Lethal Force, Law and Morality: If You Drop a Bomb on a High-Level Target, Surrounded by Family Members, and You Ignore These Civilians in Your Pursuit of the Target-What Really Is the Difference between Your Tactics and Those of the "Terrorists" Who Use Suicide Bombers to Attack What They Perceive as Significant Targets but Care Not Who They Blow Up?

Article excerpt

The uprisings in the Arab Spring, the assassination of Bin Laden, and the NATO intervention in Libya have once again raised important questions about the morality of using lethal force, its impact on civilians, the legal position, and the eventual price paid by those who wrongly deploy such force.

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Non-Western leaders tend to suffer serious consequences if the calibration is wrong, while Western countries using similar lethal force tend to suffer few consequences.

Beyond Fallujah and other instances in the recent past, we need only take the ongoing American drones war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Even though America declared war against Afghanistan following the September 11 attack, they appear to be operating the drone war there in a legal and moral vacuum. However, no such war excuse exists with Pakistan or Yemen.

In the US, the attacks would presumably be "legally" covered by the Presidential Order issued by George W. Bush, to pursue Al Qaeda and the Taliban for attacking the US, or more loosely under the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive self-defence.

However, those justifications are tenuous under international law, especially given the increasing numbers of innocent people being killed as a result of "collateral damage". Normally intelligence is gathered to pinpoint the target--then the remote operator (sometimes as far away as the US) fires missiles from the unmanned drone. No matter how careful the Americans try to be, it is obvious this approach is full of risks. The intelligence is based on local people, who are known to sometimes use the Americans to eliminate their own enemies, unrelated to any terrorism issues. Also, high-level targets have been taken out sometimes while family and other "civilians" are present.

One of the US drones causing maythem in Pakistan

When innocents die, a standard message of regret is issued by the Americans and NATO about how they try to minimise civilian casualties. However, it is like leaving a bomb in a crowded marketplace, which you know is fully bound to kill people, and then apologising afterwards for those deaths. People are unlikely to take the sincerity of the apology seriously. …