Why I Do Not Support the Drone Wars: Why No Cross No Crescent is Wrong, Part 2
In the first post in this series I looked at No Cross No Crescent’s rationale for supporting the murder of the American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his claim that the drone wars are an effective strategy against terrorism. In that post I explored the alleged evidence against him and found the evidence was lacking for his alleged ties to terrorist-related activities, and I explained how a mere change of tactics is not a sign of being on the losing end in combat.
In this second part, I’m going to explore No Cross No Crescent’s counter-arguments against the objections of the opponents of the drone wars.
He begins with the following argument and offers a response:
The reason the drone strikes have been back in the news has the been the concern that they may happen on US soil. Except that that is not going to happen.
As in the last piece, I demonstrated how it’s an unfortunate fact how No Cross No Crescent uncritically cites news sources without digging any deeper. Since it’s not possible for me to predict the future, I obviously have no direct evidence to prove that no drone strikes would be used. However, if you look critically at the statements by government leaders in the media the idea has clearly not been ruled out, unlike what No Cross No Crescent argues. A Huffington Post article quotes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as arguing that “it could technically use military force to kill an American on U.S. soil in an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ but has ‘no intention of doing so’.”
This doesn’t sound like as much of an air tight denial against the use of drones against U.S. citizens as No Cross No Crescent believes. All this statement says is that they have “no intention” of using drones on U.S. soil but they clearly noted that it would not be illegal, and that they would under certain circumstances.
Ever since 9/11 the government has unfortunately been rolling back the rules that govern our rule of law: rules pertaining to legal search and seizure, mass interception of all of Americans’ private communications, and of course, the issue which has been in the news so much: due process and a right to a speedy trial.
I think many people forget in this government-induced climate of fear precisely why these laws were put in place to begin with. They were put in place to help prevent government abuse and to protect the innocent from any wrongful punishment. Given the past abuses and blatant violations of the Constitution that the president and all other government agencies have sworn to uphold, who in their right mind would believe the government won’t also abuse this legal loop hole: “Yes, it’s legal for the president to murder an American citizen, but we promise we won’t do it.” Yeah, sure…. just as they swore to uphold the law of the land. We can all see how that turned out, can’t we?
No Cross No Crescent continues,
But the US is not the only place where there will never be any drone strikes. There are not going to be any drone stirkes anywhere in the world where there is a police force willing to apprehend terrorism suspects. [sic] Even in Pakistan, despite all the outrage in that country over the drone attacks, once the intended targets flee to the cities for fear of the drones, they get picked up by the police. And the Pakistani police have arrested some extremely nasty characters this way, that would likely be hiding to this day in a cave plotting the day of Pakistanis (and Americans) if it weren’t for the drones, even if these elements later get played as bargaining chips.
So the answer to “why are these targets attacked without the due process” is rather straightforward: because they are flouting the law by making the due process impossible. The only options are to send drones after them, or let them keep plotting more murders, as was the case with Baitullah Mehsud, the man behind assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and later drone target.
It seems that he is arguing that because many terrorists hide out in difficult to reach areas the authorities have no choice but to send drones because drones can fly high overhead, where security forces can’t get to. I find this line of reasoning highly specious. First, because he cites not a single example of any terrorists being caught in this manner, and second, because it just doesn’t make any sense. As to the first argument, Baitullah Mehsud was not forced out of hiding by drones and he didn’t go into the town. He was simply killed in his farm house away from the towns. As for his second example, regarding Abdul Ghani Baradar, drones had nothing to do with his capture at all. The Huffington Post reported how a “joint operation by CIA and Pakistani security forces” were responsible for capturing him. No mention of drones whatsoever.
Now onto his second argument. As I just said in the last paragraph there have been several examples of Pakistani forces capturing or killing known terrorists without any need for drones. There is the case of Tariq Aziz, a 16 year old boy who was staying at a hotel to attend a conference about how to photograph and document the aftermath of drone strikes in their country of Pakistan. Three days later he was killed by a drone strike. How hard would it have been to ambush this boy in his hotel room? Not hard at all! He was a child! Even more than that, he was nonviolent, so why was he killed? Finally, during his testimony before a Senate sub-committee, Farea Al-Muslimi noted that one of the men who was the target of a drone strike could have easily been captured. He said,
Just six days ago, this so-called war came straight to my village. As I was thinking about my testimony and preparing to travel to the United States to participate in this hearing, I learned that a missile from a U.S. drone had struck the village where I was raised. Ironically, I was sitting with a group of American diplomats in Sana’a at a farewell dinner for a dear American friend when the strike happened. As I was leaving my American friends, both of my mobile phones began to receive a storm of text messages and calls.
