The main conclusions of the report are based on interviews conducted in Pakistan with 130 people who were survivors or witnesses of drone attacks, or relatives of victims of such attacks. Specifically who might be interviewed was suggested by a local human rights organisation, the ‘Foundation for Fundamental Rights’, which had been set up in early 2011 to campaign against drone attacks. Am I the only person that thinks that this is not a reliable research methodology?
Of course, those who have been close to the site of a drone-strike, or have had neighbours or relatives who were harmed, are likely to think such strikes are a bad thing and are likely to fear being harmed themselves. They are also likely to be supportive of counter-strikes against the supposed source. This is how populations in a ‘war zone’ do behave, and North Waziristan (where the interviews took place) is in the front line of a war, isn’t it? Interestingly, this point is nowhere made in the report and, surely, it is absolutely crucial for determining what is legitimate in war and what is not, in order to establish a clear context for the discussion.
The Stanford/New York report contains a great deal of loose and exuberant talk by people who ought to know better. As is well recognised, there is a great deal of politically-inspired violence going on in the world and that situation is not going to change for the foreseeable future. If we are to ameliorate the harm of these conflicts through the application of humanitarian principles, we need to distinguish between intra-national crime (albeit politically inspired) and law enforcement on the one hand, and war, on the other. In the former, it is reasonable to require due process. In the latter, we need to recognise that the adversary parties are trying to kill each other in order to advance their aims. The principle rule here is that the only legitimate targets are those persons who are actually participating in the hostilities, who may be called ‘combatants’. Humanitarian law recognises that persons not ‘participating’ may be unintentionally harmed and that such harming is not necessarily an offence (the principle of ‘double-effect’). Of course, there are difficulties in drawing lines in the matter of the level of ‘participation’ that might be required to confer ‘combatant’ status, but the CNN speculation referred to above, that only ‘top militants’ are legitimate targets, is plainly absurd. It is as if we were to limit the targeting of regular (formal) war to generals, who equally may constitute only 2% of the fighting force.