Drone Pilots Could Be Tried for ‘War Crimes,’ Law Prof Says
By Nathan Hodge
April 29, 2010
The pilots waging America’s undeclared drone war in Pakistan could be liable to criminal prosecution for “war crimes,” a prominent law professor told a Congressional panel Wednesday.
Harold Koh, the State Department’s top legal adviser, outlined the administration’s legal case for the robotic attacks last month. Now, some legal experts are taking turns to punch holes in Koh’s argument.
It’s part of an ongoing legal debate about the CIA and U.S. military’s lethal drone operations, which have escalated in recent months — and which have received some technological upgrades. Critics of the program, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that the campaign amounts to a program of targeted killing that may violate the laws of war.
In a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s national security and foreign affairs panel, several professors of national security law seemed open to that argument. But there are still plenty of caveats, and the risks to U.S. drone operators are at this point theoretical: Unless a judge in, say, Pakistan, wanted to issue a warrant, it doesn’t seem likely. But that’s just one of the possible legal hazards of robotic warfare.
Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That’s because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant’s privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.
“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause,” Glazier continued. “But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”
The drones themselves are a lawful tool of war; “In fact, the ability of the drones to engage in a higher level of precision and to discriminate more carefully between military and civilian targets than has existed in the past actually suggests that they’re preferable to many older weapons,” Glazier added. But employing CIA personnel to carry out those armed attacks, he concluded, “clearly fall outside the scope of permissible conduct and ought to be reconsidered, particularly as the United States seeks to prosecute members of its adversaries for generally similar conduct.”
Drone attacks haven’t just become the primary weapon in the American bid to wipe out Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks. “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership,” CIA director Leon Panetta said.
But that “embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radical new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force,” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer recently observed. Before 9/11, the American government regularly condemned Israel for taking out individual terrorists. “Seven years later, there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy.”
The U.S. government has since defended the strikes as legitimate self-defense — without going into details about the operations. Kenneth Anderson, an American University law professor, said the government’s reluctance to talk about the missions — as well as its reliance on an intelligence agency to carry out military action — raises some serious questions.
In his prepared statement (.pdf), Anderson said Koh “nowhere mentions the CIA by name in his defense of drone operations. It is, of course, what is plainly intended when speaking of self-defense separate from armed conflict. One understands the hesitation of senior lawyers to name the CIA’s use of drones as lawful when the official position of the U.S. government, despite everything, is still not to confirm or deny the CIA’s operations.”
What’s more, Anderson argued, Congress has been reluctant to talk about the bigger policy issue: Why this is a CIA mission in the first place. “Why should the CIA, or any other civilian agency, ever use force (leaving aside conventional law enforcement)?” he said. “Even granting the existence of self-defense as a legal category, why ever have force used by anyone other than the uniformed military?”
Mary Ellen O’Connell, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, was much more blunt in her statement. “Combat drones are battlefield weapons,” she told the panel. “They fire missiles or drop bombs capable of inflicting very serious damage. Drones are not lawful for use outside combat zones. Outside such zones, police are the proper law enforcement agents, and police are generally required to warn before using lethal force.”
“Restricting drones to the battlefield is the most important single rule governing their use, O’Connell continued. “Yet, the United States is failing to follow it more often than not.”
Not all of the law professors testifying today agreed. Syracuse University’s William Banks, for one, said that “the intelligence laws permit the president broad discretion to utilize the nation’s intelligence agencies to carry out national security operations, implicitly including targeted killing.” Current U.S. laws “supply adequate – albeit not well articulated or understood – legal authority for these drone strikes.”
But American laws may not be on the only ones applicable to drone strikes, critics contend. As Anderson argued, the United States may face legal challenges from what he called the “international-law community” – nongovernmental organizations, international bodies, U.N. agencies and others who view this as a program of targeted killing that falls outside the bounds of armed conflict.
Either way, this hearing will not end the controversy. As we’ve noted here before, the government has been less than forthcoming about who, exactly, authorizes drone strikes, how the targets are chosen and how many civilians may have been inadvertently killed.
