Saturday, October 26, 2013

It's. The. International. Law

Human rights groups are confused about what international law is and what they wish it was. They can take a flying leap on their criticisms of our drone strike policies.

Armed drones seem to cause some people to go into a tizzy. They are no different than other weapons and require no separate rules to govern their use. I swear, a lot of people in said tizzy are simply upset that their major difference is that they don't expose American pilots and crew to death and capture.

Human rights groups are acting out their tizziness:

Human rights groups on Tuesday accused the United States of breaking international law and perhaps committing war crimes by killing civilians in missile and drone strikes that were intended to hit militants in Pakistan and Yemen.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released separate reports detailing the deaths of dozens of civilians in the two countries. They urged the Obama administration and Congress to investigate, and end a policy of secrecy on the attacks.

"In some of the cases we looked at ... they appear to be war crimes, but really the full picture is for the U.S. authorities to reveal," Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International, said after describing the death of a 68-year-old Pakistani grandmother in an alleged drone strike.

"We are saying for the U.S. authorities to come clean," he said at a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch.

Responding to the reports, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama administration officials "take the matter of civilian casualties enormously seriously." He said he could not speak to specific operations, but that U.S. policies met international and domestic legal obligations and the standard of "near certainty" that civilians would not be hit.

Come clean? Please. President Obama? Nobel Peace Prize? Lovely speech on the subject?

Oh, not enough? Well.

Let me say this clearly. International law does not require civilian casualty-free warfare. International law requires military forces to not deliberately target civilians and to take reasonable care to prevent casualties. But no military is required to avoid all civilian casualties if it prevents those military forces from achieving their military objectives.

If American methods of war that rely on precision weapons and targeting decisions that try to avoid unnecessary civilian deaths don't satisfy your definitions of legal warfare, nobody's can. But that's the point. They want any conventional warfare to be off the table to hobble the main nation (America) that can use conventional power in defense of the West.

So I don't even need to go into the question of whether any civilians have died in our strikes. I'm sure some have died. But with precision weapons you have to also consider why civilians might die in our strikes.

Accident or mis-aimed weapon? Not a war crime. Oh, there might be some cases such as if we carpet bombed the wrong neighborhood seeking out a military bunker (that would be the proportionality test in that). But almost certainly not a war crime.

Targeting the wrong people? Not an American war crime if we thought we were targeting Taliban combatants.

But it could be a Taliban war crime if their refusal to wear uniforms to distinguish them from true civilians contributed to a mistaken strike.

Civilians too close to target? Not an American war crime.

But that would be a Taliban war crime. It is a war crime to use civilians as human shields.

And do we really need to go into the vast data of how their very operations are designed to kill civilians--sometimes cruelly? Just how precise do you think IEDs and suicide bombers are?

Do not, however, expect the human rights industry to demand that the jihadis "come clean" on their actual war crimes. Human rights activists would face far more risk of being stabbed on the streets for insulting Islam than they would getting a drone on their tail on the way home from their self-righteous press conferences.