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Professor Thomas McDonnell examines legal issues related to national security

Though the American government has increasingly relied upon the use of Predator and Reaper drones, Professor Thomas McDonnell urges caution, saying their use may not be as simple as first appears.

“Their use can undermine our moral authority which is our strongest weapon in the so-called war on terror,” he says.

Prof. McDonnell has been examining the legal issues related to national security for nearly 20 years and is concerned about some of the trends we are witnessing. He addresses these issues in his latest article, “Sow What You Reap? Using Predator and Reaper Drones to Carry Out Assassinations or Targeted Killings of Suspected Islamic Terrorists.”  

There are occasions when using drones is warranted and legally defensible, he argues. For example, they have outstanding surveillance capability, can provide real time intelligence, and can help paint targets for troops in the field as well as support those troops with significant fire power.  On the other hand, when used to carry out an assassination or so-called targeted killing of a particular individual, their use becomes far more questionable. Using them outside a country subject to armed conflict, in particular, may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law (the law of war) and international human rights law.  

Furthermore, he says that while an action may be considered legal, that does not necessarily mean it is moral or that it represents sound policy. What we may call “targeted killing,” he notes, others call “assassination.” And he adds that history offers numerous examples of governments overstepping only to lose in the end such as actions of the French during the Algerian War.

“In authorizing executive power, is this what the Framers of the our Constitution had in mind?” he asks. “I’d have to say, ‘No.’”

Prof. McDonnell’s article can be read here.