Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ron Smith: Terrorists and Drones

It should have come as no surprise to us that a New Zealander has been killed in a drone attack in Yemen.
  I wrote earlier about the citizens of New Zealand, Australia and other western countries joining Islamic fundamentalists in global jihad and possibly getting killed. 

More importantly, I wrote about such individuals coming back, trained and further motivated, to kill persons here, as in the case of the murder of Lee Rigby in London (‘Terrorism, propaganda and war’, June 2013).  We could take comfort from the fact that the individual concerned in this case will not return to carry on jihad.  We might also be gratified that our intelligence services knew where he was and what he was doing and would (hopefully) have alerted the relevant authorities had he returned.

But this is not the issue that that seems to have concerned most commentators in New Zealand.  Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s informed (i.e. intelligence-based) account of what ‘Muslim bin John’ was doing in Yemen at the material time, the media is continuing to talk of ‘assassination’ and ‘extra-judicial execution’ and generally suggest that what was done was somehow morally or legally indefensible.  We need to be very clear here.  There is a kind of war going on and Muslim bin John is a ‘foot soldier’ (The Australian) in that war.  We might regret (and, indeed, his family might regret) that this New Zealand convert to Islam should have travelled all the way to Yemen to join up with al-Qaeda but the fact is that he did.    

As is well-known, Yemen is a major training centre for terrorist operations in the western world.  Is it really to be supposed that the United States (or any other potential target state) is obliged to wait until the terrorist operatives (‘soldiers’) arrive and make their attack?  I suppose that for Russel Norman, who led the criticism here, that would have the virtue that in the event that they were successful, (and it wasn’t a suicide attack, and they were captured alive) you could then have a formal trial, with charges which could then be specific.  The rule of law would thus have been splendidly upheld.  But it doesn’t strike this writer as responsible public policy.  Terrorism is clearly a crime within the jurisdiction in which it is committed but it is also a kind of warfare (a way of advancing a political/ideological agenda by violent means).  Looked at in this way, the al-Qaeda leadership and its training facilities in Yemen or elsewhere, are legitimate targets, just as military columns, or arms factories were during World War 2. 

It can also be said that the leadership convoy that was apparently attacked on 18 November last year was a legitimate target and those killed were combatants (i.e. persons whose killing is permitted in war) and that includes the ‘foot soldiers’, who were part of the escorting force.  In this context it is inappropriate and intentionally prejudicial to talk of these killings as ‘assassination’ or, even, as Dr Norman did, ‘terrorism’. (“If we are going to deal with terrorism, we can’t act like terrorists”, he said.)

 There is a United Nations definition of ‘terrorism’, which is also the official New Zealand definition.  It contains the phrase, “The essential features of terrorism are acts of violence committed against civilian targets…”.  Whatever else may be said about the al-Qaeda column attacked on 18 November, it surely cannot be said that they were civilians.  Equally, they are only ‘extrajudicial killings’ if terrorism is considered exclusively as a matter of law, and if there was any possibility of legal process, which, patently, there isn’t.

This only leaves us with the argument that the killing of the al-Qaeda leaders (and their hangers-on) was objectionable because they were killed through a drone strike (as opposed to a piloted aircraft or a specially deployed special-forces group).  This is a familiar assertion and one that I have commented on before (‘Droning on’, October, 2012) but now, as then, I have some difficulty in understanding what the problem might be.  The Predator drone that appears to have been used for the attack in question is capable of sophisticated target identification and is thus capable of minimising unwanted harm.  The long ‘linger-time’ over the target, also permits reference to higher authority, if the operator has doubts.  This does not mean that non-combatants are never struck but the record seems to show that drones are better than comparable weapon systems at limiting collateral harm.

For all that, drones just seem wrong to some commentators and that is because the drones are computer-operated and from a safe-distance.  It seems like a computer game; and that doesn’t feel right, either.  In part, this is the familiar ‘sitting-duck’ scruple.  The enemy is vulnerable and unaware.  I discussed this in the previous posting, citing specifically the doubts of defenders when paratroopers are falling towards them out of a clear sky.  Geneva is clear about this.  They are legitimate targets.  Similarly, we can understand the resentment of those targeted by unseen drones, without accepting that the tactic is wrong, or contrary to the provisions of humanitarian law. 


Angry Tory said...

The only problem with NZ drone strikes against terrorists is that NZ doesn't have any Predators or Hellfires.

