Predator drones for bad guys

A predator drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader, propagandist, and recruiter.  Complicating the matter is that he and one of his minions also killed in the Yemen attack were  American citizens.   Some are concerned that executing an American like this is a violation of our constitutional rights for due process and a fair trial.  Others say that al-Awlaki is a textbook example of a traitor who is fighting on the side of his country’s enemies and that being killed in this quasi-military operation is what happens in war.  It has nothing to do with the legal system.

Some of you have already been arguing about this is another post (rather than staying on topic), but let’s take this in another direction.  Do you think predators should be used in law enforcement?

In which of these cases would you support their use?

(1)  Against the Mexican drug lords who are terrorizing Mexico (in consultation with that country’s authorities)?

(2)  Against domestic organized crime leaders?

(3)  In situations that call for deadly force, such as against snipers or holed-up killers, as another weapon in the arsenal of SWAT teams?

(4)  To patrol dangerous neighborhoods?

(5)  As a high tech cop on the beat, used mostly for surveillance but carrying a weapon?

(6)  Used for surveillance but without the Hellfire missile?

How would you handle the constitutional issues?  Is this just another weapon or just another tool, or are there particular legal or moral problems with it?

Help us draw some lines.

via Anwar al-Awlaki: Is killing US-born terror suspects legal? – CSMonitor.com.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Wait until the bad guys get them.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Wait until the bad guys get them.

  • Chessieman

    I think we have to be very careful to uphold the individual rights of US citizens. Our Constitution holds hat until a citizen is given due process of law, they are not guilty. Also search and seizure laws come into play when you use drones for surveillance. I would suggest that drones could be used for surveillance, as long as they fall under the same search/seizure regulations as any other surveillance method, but it is wrong to use them to kill US citizens on US soil.

    On the other hand, if it is a time of war and the US citizen is actively fighting against the United States, I can see a place to use due process of law to convict them of crimes against the United States, and if they are deemed to pose imminent threat to the United States either by their actions or planning abilities, then a drone could be used to take their life. Thoughts anyone?

  • Chessieman

    I think we have to be very careful to uphold the individual rights of US citizens. Our Constitution holds hat until a citizen is given due process of law, they are not guilty. Also search and seizure laws come into play when you use drones for surveillance. I would suggest that drones could be used for surveillance, as long as they fall under the same search/seizure regulations as any other surveillance method, but it is wrong to use them to kill US citizens on US soil.

    On the other hand, if it is a time of war and the US citizen is actively fighting against the United States, I can see a place to use due process of law to convict them of crimes against the United States, and if they are deemed to pose imminent threat to the United States either by their actions or planning abilities, then a drone could be used to take their life. Thoughts anyone?

  • tetonkid

    I think that we have become way too military in our police work. We have too much high tech and too much firepower. We need more basic neighborhood policemen and fewer swat teams. More of the county sheriff approach and less of the big city policing methods.

  • tetonkid

    I think that we have become way too military in our police work. We have too much high tech and too much firepower. We need more basic neighborhood policemen and fewer swat teams. More of the county sheriff approach and less of the big city policing methods.

  • WebMonk

    I wouldn’t use one in any of the situations except potentially in 3. In most of those it doesn’t have anything to do with the technology being used (the drone), but rather with what the government should or shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

    Possibly number 1, but I would be very suspicious about the “request” coming from Mexican/Columbian authorities — I wouldn’t trust that we didn’t lean on them to make such a request or that someone in their government influenced the request so that a competitor would be taken out.

    Number 2: what, like leaders of MS13 and other gangs? Leaders of the mafia? These sorts of people need to be captured and tried, not executed in their homes or driving. Police don’t/shouldn’t be going in with the goal of killing them.

    Number 3: This would be an extremely bizarre situation. So bizarre that I can’t imagine it ever happening in real life. However, if something weird were to happen and a sniper shot needed to be made but some crazy situation made the sniper shop impossible but the drone strike necessary, the drone would essentially be the same as a sniper shot – deadly force used in an immediate emergency with immanent threat of deadly force used by the criminal. (summarizing the existing case law on that issue)

    Number 4: Not even going to bother with that one other than “Of course not”.

    Number 5: Cops don’t carry arms capable of blowing up entire buildings or even blocks of buildings. No.

