Drones Don’t Kill. Lawyers do.

She is the blow-up doll of warfare on the eastern front. She has been a media darling. The venerable “60 Minutes” followed her halfway across the world. Details are vague, but U.S. forces are enjoying a love affair with the drone. We have seen U.S. Air Force pilots trained to remotely fly drones from the comfort of super secret places. It has been reported the CIA has acknowledged smoking around 500 suspected bad guys since 2009 by unmanned means. Drones do the dirty work keeping U.S. and allied personnel a little safer.

It has seemed the perfect set up. The good guys live and the bad guys die. But our friends at the United Nations and legal scholars question if it is legal for the U.S. to target and kill individuals in a nation with which the U.S. is not at war. They are talking about U.S. efforts to terminate terror suspects along the porous border that joins Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are challenging the targeted killings inside Pakistan.

The State Department has strongly supported the drone strategy. “In this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks,” said State’s legal advisor Harold Koh. He was asserting America’s right to self defense.

But just because the administration speaks doesn’t mean it’s so. There is concern about Detainee Déjà Vous, with similar opposition mounting against drone activities. Detainee policies were changed because of outside pressure. It can happen again.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act asking for details on the secret drone program.

Lawyers have brainstormed worst-case scenarios. There’s fear this secret policy that kills bad guys who pose a legitimate danger to the United States may leave the U.S. vulnerable to legal challenges by other nations. (Brilliant. Let the games begin. What’s to stop a lawyer from representing a surviving family and bringing suit against the United States?)

The U.S. is vulnerable to many nations. (Pick one.) But Pakistan has been the most prominent threat for some time. (And the nukes are just a part of it.) Challenges to U.S. efforts in this failing state are of tremendous concern. Secretly crossing the fluid border is probably a bad idea, though it has been done before.

Drones don’t kill. People do. Lawyers do. If the U.S. is legally vulnerable, then it needs to hire some better lawyers.

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