Think how much harm would have been prevented - or how much money, time, and effort saved - had Helen Clark been able to despatch a couple of Hellfires to Ruatoki, and another couple to the Aro Valley.

Brian said...

Drones. Dr R. Smith.
Saturday’s Herald had two letters on Drones. The first from a Professor of Criminology condemning Drone killings on the basis that it is illegal and that “anyone accused of a crime should have the benefit of trial by jury (he mentions the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as setting the standard here in New Zealand.
This seems to be another case of “Those in the Ivory Towers should never throw stones”. He fails (probably on purpose) to address his criticism also against those who terrorise! He also fails to recognise that the West has been at war with Islam since Mohammed made his trek to Mecca.
The second epistle from R.A. Newton seems to indicate that he and he alone is concerned by the Drone attack in Yemen which killed a New Zealand citizen; rather forgetting that this man was part of a terrorist organisation committed to the extermination of the West. Also that our P.M. should have been more active in stopping this incident, bet that caused a laugh or two in the Cabinet room.
Drone attacks are not new, as a boy growing up in latter part of the war in “Bomb Alley” I recall the drone of the V 1 before eventually the motor cut out and the longest 8 seconds in a lifetime happened before a ton of explosive blew up. The V 1 was a far more mentally destructive device than the rocket V 2. This arrived like a Drone strike unheralded, and was far more deadly.
Full marks to the USA (despite the Obama Brigade) at least some one in the West is at last taking the fight to the enemy. Any reader of military history will know that no battle, indeed no war, is ever won by defence (despite Carl von Clausewitz’s dictum). It is about time people in the God’s Own woke up to the real world, but alas our media thinks this still emanates from the United Nations.
What is that old adage “Your can fool some of the people some of the time.......!

Don Armstrong said...

So when the nz government decides to deploy Drones in our own backyards. Are we going to act like good little sheepy and allow another crown violation of this Great land that they (UKCrown)invaded and steal over 150 years ago.

How many other Kiwis are going to die, just because of this fictitious information from Western governments. who have a self interest in Muslim Countries!

paul scott said...

Yes Paul Buchanan at Kiwipolitico
google up, said referring to the New Zealander
"he went looking for a fight, and unfortunately he found one"
All in all I though that was a pretty fair assessment.
You want to kill us, sorry too late

Afghan, seeking peace. said...

I liked the answer of this German Muslim scholar when he was asked about terrorism and Islam: He said: Who started the First World War? Muslims ? Who started the Second World War? Muslims? Who killed about 20 millions of Aborigines in Australia? Muslims?? Who sent the nuclear bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Muslims? Who killed more than 100 millions of Indians in North America? Muslims ?? Who killed more than 50 millions of Indians in South America? Muslims?? Who took about 180 millions of African people as slaves and 88% of them died and was thrown in Atlantic Ocean? Muslims?? No, they weren't Muslims!!! Hitler incinerated 6 million Jews and because of him 60 million was killed in World War 2, he wasn't a Muslim. Joseph Stalin (Uncle Joe) killed 20 million people including 14.5 million were starved to death, was he a Muslim? Mao Tse Tsung of China killed 20-14 million people, was he Muslim? Benito Mussolini of Italy killed 400,000 was he a Muslim? Maximilien Robespierre, during the French revolution starved and tortured to death 200,000 & executed 40,000 people, was he a Muslim? Ashoku in one battle of Kalinga killed more than 100,000 people, was he a Muslim? In recent bombardments US and Nato are killing 100s of 1000 of innocent people (Not Taliban) just for fun in Afghanistan and Iraq and other countries... So Which Madrasas did they go to to learn terrorism??? First of all, you have to define terrorism properly... If a non-Muslim do something is crime. But if a Muslim commit same..he is terrorist... So first remove this double standard...then come to the point!!!

Tracy said...

You cant surrender to a drone. I am concerned about the power given to the "authorities" to do as the see fit to its citizens, a monopoly on the use of violence & I don't like it. For the people, BY THE PEOPLE not BY the Government & that's what we need to return to.

Dave said...

I can't believe people are criticising this drone attack, This 'idiot abroad' kiwi went to the Yemen not as a tourist but to train to kill then be used to kill and the pattern with Yemen trained terrorists its usually an innocent that gets killed.
A preemptive strike that stops someone from cutting the throat of some defenseless person on our streets is makes perfect sense, we should be doing it more often.