The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Drone ‘Wars’?

February 6, 2012

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released a new report alleging that CIA-piloted drones have regularly attacked rescuers and funerals as well as high-value targets – a damning claim given Obama’s recent assertion to the contrary in his digital town hall meeting.

The report correctly suggests that in the context of international humanitarian law, intentionally targeting individuals who come to the rescue of victims would be considered a violation of the rules of war.* But in doing so, and in using the term “drone wars” to describe this campaign of executions, the BJI also inadvertently legitimizes the very discourse it is critiquing: the notion that these killings are justifiable because we’re at war. And as I’ve argued before, the focus on drones also continues to obfuscate the principal problem here, which is not the weapons themselves but rather the fact that the US is engaged in a massive transnational campaign to execute suspected criminals without trial.

This would be bad enough even without the significant “collateral damage” that appears to be a consequence of these strikes. It would be bad enough even without argument that the US is targeting civilians and aid workers. And invoking the laws of war to critique those behaviors – which indeed are war law violations if we’re at war – implicitly legitimizes that very idea, which in fact the anti-drone lobby wants to refute.

It’s no wonder that the more the anti-drone lobby condemns “drone wars,” the less trouble the Obama Administration has justifying its actions.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.