– Nathan Hodge and Noah Shachtman Source
The US is not at war with Pakistan and therefore if they kill anyone in Pakistan, it is pre meditated murder..
Attacking Pakistan is equal to attacking Britain, Canada, Dubai or France for example.
Whether the army were the pilots or not it makes no difference. It is still murder.
That is my opinion. That is the way everyone should view it.
Pakistan can take care of it’s own. The US has murdered innocent civilians in Pakistan more times then I care to remember.
Pakistan has told the US numerous times to stop the bombings. This is one of those times.
Obama has been told and so had the Bush administration Pakistan doesn’t want them bombing in their country. So what part of NO doesn’t the US get the N or the O.
They do not have Pakistan permission to drop bombs in their country. Any bombing done by any US citizen, military or not, are illegal.
Civilian Deaths -1256
Civilians Injured -427
Al-Qaeeda deaths -30
Success Rate of Drone Attacks against Al-Qaeeda ~ 2.5%
US drone strike kills 6 in Pakistan
May 3 2010
A US drone attack has killed at least six people and wounded several others in the troubled tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan, officials say.
According to Pakistani officials, the drone fired three missiles in the Mir Ali area in Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border on Monday, DPA reported.
The death toll is expected to rise as some of the injured are reported to be in critical condition, sources said.
According to the sources, those killed were “militants.”
So far this year, 300 people have lost their lives in 42 drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal belt. Washington claims the raids target militants in Pakistan, but hundreds of civilians have fallen victim to the US drone attacks since 2008.
Islamabad has repeatedly condemned the strikes, saying they threaten the country’s sovereignty and fuel public anger. Source
CNN made a big deal out of Iran flying over a ship in the Arabian sea. Seems to me the US shouldn’t be there either.
Who do they think they are? They do not own the world.
Iran may have flown over and may not have.
For all we know it could have been Israel who flew over the US ship.
Of course they didn’t fly over the ship anyway, who ever was in the planes, were flying over half a mile away.
‘Iranian fighters may fly over US forces’
The Title should have been
Iranian fighters may have flow near US forces
April 29 2010
A senior Iranian Air Force officer does not rule out reports that an Iranian fighter jet might have flown over a US aircraft carrier last week in the Arabian Sea.
The incident was first reported by CNN on Tuesday. According to the report, a plane belonging to the Iranian Navy was flying as low as 300 feet near the USS Eisenhower on April 21.
The Eisenhower was in the northern Arabian Sea when the Iranian maritime patrol aircraft flew within 1,000 yards of the vessel, US military officials claimed.
Mohammad Alavi, deputy commander of the Iranian Air Force said that the fighter jet may have come close to the US aircraft carrier during a routine patrol.
“Iran has scheduled flights in the air corridor in the altitude of up to 20,000 feet, and its plane might have come close to the US aircraft carrier while flying in this corridor,” Fars news agency quoted Alavi as saying on Thursday.
He added, “Nobody can criticize such flights because they are being conducted within the framework of international law. We conduct routine reconnaissance flights with different aircrafts, including drones, and they may have come across the US forces.” Source
(1000 yards = 3,000 feet, 1 mile = 5280 feet so they were over half a mile away from the ship. ( 0.56818 miles or almost 1 kilometer -0.91439 kilometers) That isn’t exactly over the ship now is it?
They were also 91,439.99986 Centimeters or 35,999.99990 Inches away from the ship as well. But I digress. Now I am just being stupid.
So what the American ship doing there anyway? There is the question that should be asked. Were they spying on others? Probably.
Iran wasn’t breaking any Laws, if in fact it even was their fighters.
Could the US have been breaking the Law, is the other question that should be asked?
A US-Sponsored Terror Network-Death Squads in Afghanistan
By Francis Shor
April 27 2010
It should no longer be a matter of dispute that US Special Forces in Afghanistan are responsible for an increasing number of murders, whether part of targeted extra-judicial killings or the result of bad intelligence. From the attack on a bridal shower in Gardez on February 12, 2010 that killed numerous civilians, including two pregnant women, to the growing list of executions of insurgents in the Kandahar area, Special Forces have become the US military version of death squads. For Entire Story Go HERE