National Review, the flagship journal of the conservative movement, has published an editorial that is broadly sympathetic to the Justice Department’s “white paper” laying out the Obama administration’s legal argument for the targeted killings of individuals (including U.S. citizens) aligned with terrorists, without judicial recourse. But the editors make a damning point of criticism despite their sympathy for the administration’s legal claims:
To be fair, it is true that the Obama administration fetishizes drones and over-relies on them in its prosecution of the War on Terror. This is due in no small measure to its own undermining of the Bush-era institutions and procedures built up to deal with captured enemy combatants. In its distaste for these institutions and procedures, the current administration has increasingly relied on death from above — collateral damage and intelligence collection be damned — as the more palatable alternative.
Catholics and others who believe that not all is fair in love and war (or at least not in war) should have been speaking out against Obama’s overuse of drones long ago. The basic facts were known well before we learned about the “white paper.” Too many liberals were more interested in protecting their man than in speaking truth to his power; too many conservatives were cheering him on when it came to targeted killing by predator drones. For anyone paying attention, the thirteenth chime of the clock should have been heard before the election when Obama campaign adviser and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, responding to a question about the death of Abulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year old son of al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, in a drone strike two weeks after his father was slain in a presidentially ordered targeted killing, said that the boy “should have had a more responsible father.” I myself raised concerns about the President’s increased use of drones in a comment here at Mirror of Justice last summer. I am taking the liberty of re-posting it:
June 18, 2012
Since assuming office (and receiving his Nobel Peace Prize) in 2009, President Obama has massively increased the use of unmanned predator drones in what used to be known as the war against terror. According to Chris Kirk, writing in Slate, Obama has authorized five times the number of drone attacks authorized by President Bush. Liberals, who would be screaming bloody murder if it were Bush, have gone strangely (well, not so strangely) quiet about this, while conservatives are cheering on a president whose other policies they abhor.
The use of drones is not, in my opinion, inherently immoral in otherwise justifiable military operations; but the risks of death and other grave harms to noncombatants are substantial and certainly complicate the picture for any policy maker who is serious about the moral requirements for the justified use of military force. Having a valid military target is in itself not a sufficient justification for the use of weapons such as predator drones. Sometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid their use, even if that means that grave risks must be endured by our own forces in the prosecution of a war.
The wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones cannot be justified, and should be criticized. This is something that Catholic intellectuals across the spectrum ought, it seems to me, to agree about. If we don’t speak, who will?
On the lethal side effects of the Obama drone strategy, see this article by Clive Smith.