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Why drone warfare is making global headlines once again

Published: Friday, Sept. 28 2012 8:21 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2010, file photo an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. America's drone-warfare campaign that targets suspected terrorists is once again spurring global debate.

Kirsty Wigglesworth, File, Associated Press

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Catalyzed by a new report from two top law schools and a front-page Wall Street Journal article, America’s drone-warfare campaign that targets suspected terrorists is once again spurring global debate.

(The Deseret News previously detailed the foreign consequences and domestic future of drones — unmanned planes like the ones the CIA employs in the skies above Pakistan’s tribal territories.)

"Living Under Drones," a report coauthored by Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at the NYU School of Law, started circulating Tuesday.

Per the report’s executive summary: “Following nine months of intensive research — including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting — this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current U.S. drone strike policies … (and) provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts U.S. policies are having on the civilians living under drones. … In light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to U.S. interests, current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated.”

The report immediately generated a flurry of Internet coverage. After recapping "Living Under Drones" on Tuesday, the Atlantic analyzed the report’s credibility on Wednesday: “For starters, the sample size of the study is 130 people. In a country of 175 million, that is just not representative. … The 'Living Under Drones' report, in other words, has some serious bias issues. But that doesn't mean it should be discarded: the section on social and political blowback from drone strikes is well documented and in line with other research. In summary, the report declares that the use of drones in Pakistan is a campaign of terror, creating severe psychological trauma among residents of the FATA and creating a pervasive environment of fear.”

Also Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal published an in-depth feature on A1 about the delicate legal issues inherent in drone attacks.

“In a reflection of the program's long-term legal uncertainty and precedent-setting nature, a group of lawyers in the (Obama) administration known as ‘the council of counsels’ is trying to develop a more sustainable framework for how governments should use such weapons,” the Wall Street Journal article reported. “The effort is designed to fend off legal challenges at home as well as to ease allies' concerns about increasing legal scrutiny from civil-liberties groups and others. The White House also is worried about setting precedents for other countries, including Russia or China, that might conduct targeted killings as such weapons proliferate in the future, officials say.”

J.G. Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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