It’s in the Way That You Use It
Drones have many positive attributes, including the theoretical ability to distinguish between legitimate military targets and protected civilian persons and objects than piloted aircraft. But that said, the legality of any specific drone attack depends on a number of factors, including the existence of an actual armed conflict, the validity of the target under both international and U.S. domestic law, and the compliance with law of war rules in carrying out the strike. Although U.S. domestic law authorizes the CIA to engage in covert action, international law only privileges the use of force by actual military personnel and platforms. There is no requirement for any “due process” during an armed conflict other than the application of careful judgment and the taking of feasible precautions by a reasonable commander. No amount of procedural safeguards, or even a judicial finding, on the other hand, can justify deliberate killing outside of an actual armed conflict except in situations where an imminent threat calls for immediate actions in self-defense. But the fact there is time to engage in structured deliberations would seem to prove the lack of immediacy required to justify an attack under a self-defense rubric. Most U.S. drone attacks are thus quite problematic as a matter of law.
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