Former Pentagon official defends U.S. use of drones
A former Pentagon official is defending the United Statesâ use of drones. During a lecture Thursday at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Michael James Barton blamed criticism of the unmanned aircraft on media that sensationalize perceived future threats associated with using new technology.
âThe Spartans were really, really upset that the Athenians used arrows because how dare they, we canât even see the enemy, theyâre coming from afar. You donât face your enemy with courage and they thought this new technology was just terrible.â
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that as many as 3,500 civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan alone since 2004. When asked about what can be done to minimize civilian casualties, Barton said the blood isnât on the U.S.âs hands.
âCivilians are often now used as human shields precisely because it generates the outrage in the international community when civilians are killed. They will use them as human shields, hostages if you will, and so when the targets are attacked and the Al Qaeda folks are killed theyâre surrounded by women and children who they put there.â
Barton, a former deputy director in the Pentagon, also lumped civilian casualties into the cost of war.
âCivilians are always affected. More civilians died in World War II than uniformed military personnel. Unfortunately, itâs been that way since the beginning. Thereâs nothing different using drones or any other mode of warfare.â
A report this week by McClatchy contradicted statements by President Barack Obama and other White House staff that only top level Al Qaeda terrorists were being targeted by drones. Instead the report indicated that many of the victims were lower level Al Qaeda and some were only suspected terrorists. But Barton contends, that doesnât matter.
âWe donât go out there and say, âwell, this guyâs just a private weâre not going to shoot at him, this guyâs a general weâll shoot at him.â If youâre taking up arms against the United States anywhere in the world, youâre an enemy of the U.S. and we have every right under the authorization to use military force â that was passed by Congress after 9/11 â to engage in warfare. The fact that youâre a low level driver or cook doesnât make you any less of a target than a driver or a cook of the German army was in World War II.â
But Barton did have some criticism of U.S. tactics. He criticized the court system for interfering with the executive branchâs authority to capture perceived terrorists who might have information crucial to domestic defense.
âWe do the logical thing â we just kill them on the field. We leave the intelligence value that we might get to stop a terrorist attack on the table and we just kill them because if you kill them then you donât have detainee problems. No oneâs upset that youâre holding them in Gitmo. No oneâs upset extraordinary rendition. Theyâre dead, theyâre gone so, you know, problem solved.â
About 100 law students and professors listened through a twenty minute defense of drone use. Many of them grimaced at Bartonâs presentation. Law student Lane Cryer argued that Bartonâs statements were over-simplifying a complicated issue.
âArenât there additional concerns, particularly on the domestic front, American citizens being granted no deprivation of life without adequate due process and so when youâre talking about targeted killings based on drone with this lack of transparency about how they did it â arenât you denying a fundamental constitutional right?â
Cryer was referring to Bartonâs claims that the President has the authority to kill anyone who presents a terrorist threat to the United States. But Barton fired back that it is absolutely constitutional to take someoneâs life if they are a terrorist.
â[Youâre] out in the cafÃ©, out here and youâre having a coffee and youâre wondering why you ever went to law school because you donât like your tax law something and a hell fire or a tomahawk missile comes off a Navy destroyer and pinpoints you and destroys you â the President doesnât have the authority to do that, youâre not a terrorist. So, whether itâs a missile or a drone or a bomb, itâs irrelevant.â
The law student followed up by calling Americaâs method of classifying someone as a terrorist, arbitrary. The use of drones is also growing domestically. Many law enforcement agencies, including the Miami-Dade Sheriffâs Office, have permission to use them for surveillance. In some states law enforcement use them for border patrol and they can even be deployed for agricultural purposes. This week, the Hernando County Commission voted to seek FAA approval to be one of the agencyâs six testing sites. Peace activist Brian Moore spoke against that measure during their meeting. Moore said heâs worried the unmanned aircraft would be a safety hazard if they were being tested at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
âDrones are still in the development stage and the military has experienced a multitude of accidents around the country.â
Barton said the FAA has some of the toughest safety regulations he knows of and doubts there would be any threat to airplanes around areas where they fly. Meanwhile, the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill yesterday limiting law enforcement use of drones to preventing imminent danger to life or serious damage to property. It would also require police to get a search warrant before using a drone to collect evidence.
Here's our previous coverage of drones
comments powered by Disqus