OK, now that I’ve gotten your attention with the grabby title, let me assure you I was NOT happy to write that one. Because while I think he is committing a war crime, I don’t blame him — and don’t want anything else beyond a cessation of the war crime as punishment. This isn’t going to be a call for impeachment, folks, because I was completely blindsided by this development — as, I suspect, were a lot of others who had no problems with his “crime” before now. Hell, I cheered him on on this one point.
There is one area where I found myself staunchly standing with the Bush administration and foursquare in opposition with the Obama administration, and that is the treatment of terrorists captured on the battlefield. I opposed then, and still oppose now, trying them in civilian court. I agree wholeheartedly that these men are not criminals, and as such have no business being treated as such; rather, they are — according to the Geneva Conventions — “illegal combatants” and therefore should be detained until the cessation of hostilities, or tried by military tribunals.
After all, these men are waging war while not members of a nation’s military, do not wear the uniforms and markings of a nation’s military, and are not bound to the same rules and regulations as a nation’s military. In fact, we would be fully within our rights to execute them summarily — especially if they violated other rules of warfare such as targeting civilians or using them as human shields.
Well, it turns out that we, the United States, have been doing precisely that under the Obama administration. And, I believe, so did the Bush administration.
One way the Obama administration has been fighting the War on Terror has been in the aggressive use of unmanned drones to carry out attacks on terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa. It’s become rather tough for the terrorists to get together, never knowing if they’re going to get sent to Allah by guided missiles from Predators. Predators being flown, many times, by pilots halfway around the world, back here in the USA.
I like this policy. I like it a lot. I am generally in favor of terrorists getting blown to hell, and when it means that Americans are never in any danger while blowing said terrorists to hell, I like it even more.
Which is why I never really looked too critically at the situation, and therefore never thought it all the way through — and realized that it constituted a war crime.
You see, while the majority of these drones are flown by members of the Air Force, some are being flown by the CIA — and some even by civilian contractors. So we have non-members of the Armed Forces, operating (most likely) out of military uniforms, not bearing the insignia of an armed force or our nation, committing acts of war on the behalf of the United States. And that is a major bozo nono.
Unlike the terrorists, this was not a deliberate strategy of ours. We did not set out to use civilians to wage war a part of a deliberate battlefield tactic; it just sort of evolved. Drones started out as unmanned surveillance platforms, and no one thought anything of them being operated by civilians (even technical ones like the CIA). Then somebody got the bright idea of hanging weapons on said drones, and then the CIA (so it’s rumored) started using these armed drones to carry out highly-deniable strikes on very specific terrorist targets in very awkward places. And that was a good thing, too — there just are some people in the world who need a good blowing up.
Then it went just one step too far, and we started doing it a little too openly. And without anyone apparently realizing it, we had civilians waging war on behalf of the United States as an official policy.
I don’t want to see anyone put on trial for this, but it’s gotta stop. Even though these men (and, possibly, women) are sitting at computers halfway around the world from the battlefield, they are waging war at the behest of the United States. We need to yank any and all civilians from these stations and put in their place members of the United States military, in full uniform. The law might not have kept up with the times, but it’s clearly applicable here: we do NOT have civilians fighting our battles for us.
And as far as civilians being involved in collecting intelligence and targeting information for drones, that’s a slightly grayer area, but I’m inclined to get them the hell out of the business of waging war and leave it strictly up to the professionals.
It’s been said many times: the world has changed considerably since the days the Geneva Conventions were crafted, and they could definitely stand some revising and correcting and updating to reflect the new world in which we live. But until we do so (or repudiate them completely), we have to obey them. And in this case it’s clear: civilians are NOT to be allowed to wage war.
Not even from a computer screen halfway around the world.