For almost all of the people in Wessab, I’m the only person with any connection to the United States. They called and texted me that night with questions that I could not answer: Why was the United States terrifying them with these drones? Why was the United States trying to kill a person with a missile when everyone knows where he is and he could have been easily arrested? […]
My understanding is that Hameed Meftah, who is also known as Hameed Al-Radmi, was the target of the drone strike. Many people in Wessab know Al-Radmi. Earlier on the night he was killed, he was reportedly in the village meeting with the General Secretary of Local Councilors, the head of the local government. A person in the village told me that Al-Radmi had also met with security and government officials at the security headquarters just three days prior to the drone strike. Yemeni officials easily could have found and arrested Al-Radmi.
After looking at these cases, it no longer seems “impossible” as be argues.
I will say one last thing about No Cross No Crescent’s second argument. Rather than trying to capture suspects it seems that the Obama administration simply wants to avoid proper legal procedures and outright kill people. A former legal adviser to the State Department and the National Security Council, John Bellinger, firmly believes the Obama administration is purposefully killing suspects and not bothering to even try to capture them. Many experts even believe this strategy of killing, rather than capturing, is actually harming their “war on terror” by failing to gather much needed intelligence about the “evolving organization – and thus on information that might also be crucial in defeating the terror group.”
The next objection No Cross No Crescent addresses is that of state sovereignty. It’s often argued that those countries the U.S. operated drones in are a violation of the sovereignty of the target country. He responds:
Which meshes in nicely with the next objection to the drone war: the violation of sovereignty. This is almost comical. Pakistan, Yemen and other countries where the drone strikes are carried out have no sovereignty to begin with, in their lawless areas. There would be no drone war if these areas were under control. If they care about sovereignty so much they can start by impose the rule of law over their own country.
I disagree with this strongly and I believe he doesn’t understand what sovereignty is. State sovereignty is defined as a “supreme power especially over a body politic,” and is also the “freedom from external control, or autonomy.” It is the second definition that most applies to the drone wars. This definition should make it perfectly clear that sovereignty does not mean that one state can enter another state without permission, even if it may have a few “lawless” areas. International and Humanitarian law still apply. His justification for violating the sovereignty of another state has no logical, nor legal, basis.
Now that I’ve said this, let me back up for a second. The Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) does allow intervention by other states so long as at least one of four factors apply. Bruce W. Jentleson’s American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007; pgs.430-432) lays out the following exceptions to the ICISS:
1. Just cause, in terms of an “extreme humanitarian emergency” or completely dire situation and a credible claim that the United States or other intervener is acting for the humanitarian motivations more than out of particularistic self-interest.
2. Proportionality of the military means, which should be only enough to achieve the humanitarian objective.
3. A strong probability of success, taking into account collateral damage, civilian casualties, and avoidance of “destroying the village in order to save it.”
4. Force as a last resort.
Not a single one of the above four exceptions remotely apply to the drone war in Pakistan, let alone anywhere else. Allow me to take each of them in turn.
1.Just cause: There is no possible humanitarian purpose for drones, at least not the way in which they are used. An excellent study, titled Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan, about the drone war conducted by Stanford and NYU in 2012 discusses in much detail the humanitarian crisis that the drones have actually brought to Pakistan.
2. Proportionality of the military means: I believe this second criteria may be what No Cross No Crescent was referring to with his above objection. However, even this does not apply. The previous links with examples of Pakistani forces successfully capturing a number of terrorists proves that it’s not impossible for the Pakistani government to combat terrorism without the use of lethal drones. And as I noted earlier, many experts believe that the drone wars are harming the ability of the U.S. to gain needed intelligence to better combat the Taliban.
3. Collateral damage, civilian casualties, etc.: Living Under Drones reports vast amounts of property damage, members of communities killed, economic chaos, declining mental health of the Pakistani civilian population, and education have all been greatly effected by the use of drones. I’d say this dire situation is a clear-cut case of “destroying the village in order to save it.”
4. Force as a last resort: I believe this criteria ought be to self-explanatory. It should also be more than apparent how the drone war, as I discussed above, fails this final exception because the Obama administration is avoiding capturing suspects, and is instead killing them outright.
