An automated assassin is an automated assassin by any other name

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British Prime Minister David Cameron recently got in on the drone killing game by dispatching two of his countrymen and labeling the homicides acts of “national defense”. Would the homicides have been accepted without protest if the Prime Minister had enlisted a contract killer to sneak into the homes of British nationals and use strangulation wires to eliminate them while they were lying in bed asleep? Or would that not obviously constitute extrajudicial execution, doubly illegal under British law and the EU Charter, both of which prohibit capital punishment?

Now that Cameron has succeeded in strapping on his Hellfire missile holster with little response from the British public, he has decided to acquire even more lethal drones, doubling the country’s current arsenal. He will switch out the Reaper drones now in the RAF armory to make room for a new model. To ensure that no one puts up a fuss, he’s decided to call them “Protector” rather than Predator or Reaper drones, whose name unequivocally expresses their intended purpose: to kill human beings.

These machines are used not only to fire on targets, but also to hunt them down, making it impossible for them to escape alive. The targets are not permitted to surrender, as soldiers on the ground would be required to allow enemy soldiers to do. “No immediate threat” means “no killing” for a human combat soldier, who is subject to court martial and criminal charges when he opts to slay a person posing no clear and present danger to any person present.

In the Drone Age, the warriors “take no prisoners”, following the lead of US President Barack Obama, whose signature policy is “kill don’t capture”. The suspected targets (militants, insurgents, terrorists or just plain allegedly “evil” people) are incapable of laying down their arms before their killer, the drone lurking over their head, in most cases because they are not bearing any arms at all when they are obliterated. They are typically not threatening other human beings with death and so could not be legally terminated by another human being on the ground. The question therefore must be addressed: how can it be right to kill people using lethal drones, if it would be wrong for a human contract killer to do the same to unarmed persons walking down the street?

The practice of remote-control killing became a standard operating procedure because it was normalized by the US government after years of covert actions, which, carried out under cover of State Secrets Privilege, were never the subject of debate. The time has arrived for the populace of countries whose leaders wield or condone the use of lethal drones (as the German government does by permitting drone killing to be orchestrated from Ramstein Air Force base) to wake up to the reality of what is being done with their money under a pretext of national defense.

Calling summary execution without trial “protection” merely masks the reality, making it more politically palatable, just as calling the unintended victims “collateral damage” hides from the people paying for the deaths the horror of what has been done in their name.

WeKillBecauseWeCanLaurieCalhoun

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 3: The Logic of Targeted Killing; Chapter 10: Death and Politics; Chapter 11: Death and Taxes; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do

Is Germany Still a Member of the European Union? The Case of Ramstein Air Force Base

Germany houses Ramstein Air Force Base, from which lethal drone strikes have been and continue to be carried out by the US government in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, among other places. Why is this problematic? First, because Hellfire missiles launched from drones are being used to eliminate persons in lands where war was never waged, in violation of the United Nations Charter, which requires that member states secure the approval of the Security Council before penetrating the territory of a sovereign nation with the weapons of war.

Until the recent coup in Yemen and the resultant chaos—arguably precipitated by the US drone program—most of the missiles there were being fired at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), an ostensibly civilian, not military organization. Only this past weekend, four more unnamed “suspected Al Qaeda members” were taken out by a US drone in Jawf province, in the southern part of Yemen. The deaths in such cases—whether of suspects or so-called collateral damage—are by all appearances extrajudicial executions, what in the twentieth-century would have been carried out covertly, in black ops. Only in the Drone Age has assassination been rebranded as an act of war, in an unfortunate frenzy on the part of US policy makers to appear strong in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

We now know that many of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay were innocent. They were rounded up as terrorist suspects, but later determined not to have been terrorists at all. The Bush administration “tortured some folks,” as Obama put it, and he vowed to call a halt to the mistreatment of detainees. This was accomplished, remarkably, by ceasing altogether to take any prisoners in territories deemed hostile, opting instead to kill them all. US administrators infamously decreed that due process and judicial process are not one and the same and proceeded to act according to a new principle, “kill don’t capture”, under the obviously erroneous assumption (given the findings at Guantánamo Bay) that all terrorist suspects are in fact terrorists.

In none of the drone killings have the suspects been granted, as is required by Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the opportunity to defend themselves against the determination by the reigning “kill committee” that they deserve to die. According to the Department of Justice White Paper, US citizens intentionally killed in drone strikes, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, who was annihilated in Yemen on September 30, 2011, are not denied “due process”, even when they have never been indicted for crimes, much less allowed to stand trial.

US officials have also insisted that the strikes are permitted under Article 51, the self-defense clause, of the UN Charter. However, that the strikes in Yemen have been acts of self-defense is belied by the fact that, until 2015, the US government sought the permission of the central government before killing on Yemen soil. No political leader can grant or withhold an inherent right to self-defense.

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The complicity of Germany in such extrajudicial executions bears special scrutiny. Even if the executions from Ramstein Air Force Base had been carried out at the conclusion of a robust judicial process, fully respecting the rights of the suspects, the European Union prohibits its members from imposing the death penalty even on convicted murderers. In other words, Germany, by permitting such acts of killing to be carried out from German soil, would seem to be violating the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which clearly states in Chapter 1, Article 2(2):

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.

The statement is categorical. There are no exceptions. It does not say

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed, except by remote-control.

or

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed, except when deemed worthy of death by the US government.

or

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed, except when accidentally killed by the US government as they attempt to kill somebody else.

Three plaintiffs recently filed a suit alleging Germany’s culpability in the drone killing in Yemen of two innocent men, Salim bin Ali Jaber and Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber. The plaintiffs argued that Ramstein Air Force Base, located on German soil, is an integral part of the US “kill chain”, without which the victims would not have been slain.

The judge sided with the German government, which argued that it cannot control what other sovereign nations do. But is this true? Is it right? If Germany has granted the US government to operate on German soil, does this imply that within the space where they operate “Everything is permitted”? That sounds like a non sequitur to me. The judge in the case, Hildegund Caspari-Wierzoch, stated that the plaintiffs are welcome to appeal the case, and it appears that they intend to do so.

If the United States has committed war crimes in Yemen, and they were perpetrated from German soil, then the German government was a culpable collaborator. The only way to avoid such complicity would be to expel the wrongdoers or prohibit them from violating international law while operating in Germany.

Does anyone deny that the Vichy regime was complicit in the crimes committed on French soil by the Third Reich? The cases are not so very different, it seems to me.

WeKillBecauseWeCanLaurieCalhoun

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 2: From Black Ops to Standard Operating Procedure; Chapter 3: The Logic of Targeted Killing; and Chapter 12: Tyrants Are As Tyrants Do