The Administration of President Barack Obama said this week that its use of unmanned aerial drones to kill terror suspects around the world is done “in full accordance with the law.”
Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser Jack Brennan said drone strikes are used only in cases when capture is not feasible.
Brennan also stressed the importance of the Administration being able to target American citizens that it suspects are terrorists. He cited Attorney General Eric Holder’s view that “counterterrorism efforts are rooted in, and are strengthened by, adherence to the law, including the legal authorities that allow us to pursue members of al-Qaida—including U.S. citizens—and to do so using technologically advanced weapons.”
Brennan said at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Monday: “Targeted strikes are wise. Remotely piloted aircraft in particular can be a wise choice because of geography, with their ability to fly hundreds of miles over the most treacherous terrain, strike their targets with astonishing precision, and then return to base. They can be a wise choice because of time, when windows of opportunity can close quickly and there may be just minutes to act.”
The day before the terrorism adviser’s speech, a drone strike in Pakistan killed three suspected militants who were hiding out in an abandoned girls’ school. It was the first strike since the country’s parliament demanded two weeks ago that the United States end drone strikes, which have been responsible for numerous civilian deaths in the country.
“The government of Pakistan strongly condemns the US drone attack that occurred in North Waziristan,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. “Such attacks are in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations.”
Discussions about the legality and morality of Obama’s drone strikes continue.
Drones are expected to become commonplace in the United States by 2020, albeit hopefully with less-sinister applications. In February, Obama signed into law the Federal Aviation Modernization and Reform Act, which requires the FAA to fully integrate government, commercial and recreational unmanned aircraft systems into U.S. airspace by October 2015.
With no privacy protections in place, the potential for 24/7 drone surveillance of Americans is great. Attorney John W. Whitehead writes in the Huffington Post: “While the threat these drones pose to privacy is unprecedented, they are being unleashed on the American populace before any real protocols to protect our privacy rights have been put in place and in such a way as to completely alter the landscape of our lives and our freedoms. We are truly entering a new era. Once the realm of science fiction and dystopian literature, the all-seeing surveillance state, powered by the latest and greatest in robot technology, is the reality with which we must now contend.”
Capable of being outfitted with anything from thermal imaging cameras capable of seeing through walls to crowd-control weapons as well as lethal weapons, drones are set to become a vital tool for the burgeoning police state.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) in Conroe, Texas, recently purchased the ShadowHawk Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), a small, unmanned helicopter configured with an avionics upgrade that includes stabilized flight appropriate for available weapons platforms. “We have been discussing the shotgun and launcher platforms. What we envision is a 12 gauge delivery system with lethal and less-lethal deliveries. That is the most robust platform,” says Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the MCSO.
Currently, there are 63 sites throughout the United States from which the FAA authorizes drone launches. Most of them are police departments, universities and military installments.