My final piece of evidence, proving that the U.S.’s drone wars violate the sovereignty of Pakistan, is the fact that, despite the Pakistani government and it’s highest court calling on the U.S. to halt its drone program, the U.S. continues to do so in direct violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. There is a much more detailed discussion of the issue of sovereignty in a report by Stanford and NYU in 2012 titled Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan. Their legal analysis casts serious doubt on the claim that these strikes are not in violation of state sovereignty. Despite all of the legal argumentation, however, the fact of the matter is that Pakistan’s more recent declaration that the U.S. drone strikes are a violation of their sovereignty, and the fact that the U.S. refuses to stop despite this declaration, is I think a fact that further helps to put the final nail in this horrible argument’s coffin.
Next, No Cross No Crescent writes,
The next objection is about the killing of individuals who are theorists and propagandists of terrorism, who do not necessarily carry out acts of violence themselves. Yet as it happens, there are precedents for imposing the same penalty on propagandists, when their incitement of violence leads to actual violence. Perhaps the most notorious such example is the Nazi “journalist” Julius Streicher, tried and executed by the allies.
The fact that Streicher was “only” involved in propaganda and did not do any of the dirty work himself is why the horrible Neo-Nazi site Stormfront says he was “martyred”. If we can agree that Streicher deserved what he got, it is hard to see why Anwar al-Awlaki didn’t deserve the same, particularly given that when killed by a drone strike he was free (unlike Streicher) and could continue his incitements of violence. (See my previous post for more on that.)
There are two major issues with his argument here. First, as I demonstrated with undeniable evidence in the first post, Anwar al-Awlaki never incited or plotted anything, so this argument doesn’t even apply. Second, unlike in al-Awlaki’s case Streicher was actually put on trial, all of the evidence against him presented, and then he was executed. This is a far cry from what happened with al-Awlaki.
No Cross No Crescent sums up and ends his post with the following:
The only objection to the drone war that I find persuasive is the unintended victims. It is true, and it is heartbreaking. I truly wish that it could be avoided. Yet there is something important to remember here. These casualties could not have been avoided by sending in an armed force to capture the suspects. In the tribal areas where the suspects are sheltered, sending in a police or army unit to capture them would inevitably lead to a battle, and that would also cause unintended caualties. As much as I am disturbed by the fact that women and children are killed by drones, I can’t help asking the question: who is more to blame here? If the cowardly terrorists hide behind civilians to escape justice, shouldn’t they at least get part of the blame for such horrible outcomes?
With these objections answered, I rest my case that, as much as all of us desiring the rule of law and the due process regret the drone war, we are not living in a perfect world, and as long as it save lives in the US, Pakistan, and elsewhere, I see myself forced to excuse it.
I’m very pleased to see that No Cross No Crescent is actually aware of the numerous civilian causalities of the drone wars, which is something the mainstream media often under reports, if they report these facts at all. I agree this is an excellent argument against the drone war, however, in the next breath he actually took my breath away when he seemingly defends the killing of these innocents, by citing the same disgusting rationale as past leaders have: “It was simply unavoidable and it’s one of the unfortunate ‘costs of war.’” I’m sorry, but anyone who uses this rationale has no moral basis to stand on, especially in regards to the drone wars.
As I’ve shown, terrorists can be apprehended without any use of drones and without the shedding of the blood of the innocent. In most cases, when drones fire their “Hell Fire” missiles, they not only kill the target but also many innocent people in the surrounding areas. Think about this. Forget all the rhetoric about “targeted killing” (drones are anything but, as I will demonstrate in my next piece) and think about what a missile strike does. It blows things up, including surrounding people and buildings. So, what’s better? Firing a missile into a village where many innocent people are, or use troops to go in and at least have a chance at avoiding the murder of civilians with pinpoint accuracy of trained snipers and police forces? I think the choice should be obviously clear to anyone who has a properly working moral compass.
After having deconstructed No Cross No Crescent’s two blog posts about drone strikes I was shocked and dismayed by what I’ve read. Here we have a self-proclaimed skeptic, blogging on a skeptic-blogging network who hasn’t bothered to fact-check a single thing he’s written. This is why I’ve compared the non-thinking allegiance to government to the allegiance and devotion to Theism. In many cases those who defend government crimes and abuses don’t bother to research what they read or what they’ve been told, and simply repeat what their authorities have told them, just like many Christians and other theists when it comes to science, history, or their very own religion.
I hope my response gets No Cross No Crescent to begin thinking critically about what the U.S. government is doing and to not believe every news report he finds on the internet without first doing at least a little checking to see if it’s factual or not. That is, after all, what skeptics should do is it not? Let’s hope he’ll raise the bar in any future posts he may write about this subject.