    Number 6: Police can’t/shouldn’t be doing this as general surveillance. If it’s in an emergency such as a hostage situation or a SWAT team going in for a major bust, they already have similar technology available, so a stripped down Pred isn’t necessary.

  • WebMonk

    I wouldn’t use one in any of the situations except potentially in 3. In most of those it doesn’t have anything to do with the technology being used (the drone), but rather with what the government should or shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

    Possibly number 1, but I would be very suspicious about the “request” coming from Mexican/Columbian authorities — I wouldn’t trust that we didn’t lean on them to make such a request or that someone in their government influenced the request so that a competitor would be taken out.

    Number 2: what, like leaders of MS13 and other gangs? Leaders of the mafia? These sorts of people need to be captured and tried, not executed in their homes or driving. Police don’t/shouldn’t be going in with the goal of killing them.

    Number 3: This would be an extremely bizarre situation. So bizarre that I can’t imagine it ever happening in real life. However, if something weird were to happen and a sniper shot needed to be made but some crazy situation made the sniper shop impossible but the drone strike necessary, the drone would essentially be the same as a sniper shot – deadly force used in an immediate emergency with immanent threat of deadly force used by the criminal. (summarizing the existing case law on that issue)

    Number 4: Not even going to bother with that one other than “Of course not”.

    Number 5: Cops don’t carry arms capable of blowing up entire buildings or even blocks of buildings. No.

    Number 6: Police can’t/shouldn’t be doing this as general surveillance. If it’s in an emergency such as a hostage situation or a SWAT team going in for a major bust, they already have similar technology available, so a stripped down Pred isn’t necessary.

  • SKPeterson

    Let me just second WebMonk’s observations and conclusions. Maybe, #6 can be justified under the same context as squad cars patrolling highways for speeders or red light cameras, but, I would see this more in the context of fugitive tracking, Amber alerts, or some such other rather rare event in which highways need to be monitored. However, I’m not sure drone patrols would be more effective in identifying fugitives than actual human eyes on the ground.

    I think the best possible use of drones would be in post-disaster emergency rescue operations – the ability to identify and locate survivors, provide imagery for quick analysis of compromised infrastructure and refugee flows, would be useful to emergency management. Many of these responses can be crowd-sourced through social media, but a few drone flights can provide confirmation and intelligence in the aftermath of a natural hazard so that scarce resources can be committed more effectively.

  • SKPeterson

    Let me just second WebMonk’s observations and conclusions. Maybe, #6 can be justified under the same context as squad cars patrolling highways for speeders or red light cameras, but, I would see this more in the context of fugitive tracking, Amber alerts, or some such other rather rare event in which highways need to be monitored. However, I’m not sure drone patrols would be more effective in identifying fugitives than actual human eyes on the ground.

    I think the best possible use of drones would be in post-disaster emergency rescue operations – the ability to identify and locate survivors, provide imagery for quick analysis of compromised infrastructure and refugee flows, would be useful to emergency management. Many of these responses can be crowd-sourced through social media, but a few drone flights can provide confirmation and intelligence in the aftermath of a natural hazard so that scarce resources can be committed more effectively.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    For the record, I agree with Webmonk, that drones should not be used for any of the above reasons.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    For the record, I agree with Webmonk, that drones should not be used for any of the above reasons.

  • WebMonk

    SK – yup, I agree with you on number 6. Thumbs up for amber alerts, fugitive tracking, etc. Depending on the resources police have available, the drone might provide superior results compared to eyes on the ground – there is a very definite limit to how many policemen are available to be eyes on the ground.

    Also for the disaster recovery uses – absolutely! They’ve already gotten some satellite put to similar use, but a drone going over feeding back video and telemetry could be extremely useful and much faster (maybe even cheaper). I’m sure it is already being pursued, and I hope it works out.

  • WebMonk

    SK – yup, I agree with you on number 6. Thumbs up for amber alerts, fugitive tracking, etc. Depending on the resources police have available, the drone might provide superior results compared to eyes on the ground – there is a very definite limit to how many policemen are available to be eyes on the ground.

    Also for the disaster recovery uses – absolutely! They’ve already gotten some satellite put to similar use, but a drone going over feeding back video and telemetry could be extremely useful and much faster (maybe even cheaper). I’m sure it is already being pursued, and I hope it works out.

  • Cincinnatus

    None of the above.

  • Cincinnatus

    None of the above.

