Over the past week there has been what looks like the beginning of a concerted effort by advocates of drones to put their case to the public.
On Monday, Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan gave a widely reported speech defending the use of drone strikes. Brennan stated that “in full accordance with the law—and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives—the United States Government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qa’ida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.” He argued that the targeted drone strikes on known individuals (he didn’t talk about or even mention the other sort of targeted drone strikes – so called ‘signature strikes’) were not only “legal” and “ethical” but also “wise”. (see full transcript of speech here)
Others much more knowledgeable about the intricacies of international law and targeted killing have already critiqued the speech. See for example ‘Thoughts on Brennan’s Speech’ by Human Rights First, and Further Reflections About John Brennan’s Targeted Killing Speech on the ACLU blog.
Although Brennan’s speech received the most coverage, his was not the sole instance of drone supporters making their case this week.
Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal – seen by many as a kind of unofficial media outlet for those conducting ‘the war on terror’ – made a rare TV appearance on the US cable news network, C-Span. Several time Roggio made the point that not speaking about the drones strikes was a “public relations nightmare” and that “the American public really should have an understanding of what we are doing”. He argued that the US administration needed to “be more open” and “we should be making the case as to why we are conducting this program.”
In addition it was reported this week that during a seminar organised by US think tank The Stimson Center, US Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, went on the offensive in regard to the ethical questions that surround the use of drones. As National Defense magazine, put it Schwartz insisted that ethics were ‘not a relevant question’:
“Is it more honorable for us to engage a target from an F-16 or an F-15 [manned fighter] than it is from an MQ-9 [remotely piloted aircraft]? Is that somehow more ethical? .. Oh come on,” “We have very explicit criteria, rules of engagement, legal standards to engage a whole variety of targets.” The issue is not whether this is ethical, he said. If a weapon is intended to strike a legitimate target that poses a threat to U.S. forces or allies, “I would argue that the manner in which you engage that target — in close combat or not — is not a terribly relevant question. … If what we’re doing is righteous, and I believe it is, the exact modality is less relevant.”
Of course none of these arguments are new. But what is interesting is the sudden desire of those advocating or supporting drone strikes to be speaking about the issue in public. Perhaps there is a feeling they are beginning to losing the argument? Whether this is true or not, those of us challenging the rise of the drone need to respond loudly and clearly. Speaking of which…..