Are Drones Defensible? Ctd

Jun 15 2012 @ 5:07pm

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A reader writes:

Instead of dealing with and forthrightly acknowledging your belief that America should have the special right to extinguish civilian lives wherever and whenever it wants, you fall back on claims like "the notion that the fundamental reason the US is now targeted simply because we defended ourselves from a brutal attack…seems far too simplistic to me." AQAP had nothing to do with 9/11 and as we know from recent reporting, much of the al Qaeda that instigated 9/11 has been dismantled.  Can you (or anybody) plausibly claim that jihadis currently living in Yemen or Pakistan have "brutally attacked us?"

Another is on the same page:

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists is very specific. It targets only nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons. This, in my inexpert reading, means only al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So yes, let's assume drone strikes against those organizations are lawful. But the question becomes, are there any natural limits on such strikes?

We've already killed or captured nearly everyone who had anything to do with 9/11. Does the fact that people go around calling themselves al-Qaeda and Taliban necessarily mean that they are the people intended to be targeted by the resolution? These organizations are almost entirely just names at this point, that some people adopt for themselves to score political points but which have almost nothing to do with the original group of perpetrators. Furthermore, what do people in Yemen, Somalia and now the Philippines have to do with 9/11? I'm pretty sure not even John Bolton would argue that the Philippines had any connection to the hijackers or their accomplices.

Another shifts gears:

You said "I agree – how could one not? – that the drone program can backfire. Which is why I said it has to be conducted with extreme care."

The underlying premise here – that it's possible to conduct a drone assassination program "with extreme care" – is the sticking point. Greenwald has made it quite clear over his career that he believes the more power you give the government, the more it will abuse that power. His belief (and mine) is that you can't trust powerful people to use their power "with extreme care," because even if they believe they're actually doing that, they will always end up abusing their power to protect their own interests. So no matter how much you argue about how effective the drone strikes are and whether they're worth the blowback they will inevitably cause, you'll never come to agreement with Greenwald because you believe our governments can be trusted to act "with extreme care" and he believes they can be counted on to do the exact opposite.

This issue – trust in authority – is the main difference between you and Greenwald. The question I would pose is this: What makes you believe our government is capable of conducting an extra-judicial international assassination program with "extreme care"?

I'll be responding to these readers and to Glenn Greenwald next week.

(Photo: A Pakistani labourer works at a house in front of the demolished compound of slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in northern Abbottabad on April 25, 2012. A year after Osama bin Laden died in a US raid, Al-Qaeda keeps spreading its message of terror in Pakistan, analysts say, with splinter groups threatening the country's fragile stability. A campaign of missile attacks by unmanned US drone aircraft in Pakistan's lawless northwest, long a hideout for militants, has weakened Al-Qaeda's structure by eliminating some of its leadership. By Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)