  • Matt

    Pardon if I skip past the hypothetical (though entirely plausible) cases. It seems the first question to ask is about the use of force. If the use of force is justified (presumably, by ethicists or in the context of an ethical discussion), there is a burden of reasoning on the person who would first affirm the use of force only to then dictate the methods and technology used to carry out that use of force. Certainly there are distinctive justifications for the use of force between police and military operations. But in either “world,” once the use of force has been justified, what is the rationale for dictating whether that force is carried out on the blade of a tactical knife or a precision device launched from a drone?

    And, included in the discussions about methods & tech, is anyone asking questions about how the safety of our officers or soldiers factors? Concerns about weapons tech tend to revolve around sympathy for the allegedly-guilty party. The fact is that advancing technologies continue to make confronting the “bad guys” safer for the ones we’ve tasked to carry out these very dangerous uses of force that we’ve first justified, then delegated to those in uniform.

    Basically, I can’t rationalize justifying the use of force only to then tell our men in uniform, “Sorry, that tactic is just too lethal (aka, efficient). Please choose weapons that take more effort, even if that method exposes you to harm in the process.”

  • Matt

    Pardon if I skip past the hypothetical (though entirely plausible) cases. It seems the first question to ask is about the use of force. If the use of force is justified (presumably, by ethicists or in the context of an ethical discussion), there is a burden of reasoning on the person who would first affirm the use of force only to then dictate the methods and technology used to carry out that use of force. Certainly there are distinctive justifications for the use of force between police and military operations. But in either “world,” once the use of force has been justified, what is the rationale for dictating whether that force is carried out on the blade of a tactical knife or a precision device launched from a drone?

    And, included in the discussions about methods & tech, is anyone asking questions about how the safety of our officers or soldiers factors? Concerns about weapons tech tend to revolve around sympathy for the allegedly-guilty party. The fact is that advancing technologies continue to make confronting the “bad guys” safer for the ones we’ve tasked to carry out these very dangerous uses of force that we’ve first justified, then delegated to those in uniform.

    Basically, I can’t rationalize justifying the use of force only to then tell our men in uniform, “Sorry, that tactic is just too lethal (aka, efficient). Please choose weapons that take more effort, even if that method exposes you to harm in the process.”

  • WebMonk

    Matt, I have to say I have never heard a more succinctly stated bunch of hogwash since that guy who made up stories about how rich he was was around. (his name is escaping me at the moment. help anyone?)

    Congratulations on managing to completely miss the whole distinction between assassinating people and arresting people. Oh, and I loved the little equivalency between a knife and a missile which destroys entire buildings.

  • WebMonk

    Matt, I have to say I have never heard a more succinctly stated bunch of hogwash since that guy who made up stories about how rich he was was around. (his name is escaping me at the moment. help anyone?)

    Congratulations on managing to completely miss the whole distinction between assassinating people and arresting people. Oh, and I loved the little equivalency between a knife and a missile which destroys entire buildings.

  • DonS

    1) Possibly, but only with approval of the local government, and keeping in mind the caveats about government trustworthiness noted above. Would have to be an extremely urgent circumstance.

    2) No

    3) Possibly, but only under circumstances deemed to require deadly force to prevent loss of innocent life. I really can’t imagine such a situation here in the U.S.

    4) No. I don’t want one flying over my house, and I don’t want the government defining “dangerous neighborhood”.

    5) No.

    6) OK internationally, rarely, if ever, domestically.

    These answers presume the approved uses are constitutional.

  • DonS

    1) Possibly, but only with approval of the local government, and keeping in mind the caveats about government trustworthiness noted above. Would have to be an extremely urgent circumstance.

    2) No

    3) Possibly, but only under circumstances deemed to require deadly force to prevent loss of innocent life. I really can’t imagine such a situation here in the U.S.

    4) No. I don’t want one flying over my house, and I don’t want the government defining “dangerous neighborhood”.

    5) No.

    6) OK internationally, rarely, if ever, domestically.

    These answers presume the approved uses are constitutional.

  • fws

    we are rapidly moving towards government by decree which is government by men or even democracy, rather than government by the rule of Law, which is republican and constitutional government.

    If we are not already there.

  • fws

    we are rapidly moving towards government by decree which is government by men or even democracy, rather than government by the rule of Law, which is republican and constitutional government.

    If we are not already there.

  • Dan Kempin

    Matt, #9,

    I agree.

