To the already complicated mix of counterterrorism as aggressive self-defense and morality in armed conflict, we must add the high technology arena of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Many argue that the combination of modern technology and sophisticated intelligence analysis all but ensure that the UAV, or drone, policy is the most effective contemporary means to conduct operational counterterrorism. The theory sounds compelling and convincing: what is more attractive than killing terrorists from the air with the use of sleek technology while minimizing risk to ground forces? We are in an age where shiny technology and seemingly sophisticated intelligence gathering and analysis converge, potentially removing the human element—and humanity—from decision-making. In the context of targeted killing, few things could be more dangerous and fraught with extraordinary risk.
Computers and advanced technology are, without a doubt, essential to intelligence gathering and other important aspects of counterterrorism and armed conflict – suggesting otherwise would be folly. But in the context of the current trend towards relaxed or flexible definitions of imminence, legitimate target and proportionality increasing reliance on technology can exacerbate rather than curtail these dangers.
“Amos Guiora knows all about the pitfalls of targeted assassinations, both in terms of legal process and the risk of killing the wrong people or causing civilian casualties. The University of Utah law professor spent many years in the Israel Defence Forces, including time as a legal adviser in the Gaza Strip where such killing strikes are common. He knows what it feels like when people weigh life-and-death decisions.
Yet Guiora – no dove on such matters – confessed he was “deeply concerned” about President Barack Obama‘s own “kill list” of terrorists and the way they are eliminated by missiles fired from robot drones around the world. He believes US policy has not tightly defined how people get on the list, leaving it open to legal and moral problems when the order to kill leaves Obama’s desk. “He is making a decision largely devoid of external review,” Guiroa told the Observer, saying the US’s apparent methodology for deciding who is a terrorist is “loosey goosey”.”
“Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor who was personally involved in targeted-killing decisions during service in the Israel Defense Forces, argues that “there is a fundamental difference between drone attacks as presently conducted and targeted killing, for the latter is person-specific whereas the former seems to result in not insignificant collateral damage” — a factor of immense moral import.”