POST WRITTEN BY: Fletcher Miles (Nov. ’15), Adelaide University Law School
After 911 the United States declared that it was engaged in a global non-international armed conflict on “terrorism,” a supposed war so vast that it encompasses the entire world. This allows the US to carry out “assassinations” worldwide. I express assassination regardless of which such a killing might be termed legal under international humanitarian law. Any terrorist group or member of a terrorist group is considered an “enemy combatant” and may be attacked if the state in which they are located is either unable or unwillingly to capture or kill them. These attacks are generally carried out by unmanned drone missiles and often have the effect of killing innocent civilians. I argue that these assassinations are far too arbitrary and detract from any hope of future relations between terrorist organisations and the western world.
First, as Prof. McDonnell points out in his book, the CIA is responsible for obtaining the necessary information supporting the assassinations, a concerning fact considering the CIA’s history of intelligence gathering. Even if the CIA had a creditable record, should one organisation wield such outlandish power?!
Second, it is true that the attacks are arbitrary because of whom they are targeting but more importantly because what they are trying to achieve, which I would argue cannot be easily deduced by a reasonable mind. As discussed by Prof. McDonnell in his article, terrorist groups do not operate in a top down formation and therefore leadership cannot be effectively disabled by assassinations. Assassinations of officials do nothing but offer the remaining officials perfect propaganda material to strengthen the resolve of their members.
Further, the civilian collateral damage resulting from these assassinations cannot be ignored and certainly is not ignored by the civilians subject to the ongoing threat and devastating effects of these attacks. The result of dead relatives, friends, countryman and religious affiliates has a lasting impact. These civilian casualties act to directly fuel the fire in facilitating recruitment and justification for ongoing terrorist attacks. Today, one fourth of the world’s population is Muslim. Although this fact has no tie with Al-Qaeda, a political motivated organisation, the death of innocent Muslims in an era of Pax Americana is not seen favorably world wide and does nothing for peaceful foreign relations.
Finally, terrorist organisations and personnel are known to operate all over the world, including in many Western countries. The theory of a global non-international armed conflict employed by the US suggests that drones could be engaged in the United Kingdom, Germany or France as well as any other country where terrorists are known to reside including the US itself. What is to stop other countries professing a war on terrorism leading to the ability to arbitrarily strike anywhere in the world? In an age of growing military technology, does this open the floodgates of a continuous state of threat and danger?
- Thomas M. McDonnell, So What You Reap? Using Predator and Reaper Drones to Carry Out Assassinations or Targeted Killings of Suspected Islamic Terrorist, 44 Geo. Wash. Int’l L. Rev. 243, 306 (2012).
- Thomas M. McDonnell, The United States, International Law, and the Struggle Against Terrorism 161 (2011).