On Drones

Two articles on the ongoing drone offensive that ran in the last ten days, pretty good for getting an idea of the scope of the thing/an outline of the process. One in the Post

The quickening pace of the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen this year has raised new questions about who is being targeted and why. A review of strikes there so far suggests that the Obama administration has embraced a broader definition of what constitutes a terrorism threat that warrants a lethal response.

[Officials] said the campaign is now also aimed at wiping out a layer of lower-ranking operatives through strikes that can be justified because of threats they pose to the mix of U.S. Embassy workers, military trainers, intelligence operatives and contractors scattered across Yemen

and another in the Times.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the [civilian casualty] could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties. “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

The two LBJ references in the NYT article (implicitly, the President going over target lists; explicitly, the unnamed official saying LBJ “would have steamrolled” people who opposed the Administration’s policy on Guantanamo) are interesting. The overall tone (and the number of administration officials who spoke on the record) suggest that there’s some election-year messaging in there, but saying LBJ isn’t viewed as the hero of the Vietnam War is an understatement.

(White House response is that the article’s not politicking.)

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10 responses to “On Drones

  1. Admiral McRaven was here yesterday, and an econ professor asked him about the president’s practice of counting military age males in the strike zone as combatants, and then asked the Admiral if he had done due diligence in ensuring civilian casualties were avoided. The Admiral gave him a block of instruction in the Law of Land Warfare, and used the example of a car with one bad guy and three regular guys. Apparently the Law of Land Warfare classifies them as complicit and therefore combatants. He then karate kicked the econ professor. not really, but that would have been cool.

  2. So everyone near terrorists when they are killed are complicit? Does that mean everyone standing near a criminal when he commits a crime is an accomplice? This is starting to make the Southpark hunters shouting “He’s coming right for us!” right before they shoot someone sound like legal experts.
    In war there are civilian casualties. They should be mitigated, but they will never be completely expunged. However classifying civilian casualties as terrorists does not count as mitigation. That is just lazy.

  3. 65. The Levée en Masse
    If the enemy approaches an area for the
    purpose of seizing it, the inhabitants, if they
    defend it, are entitled to the rights of regular
    combatants as a levée en masse (see GPW, art.
    4, par. A (6); par. 61 herein), although they wear
    no distinctive sign. In such a case all the
    inhabitants of the area maybe considered
    legitimate enemies until the area is taken.
    Should some inhabitants of a locality thus take
    part in its defense, it might be justifiable to treat
    all the males of military age as prisoners of war.
    Even if inhabitants who formed the levée en
    masse lay down their arms and return to their
    normal activities, they may be made prisoners of
    war.

    Admiral McRaven’s point was that if you are driving Mullah Omar about, you probably know what you are doing. If you know what you are doing, you are a default combatant.

  4. But that is not the definition that the White House is using according to the New York Times article. In that story, all military age males in the strike zone are to be considered combatants unless after they have been killed it can be proved that they were innocent. The guy riding in the car with a terrorist with weapons should know better. But this definition includes the guy walking by the building in the blast radius.
    Perhaps this is sloppy journalism on the part of the Times in oversimplifying the criteria. I would hope the government would only use this criteria in isolated areas where it is unlikely that those nearby don’t know what’s going on. But it is difficult to tell from this story.

  5. McRaven alluded to limiting strikes to things like the car scenario, and waving off the house full of kids scenario. I’m not accusing the Times of sloppy or sensational journalism, but I haven’t seen Anderson Cooper broadcasting from Pakistan, so I’m going to guess that lesser resourced agencies aren’t conducting investigative journalism in Pakistan.

    • it’s all based off what various “officials” said. so White House guys trying to make their boss look good, CIA guys trying to talk themselves up, and CIA guys who apparently are uncomfortable with blah blah blah.

      did McRaven talk about the “signature” strikes?

  6. There were a couple questions about that, to which the good Admiral replied, “Yeah, no. Were not going to talk about that.”

  7. The thing about the drone strikes I dig is killing bad guys – deciding who the bad guys are … that’s probably been a problem since long before a legionnaire killed an Gaul woman.
    My problem with drones is that its cowardly. Its genuinely cowardly and essentially risk free, and its way too easy to sit in DC and Florida and say “hit that guy” then fly your remote control airplane and throw the switch. That leads to some very questionable decision making.

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