to capture insurgents alive instead and only if they were carried out by regular U.S. armed forces operating with proper oversight and respect for the rules of war.”
As I stated in a previous blog, “Anwar Aulaqi: To kill or not to kill…”, the chief problem with this argument that the terrorists should be captured is “there is absolutely no way we could keep [Special Operations] on stand-by 24/7 and within a few minutes flight from every possible location where we might encounter terrorists.” It is just not feasible.
Clearly Mr. Alston is still stuck in the wars of the past, where there were clearly defined fields of battle and the enemy was engaged in active combat within the boundaries of those fields. This is different. We are no longer fighting a cohesive, homogeneous enemy; al-Qa`ida has evolved into a movement with satellite affiliates cropping up all over the globe where there is a lack of government or law enforcement; therefore, our operations and tactics must be adapted to the ever-changing environment.
One of his key concerns is that “[B]ecause [drone] operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, and undertake operations through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a ‘Playstation’ mentality to killing.” The same argument can be made for every combat-style video game out there. Are our military members running around carjacking and wantonly killing people just because they play Grand Theft Auto? Does it really matter if it is an operator thousands of miles away pushing a button or a pilot thousands of feet in the air or an artillery unit miles away doing the same thing? While no longer engaged in a “war on terrorism,” we are still at war with al-Qa`ida, its affiliates, and sympathizers. At any point they have the ability to either stop what they are doing or turn themselves in to their nearest authorities; in either case they would no longer be targeted. If they choose, and let’s face it, it boils down to their choices, to continue aiding, supporting, or conducting attacks for al-Qa`ida they put themselves in harm’s way and there is no one to blame but them.
Some may compare targeted drone strikes with Israel’s assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, an alleged Hamas commander, in a hotel in Dubai back in January, and they would be wrong. There is no comparison. If we have the opportunity to take a terrorist alive, we will absolutely do so; the information they may have is more vital, in most cases, than simply eliminating them. Unfortunately, there are going to be times where the only option available is to eliminate the terrorist or allow him to continue operating and take the chance of more people being killed. I would hope that any sane person would select the former.
Finally, Mr. Alston argues that graduated force should be used. This is not a police operation. Graduated force is how law enforcement is trained. Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Air Force personnel are not trained in the use of “less-than-lethal force.” When we go through Basic Training and learn to shoot we are taught two key things, we are taught “one shot, one kill,” and to shoot at “center mass.” In other words, every bullet fired should kill an enemy and you do so by aiming at their chest. There are no leg shots or shooting at an enemy’s weapon to disarm them. The military does not do “graduated force,” unless it is being run by a Kennedy, Johnson, or Nixon. The objective of the military should always be absolutely overwhelming, violent force, thus allowing as quick an end to the operation as possible with the least number of friendly casualties.
Mr. Alston is scheduled to present his report to the UN’s Human Rights Council tomorrow. Hopefully his report includes the fact that if a person chooses to do something they know may get them killed, we must assume they have weighed the risks involved and ultimately decided the benefits outweighed the risks, but I somehow doubt it. Is it then the fault of the US that that individual ends up getting killed when they know we are after al-Qa`ida?
“Charging a man with murder here is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.” – Cpt. Willard (Martin Sheen), Apocalypse Now