Sunday, August 18, 2013

How to Think About Drones

Mark Bowden writes in the current issue of The Atlantic about the moral, military, and legal aspects of U.S. drone strikes against alleged terrorists.  The article came out just as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon criticized the use of armed drones and argued that they must be controlled by international law.  We posted most recently on drones here--on the Al-Awlaki case, with links to the leaked DOJ white paper providing the legal justification for drone attacks.

Bowden surveys some of the legal landscape and concludes that drone attacks are legal.  But:

Once the "war" on al-Qaeda ends, the justification for targeted killing will become tenuous.  Some experts on international law say it will become simply illegal.  Indeed, one basis for condemning the drone war has been that the pursuit of al-Qaeda was never a real war in the first place.

He also quotes John Yoo on the relative legality of drone attacks:

I would think if you are a civil libertarian, you ought to be much more upset about the drone than Guantanamo and interrogations. . . .  Because I think the ultimate deprivation of liberty would be the government taking away someone's life.  But with drone killings, you do not see anything, not as a member of the public.  You read reports perhaps of people who are killed by drones, but it happens 3,000 miles away and there are no pictures, there are no remains, there is no debris that anyone in the United States ever sees.  It's kind of antiseptic.  So it is like a video game; it's like Call of Duty.


Executive Authority, International, News, Procedural Due Process, War Powers | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How to Think About Drones:


I seriously doubt John Yoo, noted legal scholar, alluded to the video game Call of Duty in a comment on civil liberty. How indelicately jejune of him, if so. Yes...hmmm...Haaaaaaarrrrrvaaaard.

Posted by: Ashton | Aug 18, 2013 5:14:14 PM

Isn't there a standard of "legality" that is independent of how upset the American public is about a particular government action? Unless "legality" means "the likelihood that someone will challenge the government action and ultimately prevail in somehow reversing it, possibly in court." Recognizing that political (and social) factors affect operation of our legal system more than democratic theory formally allows, is it accurate for Bowden to describe what Yoo is saying as an opinion about the legality of drone strikes? Of course, Yoo is a great expert on the legality of executive action.

Posted by: Jeffrey G. Purvis | Aug 19, 2013 7:45:34 AM

Post a comment