    I certainly acknowledge that this technology is troubling. I recognize that it not only makes killing easier, but also easier to do anonymously. But the fundamentals of reasoning out the use of force still apply.

    I suppose you could reason that, like the dum dum bullet, it is an inherently cruel weapon, but I don’t see how this is fundamentally any different than the development of long range artillery or the aircraft.

  • Dan Kempin

    Matt, #9,

    I agree.

    I certainly acknowledge that this technology is troubling. I recognize that it not only makes killing easier, but also easier to do anonymously. But the fundamentals of reasoning out the use of force still apply.

    I suppose you could reason that, like the dum dum bullet, it is an inherently cruel weapon, but I don’t see how this is fundamentally any different than the development of long range artillery or the aircraft.

  • Joe

    The continued militarization of our police force is not good for our freedoms or our budgets.

  • Joe

    The continued militarization of our police force is not good for our freedoms or our budgets.

  • Helen K.

    following…

  • Helen K.

    following…

  • kerner

    Joe @14:

    I read somewhere that a 19th century Milwaukee police chief was quoted as saying that he would not allow his officers to arrest anyone that the officer hadn’t beaten in a fair fight. I’m sure that, if anyone actually said that, it would have been just talk…even back then.

    But what is interesting to me is that there was a time when law enforcement “beating [criminals] in a fair fight” was enough of an ideal to generate that kind of talk. Today, no law enforcement pretends to want to risk the dangers inherrant in a “fair fight”. They, like the military, want to employ overwhelming force. And they do.

    Maybe it was because back then criminals weren’t considered [in the popular imagination at least] threats to American culture. Today some white people gripe about African Americans making heroes of criminals, but we may be forgetting that the general culture romanticized “outlaws” not so long ago. We romanticized homelessness too. When I was a kid a very popular Halloween costume was a “hobo”. Can you imagine dressing up one of your children as a homeless person for Halloween nowadays?

    My point is that, once we decide that criminals (or terrorists) are really

    1. pure evil, and
    2. Fundamentally different than ourselves

    it becomes easy to ditch the whole idea of treating them with any degree of fairness at all. The goal becomes to exterminate them ruthlessly. And take no more chances when doing it that you would killing a poisonous snake you found in your home.

  • kerner

    Joe @14:

    I read somewhere that a 19th century Milwaukee police chief was quoted as saying that he would not allow his officers to arrest anyone that the officer hadn’t beaten in a fair fight. I’m sure that, if anyone actually said that, it would have been just talk…even back then.

    But what is interesting to me is that there was a time when law enforcement “beating [criminals] in a fair fight” was enough of an ideal to generate that kind of talk. Today, no law enforcement pretends to want to risk the dangers inherrant in a “fair fight”. They, like the military, want to employ overwhelming force. And they do.

    Maybe it was because back then criminals weren’t considered [in the popular imagination at least] threats to American culture. Today some white people gripe about African Americans making heroes of criminals, but we may be forgetting that the general culture romanticized “outlaws” not so long ago. We romanticized homelessness too. When I was a kid a very popular Halloween costume was a “hobo”. Can you imagine dressing up one of your children as a homeless person for Halloween nowadays?

    My point is that, once we decide that criminals (or terrorists) are really

    1. pure evil, and
    2. Fundamentally different than ourselves

    it becomes easy to ditch the whole idea of treating them with any degree of fairness at all. The goal becomes to exterminate them ruthlessly. And take no more chances when doing it that you would killing a poisonous snake you found in your home.

  • kerner

    fws @12: You said:

    we are rapidly moving towards government by decree which is government by men or even democracy, rather than government by the rule of Law, which is republican and constitutional government.

    If we are not already there.

    I think I understand why you say that. But, I am interested in how your statement fits into Lutheran theology.

    First of all, a lot of Lutherans, some on this blog, I think, don’t believe that there is any law that binds the “powers that be”. Not that a citizen can or should try to enforce anyway. To a lot of Lutherans, the mere fact of power is evidence of God’s will and it is the duty of Christians to submit to that power always and without reservation…until somebody else obtains the power, at which point the Christian’s allegiance must change.

    Others, also on this blog, have argued that no law need necessarily be written down, because anyone, including the unbelieving or ungodly, can reason out the whole law from conscience (the law written on the heart).

    All that being the case, what difference does it make whether we, or anyone else, call ourselves a republic, under the rule of law? If might really does make right and the law really need never be written, isn’t the entire concept of a “rule of law” a fallacy, a figment of our imaginations?

