Drones and Murder
WC will stipulate that bona fide al Qaeda terrorists present a legal dilemma. Because they use grossly different moral values than Western cultures, abhorrent even to the overwhelming majority of their fellow Muslims, but murder is murder. Homicide is still homicide. And even if the circumstances make the homicides a useful tool, a closed, hidden process for selecting targets is antithetical to American values.
Nor are the weapons as precise as we claim. A Hellfire surface-to-air missile launched from a Predator drone carries 20 pounds of high explosive. That’s not very discriminating when it explodes. And that’s when the intelligence data is good. Otherwise, it’s another wedding party blown to bloody giblets.
The website PakistanBodyCount.Org (by Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, a Fulbright Scholar at the Florida Institute of Technology) shows 2,902 civilian deaths between June 2004 to July 1,2012 and tallying 305 drone strikes carried out by the U.S. That’s just Pakistan. Data for Yemen doesn’t seem to be available.
Some bloggers are even more upset when Americans are killed by drone-launched missiles. Sorry. That’s hypocrisy in WC’s book. An ultra-secret, wholly unsupervised CIA group selecting and wasting humans is simply wrong. Collateral losses – a vile euphemism for killing innocents – simply makes it worse. And probably helps al Qaeda recruitment.
And, in the medium term, probably highly dangerous to U.S. interests. At some point in the not-distant future, drones are going to be available to the bad guys in the same numbers as AK-47s and anti-armor missiles are today. And the precedent set by the U.S. will not only deny us the moral high ground; it will provoke an escalating war of drone and missile technologies.
Like Gyges’ ring, our technology gives us an advantage: we can deliver a butcher’s bill at minimal risk to American troops. At least until someone replicates out technology. It doesn’t make our actions ethical. Or lawful. Or effective. Or even strategic.