• The Drone War: A Necessary Evil-Part 1

    Sorry, ACLU, but there is no way I am going to have any sympathy for this man.

    The publication of a document earlier this month laying out the legal justifications for the “Drone War”, that is, missile strikes from unmanned aircraft targeting suspected terrorists, has brought this controversial mode of fighting a lot of public attention.

    Let us review the reasons for controversy surrounding the strikes, take a look at the profile of one of the targets, examine the overall effect of this campaign on terrorist activities, and then try to see how valid the objections are.

    The number one objection, coming from many on the Left (but also from some on the Right such as Ron Paul), is that the government cannot carry out executions without the due process:

    “As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU. “The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific and imminent. It is a mistake to invest the president – any president – with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.”

    Added ACLU National Security Project Litigation Director Ben Wizner: “If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state.”

    There have been objections to the drone strikes on other grounds as well. The one coming most loudly from Pakistan is “violation of sovereignty”. And of course, there is the issue of innocent life that is lost as a result of such strikes. (Blogger PZ Myers has specifically condemned the drone strikes for this reason.)

    But the specific condemnation from the ACLU (quoted above) was made in the wake of the killing of Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki. So why did the administration would want to kill Awlaki? Well, the “victim” had a rather “impressived” resume. For starters, he was the instigator behind the Fort Hood massacre. The massacre which left these men and women dead.

    How about their rights, ACLU?

    And Mr Awlaki was also tied to two failed terrorist attacks as well: the 2009 Christmas Day airline bombing, and the plot to bring down commercial airliners using bombs hiddens in parcels.

    Aside from taking out individual targets, how has this campaign affected terrorists, broadly speaking? Well, it seems that the martyrdom loving militants are really in no hurry to meet the 72 virgins.

    A list of 22 techniques for evading drone strikes shows that militants are trying to share their knowledge and reduce the number of casualties that American attacks are costing them.

    The tipsheet advises militants to hide under thick trees, stay in the shadows, cover up their vehicles, stay away from their parked cars, hold meetings indoors, and avoid using cell phones. If they hear a drone approaching, they are advised to scatter in multiple directions.

    The list also suggests using jamming equipment, and even setting up dummies as decoys to fool the reconnaissance planes.

    The list, according to CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, demonstrates how concerned jihadists are about the toll that the strikes are taking on their ranks.

    “It’s a matter of life or death for them,” he said. “It has induced a high degree of paranoia in their ranks. That has made it more difficult for them to recruit new members.”

    Judging by interrogation reports and accounts of Westerners, said Cruickshank, “it is extremely stressful, to know that any moment, the droning sound you hear from the sky may well be your death.”

    And the stress is showing itself in how they are attacking their targets. They have had to come up with a new strategy.

     The new strategy involves a teacher-training approach in which a select few Western operatives are taught bombmaking and other aspects of terrorist tradecraft in the tribal areas of Pakistan and are then instructed to return back to the West to “spread the knowledge” to a larger body of Islamist extremists keen on launching attacks.

    The new approach is a response to the growing toll of drone strikes which have made travel to the tribal areas increasingly perilous for Western recruits and significantly diminished al Qaeda’s ability to orchestrate terrorist plots from the region.

    While Islamists militants have access to many bombmaking recipes online, analysts say they often contain potentially fatal errors and have been seen by militants as a poor substitute to hands-on training by an instructor schooled in the art of bombmaking.

    So the Drone War is making the lives of terrorists difficult and stressful, and forcing them to come up with new and potentially fraught strategies. It is “working”, if you will.

    In the second part of this post I will take a closer look at the legal and moral objections to the Drone War, and offer my responses to them.


    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: No Such Thing As Blasphemy

    I was raised in the Islamic world. By accident of history, the plague that is entanglement of religion and government affects most Muslim majority nations a lot worse the many Christian majority (or post-Christian majority) nations. Hence, I am quite familiar with this plague. I started doubting the faith I was raised in during my teen years. After becoming familiar with the works of enlightenment philosophers, I identified myself as a deist. But it was not until a long time later, after I learned about evolutionary science, that I came to identify myself as an atheist. And only then, I came to know the religious right in the US. No need to say, that made me much more passionate about what I believe in and what I stand for. Read more...
    • The word “due process” comes to mind as an essential ingredient of a Democracy.