  • kerner

    fws @12: You said:

    we are rapidly moving towards government by decree which is government by men or even democracy, rather than government by the rule of Law, which is republican and constitutional government.

    If we are not already there.

    I think I understand why you say that. But, I am interested in how your statement fits into Lutheran theology.

    First of all, a lot of Lutherans, some on this blog, I think, don’t believe that there is any law that binds the “powers that be”. Not that a citizen can or should try to enforce anyway. To a lot of Lutherans, the mere fact of power is evidence of God’s will and it is the duty of Christians to submit to that power always and without reservation…until somebody else obtains the power, at which point the Christian’s allegiance must change.

    Others, also on this blog, have argued that no law need necessarily be written down, because anyone, including the unbelieving or ungodly, can reason out the whole law from conscience (the law written on the heart).

    All that being the case, what difference does it make whether we, or anyone else, call ourselves a republic, under the rule of law? If might really does make right and the law really need never be written, isn’t the entire concept of a “rule of law” a fallacy, a figment of our imaginations?

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    #9 Matt-
    since I’m on a tight time schedule right now-
    I’ll ditto Matt-
    more later…
    Carol-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    #9 Matt-
    since I’m on a tight time schedule right now-
    I’ll ditto Matt-
    more later…
    Carol-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    BTW-Officer’s Oath-similar to enlisted oath–
    I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God…
    since I HS’d to the Academies- I will take the above oath upon my self – and I hope that all of us in the US- who know the Constitution- the original intent Constitution!!!- will read carefully the above OATH!
    Carol – CS-
    LA LFL

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    BTW-Officer’s Oath-similar to enlisted oath–
    I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God…
    since I HS’d to the Academies- I will take the above oath upon my self – and I hope that all of us in the US- who know the Constitution- the original intent Constitution!!!- will read carefully the above OATH!
    Carol – CS-
    LA LFL

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Since lethal force is only supposed to be used in law enforcement when the life of an officer or victim is at stake, and drones aren’t yet capable of taking out snipers without collateral damage, my vote is “use them for none of the above.” Something about right to a fair trial and so on comes to mind as well.

    My thought as well regarding the list is “if we actually used some sense in our country and did the simple things, we wouldn’t need to use high tech nearly as much as we do.”

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Since lethal force is only supposed to be used in law enforcement when the life of an officer or victim is at stake, and drones aren’t yet capable of taking out snipers without collateral damage, my vote is “use them for none of the above.” Something about right to a fair trial and so on comes to mind as well.

    My thought as well regarding the list is “if we actually used some sense in our country and did the simple things, we wouldn’t need to use high tech nearly as much as we do.”

  • kerner

    CCS @19:

    The Constitution is a long document. To what original intent are you referring?

  • kerner

    CCS @19:

    The Constitution is a long document. To what original intent are you referring?

  • Joe

    CCS – did I miss something? We are talking about law enforcement – not war in this thread. So what does the oath a member of the military takes have to do with anything? Military cannot preform law enforcement acts unless you want to undue the posse comitatus act. You can take any oath you want but you still don’t get to be a domestic police force.

  • Joe

    CCS – did I miss something? We are talking about law enforcement – not war in this thread. So what does the oath a member of the military takes have to do with anything? Military cannot preform law enforcement acts unless you want to undue the posse comitatus act. You can take any oath you want but you still don’t get to be a domestic police force.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406029393 Auth

    Hello, and thanks for the Primal Image. Love Alan Lamb’s work. I don’t know much about him ehetir, except that most of his recordings are field recordings of a small piece of property he bought in the Australian outback which are covered by the power line towers you see on the cover of Primal Image, and the sounds are the sounds of the ferocious wind vibrating the wires and creating those otherworldly hums. Fantastic stuff! Imagine being there and hearing those sounds! Anyway, enough from me. Thanks again for the link. Bob

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406029393 Auth

    Hello, and thanks for the Primal Image. Love Alan Lamb’s work. I don’t know much about him ehetir, except that most of his recordings are field recordings of a small piece of property he bought in the Australian outback which are covered by the power line towers you see on the cover of Primal Image, and the sounds are the sounds of the ferocious wind vibrating the wires and creating those otherworldly hums. Fantastic stuff! Imagine being there and hearing those sounds! Anyway, enough from me. Thanks again for the link. Bob