National Journal on Predator Drone Strikes

National Journal on Predator Drone Strikes

The National Journal has a two part cover story, January 9, 2010, on Predator drone strikes — required reading for those following the targeted killing and Predator drone developments, and although it is behind a subscription wall, no question that this National Journal issue is making the rounds of Washington and the agencies.  If you follow this topic, you’ll want to make sure you get a copy.

Part 1:  ‘Wanted: Dead’:  With little public debate or notice, the Obama administration has significantly stepped up its targeted assassinations, by James Kitfield. Well-sourced, well-researched story on the ramping up of targeted killing by the administration.

Part 2:  Are Drone Strikes Murder?  A growing number of experts say the legal foundations for targeted drone killings are shaky at best, by Shane Harris. Harris has sought out a wide variety of legal views for this piece, and the result is the best journalist take on the legal issues involved that I’ve read.  In particular, Harris has understood several things no other journalist has (at least that I’ve seen), including the importance in this debate of the customary international law of self-defense, and the controversies over what it makes to undertake “direct participation in hostilities” so as to make yourself a possible target.  Harris interviews a range of sources with, I guess, me on one side, and Mary Ellen O’Connell and Nils Melzer on the other.  But also John Radsan, William Banks, Matthew Waxman, and more — and lots of NGO folks, too.  This piece gets the argument over the law better than any journalism I’ve seen, and Harris has spent lots of time interviewing experts in depth to understand what’s at stake.

Not only is use of Predator drone strikes expanding, indications are that the Air Force has been moving forward with new and more discriminating technology – the “micro-drone” appears to be under development, according to a source indispensable for the outsider keeping up with military robotics, Wired’s Danger Room.  I will get around to putting up a bibliography of new SSRN papers on this topic – Mary Ellen O’Connell, Jordan Paust, John Radsan, others – for now, just want to emphasize that it is not going away as a debate.

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Alan G. Kaufman
Alan G. Kaufman

While the legal issues are fascinating and important. no less so are the strategic ones — which implicate legal issues related to a targeted killing policy that uses tools other than drones — e.g. ununiformed covert operatives. I recommend review of the following:  “Army Major General Michael Flynn, U.S. and NATO forces deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, released a report in which he labeled military intelligence in the war zone — but by implication U.S. intelligence operatives generally — “clueless.”  They were, he wrote, “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced… and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers… Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy.'” The efforts of the CIA operatives at Forward Operating Base Chapman were reportedly focused on “collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders,” especially those in the Haqqani network in North Waziristan just across the Pakistani border.  They were evidently running “informants” into Pakistan to find targets for the Agency’s ongoing drone assassination war.  These drone attacks… Read more »


[…] week at, WCL Professor Kenneth Anderson discussed and linked to two National Journal articles on UAV killings.  The articles discuss the Obama […]