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The Rise of the Drones

Original post made by Tom Cushing, Danville, on Jun 13, 2012

If you had reliable intelligence on the location of an Al Qaeda lieutenant in remote Pakistan, and a Hellfire-equipped drone handy, would you kill him with it? What if he was on the road with a bunch of other people you couldn’t identify? At home with his wife and daughters? At services in a mosque? Walking through a crowded market? What if he was an American cleric, or if the intel on his exact role was a little fuzzy?

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Comments (8)

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Danville
on Jun 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm

All good questions, Tom. Questions that deserve to be debated in the U.S.

We should also recognize that, regardless of whatever U.S. policy becomes, other countries will drive the increasing use of this technology. For example, Israel has sold drones to dozens of countries over the past ten years, mostly for military purposes. (Web Link). So, to some degree, the genie is already out of the bottle.


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Posted by Dirk
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

One moral problem that I have with the collateral killing of innocents in these drone (and other) strikes is that I would NEVER agree that the sudden killing of MY family along with some bad person could ever be justified, no matter how desirable the death of the evildoer might be. Can I approve of doing to others what I would utterly condemn if done to me and mine? That surely violates a very fundamental moral law. But then again ...


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Posted by Tom Cushing
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 15, 2012 at 9:17 am

That symmetry argument about collateral casualties is a good one to preclude wars entirely -- has there ever been a war with no civilian casualties? It's always easier to condone the sacrifice of somebody else's loved ones.

Symmetry has also been used in a more macro argument relating to sovereignty -- as Sam points-out, and as with most innovations, the US' lead in this technology is temporary, and drones could be flying all over within years. So, would we condone the Chinese military taking out a Uighar dissident/"terrorist" on American soil? That ignores the air defense side of the equation, obviously, which probably consigns that Q to the theoretical realm. But what about the Israelis and, say, Iran? It's not just the US that has to come to grips with this stuff -- it's the world at-large.

Spy satellites are another variation on the theme -- albeit they are passive in terms of providing surveillance without accompanying death rays. I believe there's a treaty governing militarization of space -- does anybody have details on such a thing?


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Posted by Pedal Power
a resident of Danville
on Jun 15, 2012 at 11:07 am

Great article. Good thoughtful questions that need to be asked. Quite apart from various moral issues is the obvious concern that, when killing one terrorist, you do not create 10 more to take their place.


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Posted by Derek
a resident of Danville
on Jun 16, 2012 at 10:38 am

The key is in the first five words of the article, and the very small number of CIA goons "vetting" the targets can in no way be described as reliable. These drones have become every radical's best recruiting tool.
Glen Greenwald has covered this subject thoroughly from the very start, being one of the last American journalists with a shred of integrity.


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Posted by Tom Cushing
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 18, 2012 at 9:31 am

Some cursory googling indicates that Greenwald has written a series of articles on various aspects of droning, in Salon.com. Good stuff.


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Posted by Tom Cushing
a resident of Alamo
on Feb 9, 2013 at 6:43 am

S-P: I've taken the liberty of copying your comment over into the R/C entry on Drones from last summer, as well. I know this issue is of continuing concern to you (too), and maybe its prominence in this week's news will encourage further discussion here. -- TFC

Posted by spcwt, a resident of the Danville neighborhood, 10 hours ago

Remember when President Obama said that “the mistake” of the early years of his presidency was his failure to be a better storyteller?

He said, “The nature of this office is to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

How about this for a story: Imagine a country that didn’t start wars, didn’t torture, didn’t detain U.S. citizens indefinitely, without trial, without allowing them to see a lawyer or even loved ones, didn’t KILL it’s own citizens without trial, didn’t kill 176 children with drone strikes.

This was the American fantasy I grew up with. I want to be able to tell my kids it’s a true story.

Mr. President, gun violence beings at the top. No more stories. Just please stop killing us.


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Posted by Tom Cushing
a resident of Alamo
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:16 am

Forum (KQED) had an excellent hour on the legalities of drone weaponry coincident with the release of the DOJ (draft?) memo on the subject, here: Web Link . A copy of the memo is included on their web page.

The NYT also presented six perspectives on the issue of when drone-strikes might be legally used to kill Americans, here: Web Link

In both conversations, Professor O'Connell argues forcefully and well that current international law concepts of war must be stretched past their breaking points to justify current US policy. The response -- that organized terrorism is a new kind of war, and that the law, which almost always trails cultural changes, needs to catch-up -- may satisfy some, but not others.


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