      That part of a Government based on the rule of law seems to have gone by the wayside. Compare the response of the US against a relative recent terrorist problem with the long history
      of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Sure, not everything went by the book there, but afaik there was no indiscriminate power of the prime minister to order the killing of suspects.

      BTW – I have been accused of a freedom of speech denier on various skeptical forums when I advocated the banning and prosecution of any Neo Nazis who advocate the killing of “undesirables” – basically all of them. Interesting to read your defense of the extra judicial elimination of someone who after all only instigated but did not carry out the massacre at Fort Hood.

      • NoCrossNoCrescent

        I will write more about the due process later. But as for Awlaki having “only” instigated killings-that is precisely why a Mafia boss goes to prison even though he was not the one having physically pulled the trigger.

        • ArizonaAtheist

          Hi NCNC,

          I’ve read a lot about the drone wars so I was curious what you had to say about them. I’m not exactly sure where you got your information from, but I believe you really need to rethink your position on the use of drones. I’ve written a response on my site if you’d like to read it. The first part will be posted tomorrow. I look forward to a lively discussion. Thanks!

      • qbsmd

        Terrorists have been travelling to countries with weak governments (Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, etc) where they don’t have to worry about military or law enforcement interference to set up training camps. Due process is exactly what they’ve been intentionally avoiding. I don’t know of an alternative to dealing with lawless regions; someone has to go in an impose law. Unfortunately, the only law that can be realistically imposed seems to be “don’t look like a group of terrorists from several thousand feet away”, the evidence for which is evaluated quickly, and the punishment applied equally quickly.

        Northern Ireland, as far as I know, never had to deal with terrorists going outside the reach of any law enforcement agency to plan, and only returning to conduct attacks. The last article quoted here shows that the drone attacks have changed that cost benefit analysis so it’s likely more terrorists will operate in western countries full time and be subject to due process in the future.

    • Carl

      If a jihad is willing to kill innocent people for their beliefs a drone war is not only justifiable but necessary.

      • The problem I see is not that those powers will be used against foreign jihadist in foreign countries or in the US itself who have declared war against western societies. The problem I see is that those powers will be used against the citizens of the state.
        Awlaki was an American citizen and like any criminal was subject to American jurisdiction. Does America now go ahead and kill any criminal living extraterritorial instead of trying to apprehend them and following due process?

        Where did the principle go: not guilty unless proven guilty? Awlaki was not caught and shot in flagranti, he was killed while traveling and other collateral damage was apparently accepted with the shrug of the shoulder:

        “The drone attack also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen born in
        Pakistan traveling with Mr. Awlaki. Mr. Khan edited Al Qaeda’s online
        jihadist magazine. A month later, Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son,
        Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado, was part of a group of
        people killed by a drone strike in Yemen.”


        The arguments smack more of convenience and avoiding legal process, and the typical US stance: kill first ask questions later, maybe fueled by a fear mongering that I have seen happening in the US since the 9/11 attacks.and the subsequent home land security act.

        I do not accept arguments supporting the killing of citizens without legal process as a sign of a democratic government – it is typically the hallmark of authoritarian states which the US seems to want to follow.

        • NoCrossNoCrescent

          So you are alteady conceding that the fact that Awlaki did not pull the trigger doesn’t mean he was innocent of murder? Good.

          • I said I found it interesting that when I posited that Neo Nazis should be prosecuted and they should be shut down for advocating murder on their websites it was deemed a violation of the principle of free speech. I always advocated that free speech stops and the issue becomes a criminal matter when you advocate violence against any group or individual in a democratic society.
            By the same token those in the conservative/teaparty movement that openly advocate the killing of the president should be dragged before the court and prosecuted accordingly.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              You can be legally responsible if your incitement leads to actual violence, as was the case with Awlaki, obviously. Hence I don’t see what your problem is.