When the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a report Feb. 5 claiming that U.S. drone strikes have killed dozens of civilian rescuers and mourners in Pakistan, the American media scarcely noticed. Similarly, while other countries hotly debate America’s covert program of targeted assassination, its legality has never been considered by a U.S. court and is seldom discussed by Congress, which has ceded extraordinary authority over the drone program to the president and the CIA.
That silence could well come back to haunt this country.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s findings are worth a look — not because they’re an ironclad assertion of facts on the ground in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where solid information is hard to come by, but because of the questions they raise about the drone program. The three-month investigation turned up evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed when they tried to rescue people injured in a drone attack, only to be hit with another round of missiles. If this is true, it’s a tactic that seems borrowed from the playbook of Islamist terrorists, who have been known to set off bombs in crowded areas, wait for rescuers to arrive and then explode more bombs to maximize the carnage.
Other countries have developed drone technology, and if they follow U.S. precedent, they could start targeting their own enemies across any border they like, including our own. It is past time for U.S. courts and the United Nations to explore the legal issues involved in targeted assassination and set rules that take into account advances in technology.
Los Angeles Times (Feb. 9)