Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New Yorker and NPR on the C.I.A.s Covert Drone Program

Did you miss Jane Mayer's article in The New Yorker about a C.I.A. covert program for using drones to target terrorists such as Baitullad Mehsud. The article titled, The Predator War: What are the risks of the C.I.A.s covert drone program? has garnered considerable attention. It is important to note that this secret C.I.A. program is distinct from the military drone attacks that have been written about more extensively. There is also an NPR Fresh Air interview of Jane Mayer on this C.I.A. program titled, Jane Mayer: The Risks of a Remote-Controlled War.

The drone program, for all its tactical successes, has stirred deep ethical concerns. Michael Walzer, a political philosopher and the author of the book “Just and Unjust Wars,” says that he is unsettled by the notion of an intelligence agency wielding such lethal power in secret. “Under what code does the C.I.A. operate?” he asks. “I don’t know. The military operates under a legal code, and it has judicial mechanisms.” He said of the C.I.A.’s drone program, “There should be a limited, finite group of people who are targets, and that list should be publicly defensible and available. Instead, it’s not being publicly defended. People are being killed, and we generally require some public justification when we go about killing people.”

Since 2004, Philip Alston, an Australian human-rights lawyer who has served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, has repeatedly tried, but failed, to get a response to basic questions about the C.I.A.’s program—first from the Bush Administration, and now from Obama’s. When he asked, in formal correspondence, for the C.I.A.’s legal justifications for targeted killings, he says, “they blew me off.” . . . Alston describes the C.I.A. program as operating in “an accountability void,” adding, “It’s a lot like the torture issue. You start by saying we’ll just go after the handful of 9/11 masterminds. But, once you’ve put the regimen for waterboarding and other techniques in place, you use it much more indiscriminately. It becomes standard operating procedure. It becomes all too easy. Planners start saying, ‘Let’s use drones in a broader context.’ Once you use targeting less stringently, it can become indiscriminate.

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