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Drones – Same rules for all targets

February 27, 2013

In the last month and a half the American politicos have been engaged in a heated debate regarding the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), also known as Drones, to kill terrorists in the Middle East. Some individuals on the target list are American born citizens who have left America and allied themselves with terrorist organizations. While I will reserve an ethics conversation regarding the use of drones till a later time, I want to specifically address this troublesome issue.

In 2011, a drone strike killed an American citizen with connections to terrorist plots while he was in Yemen. Some have raised the question if this should be allowed as he is an American. Arguments against this type of action include an argument that the individual has Constitutional Rights prohibiting this unilateral action. The other side generally argues these individuals have forfeited said rights when they take action with and for the enemy of the nation.

This argument misses the larger ethical issue. Why is there a differentiation being made between the Americans aligned with the planning and training of terrorist attacks and foreign nationals who are engaged in planning and training of terrorist attacks. Why this different outlook? Let me give a scenario to illustrate:

There are two men working side by side in the mountains of Afghanistan planning and training to conduct an attack on American soil. Through whatever resources, the American government learns of this and then decides to preemptively strike to prevent the attack. The problem is one of the men is an American citizen and the other is a foreign national. With current US policy, they would be treated as equal, regardless of which nation they are from. Under a policy proposed by some politicos, the foreign national would be hit with an attack without any process, but the American individual’s case would be presented before a panel of judges before he can be struck. An even more restrictive policy of not using drone to strike Americans at all is also being looked at.

Again, I am not speaking of the ethics of the drone strike program at large, just addressing the issue described above. I see a problem with these later two options. To treat Americans differently under those circumstances sends a message that Americans are more important, or even worse, have more worth than the foreign national. This leaves the impression that Americans are arrogant and sit higher than the rest of the world.

The ethical way to address this situation is to ask what rule can be applied in all cases involving drone strikes. This is a balanced and fair approach to the issue, ensuring a policy that is nationality and ethnically neutral. The strikes should happen or they should not – that should be the conversation the American government is having.

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