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Photo credit: Dan Jacobs (Creative Commons)

National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition

Position Paper on Drones targeting American citizens:

Ever since “UBL died” and “Obama lied”, this administration has had a record of smoke and mirrors unrivaled in the annals of American political history. The latest is the “wise” and “legal” and “ethical” drone strikes on Americans and others associated with Al Qaeda and its “associates.”

The Coalition has examined the sixteen page document “leaked” to NBC News justifying these drone strikes and finds several problems with this “document.” First, it found justification for the much maligned operation(s) into Cambodia during the Vietnam era. Second, it found justification for enhanced interrogation, also much maligned. Third, but not finally, it found justification for the much maligned operation into Iraq. All justifications made by the very same political forces that maligned these operations in their different time frames.

To a degree, it also found justification for drone strikes against Al Qaeda and its allies. They were justifications for normal counterinsurgency operations using these advanced weapons. However, missing was justification for going outside Executive Order 12333 banning assassinations as a national policy, outside the normal bounds of the rules of land warfare. The so-called justifications showed that the Obama Administration is either contemplating or justifying a national policy of assassination against the terrorist network that the administration has belatedly acknowledged we are at war with.

Previously, most notably in Vietnam through the Phoenix Program, the legally accepted way to operate against a “terrorist” organization was to identify first the positions that were to be “targeted” (regardless of who held those positions) and previously made illegal by whatever appropriate means. Once the prior illegality had been established and decision made to dismantle the organization, priorities were set.

First would be recruit in place. Second would be to cause the target to defect to the legitimate side. Third would be to run an operation to capture the target. Fourth would be to run an operation; and due to circumstances of the operation, the target is killed. The other priorities will not be discussed because of the nature of the new threat and the probability they have no relevance today.

The document “leaked” shows none of these backgrounds and legalities. The bulk of the document deals with details not relevant to operations against American citizens in a terrorist organization. It lacks in details making these operations “legal” under the rules of land warfare. It stretches the outer boundaries of the rules of land warfare, almost to extinction. For example, “National Self Defense” (page 15) appears to be a huge stretch, if not an outright violation of Executive Order 12333.

The rules on the “feasibility of capture” bear little relevance to what is known about operations, like the assassination of Usama Bin Laden and the drone assassination of Anwar al Awlaki. Bin Laden was unarmed and unresisting when shot and killed. This was a violation of “Further, under this framework, the United States would also be required to accept a surrender if it were feasible to do so…” (page 9). Rules of land warfare require an acceptance of an unresisting surrender. What happened to Bin Laden was also a violation of rules listed on page 14.

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