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Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi/ MEDILL

A Palestinian protester holding a fake drone outside the University of Chicago.   

U.S. asserts right to legally use drones anywhere in the globe

by Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi
Feb 28, 2013


Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi/ MEDILL

Palestinian protesters turning their backs to Guiora during his speech to show their disgust for what is happening in Gaza.


Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi/ MEDILL

Amos Guiora delivering his speech on the legality and morality of the use of drones at the University of Chicago.


Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi/ MEDILL

Palestinian protesters waiting for Guiora outside the University of Chicago.

Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi/MEDILL

Hatem Abudayyeh,member of the Palestinian-American community, talks about the community's position on drones and their feelings on Amos Guiora delivering a speech on drone use legality and morality.

Related Links

Department of Justice White PaperCollateral damage caused by drones: crime or accident?The Bureau of Investigative JournalismPew Research Center for the People and the Press

Excerpts the Department of Justice White Paper

Lawfulness of a lethal operation directed against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force.


The paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful; nor does it assess what might be required to render a lethal operation against a U.S. citizen lawful in other circumstances, including an operation against enemy forces on a traditional battlefield or an operation against a U.S. citizen who is not a senior operational leader of such forces.

 Where the following three conditions are met, a U.S. operation using lethal force in a foreign country against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force would be lawful:

 1.     An informed; high level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;

2.     Capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible and;

3.     The operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

 As detailed in this white paper, in defined circumstances, a targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who has joined al-Qa’ida or its associated forces would be lawful under the U.S. and international law.

Government papers leaked earlier this month state that it’s legal for the U.S. government to kill an American citizen in a foreign country if this citizen is an al- Qa’ida leader actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans.

 “Targeting a member of an enemy force who poses an imminent threat of violent attack to the United States is not unlawful. It is a lawful act of national self defense,” states the Department of Justice white paper.

 A law professor at the University of Utah who has advised the Israeli Defense Forces on legal issues, spoke Monday at the University of Chicago on the legality and morality of drone strikes.

 “Lawful counterterrorism implies the following: that there must be limits on state power,” the professor, Amos Guiora, said. It is the duty of a nation to protect its civilians, but not at all costs, he added.

 Targeted killing by drones is the warfare of the future, Guiora said. “The idea is to minimize the boots on the ground. It’s not by chance that President Obama recently announced there will be 34,000 troops left in Afghanistan, what that really means is drones, drones, drones.”

 Aviation expert Matt Andersson, president of Indigo Aerospace of Chicago, said that the drone is an unmanned, anonymous machine that easily goes out and kills. “Drones are a great existential threat to humanity,” he said.

 Drones have caused killing to be institutionalized because they sanitized killing, Andersson said. They are part of the global war on terror, they are used to terrorize civilians and their pilots control these drones from thousands of miles away.

 “The drone has no human face, no eyes, no identity, no personality, no voice, nothing,” Andersson said. Computer programs will eventually replace the operators back in the U.S. and then drones will become the terminator, he added.

 Guiora, however, defends drones.

 “We will fight for peace as if there is no terrorism and we will fight terrorism as if there is no peace,” Guiora said, quoting Yitzhak Rabin, former Israeli prime minister and general. “And I would suggest in the context of counterterrorism, that articulation by Rabin, I think better than anything else, manifests and articulates the extraordinary complexity of counterterrorism, an almost impossible paradigm.”

 The definition of a terrorist is completely open-ended, Andersson said. “So abstract, they created a legal doctrine so they can go out and justify killing anyone by an interpretation of the document they created,” he said.

 Appointed officials, not elected officials, Andersson said, created this document. “It is an assassination tool on potentially anyone as long as it can be legal due to the document,” he said. “It could be you or me or who knows who.”

 “The majority of drones result in collateral damage, which is a euphemism for murder,” Andersson said. “Collateral damage means mothers, children, old men and women are killed,” he added. “Drone attacks are war crimes.”

 According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a British philanthropic organization, drones have caused at least 411 civilians deaths in Pakistan since 2004 and at least 12 in Yemen since 2002.

 Mark Silverman, head of public and congressional affairs of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that the International Humanitarian Law is the appropriate framework to assess the legality of the use of drones and their consequences.

 "Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited” according to IHL, Silverman said.

 Fred Donner, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, asked Guiora about the possibility of drones being banned by an international convention as it has been done with poison gas in the past, but got no clear answer on that.

 “Obviously countries would still have drones, as countries still have poison gas but they can’t really use it,” Donner said.

 During Guiora’s speech, Palestinians and their supporters were outside the University of Chicago protesting, and then got inside the lecture room and peacefully showed their disagreement with what Guiora was saying.

 They finally turned their backs to Guiora while he was speaking and then proceeded to leave the room. While leaving, a woman screamed, “How long will the killing go on? How long will the suffering go on?” She was referring to Gaza.

 Finally, drones comprise a very controversial subject as some say that they are pure killing machines and others say that they help minimize deaths in a battlefield and collateral damage.

 According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 56 percent of Americans support drone strikes; 26 percent oppose them.

 Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, said in an official statement earlier this month that it is hard to believe that such a document was created in a democratic country.

 “It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority – the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact,” Shamsi said, according to the ACLU’s official position.