Sunday, September 9, 2012

Five laws of drone strikes?

Wired Magazine has an article that is skeptical about whether or not President Obama can be taken seriously when he talks about drone warfare. The author's reason is that the president gave an interview where he laid out five tests that a target must pass before the government will initiate a drone strike, but those five rules appear not to be used in actual drone strikes. Here are the five rules:

1. “It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws.”
2. “It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.”
3. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”
4. “We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.”
5. “That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots … they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process.”

Let us ignore for now the question of whether or not the US actually follows these rules. Let us also assume for the moment that there is some situation where a drone strike is morally just. I am wondering if these are a good set of rules. Can they be spelled out in fewer laws? Are any laws redundant, unnecessary, etc. Do we need additional rules? Do these rules capture everything we want in the ethics of drone strikes at least in the way that Asimov's three laws capture the ethics we want from robots or the way standard Just War Theory captures what we want out of the ethics of war? Thoughts?

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