Former Pentagon official defends U.S. use of drones listen04/11/13 Janelle Irwin
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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.
â€œThe Spartans were really, really upset that the Athenians used arrows because how dare they, we canâ€™t even see the enemy, theyâ€™re coming from afar. You donâ€™t 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 isnâ€™t on the U.S.â€™s hands.
â€œCivilians 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 theyâ€™re 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.
â€œCivilians are always affected. More civilians died in World War II than uniformed military personnel. Unfortunately, itâ€™s been that way since the beginning. Thereâ€™s 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 doesnâ€™t matter.
â€œWe donâ€™t go out there and say, â€˜well, this guyâ€™s just a private weâ€™re not going to shoot at him, this guyâ€™s a general weâ€™ll shoot at him.â€™ If youâ€™re taking up arms against the United States anywhere in the world, youâ€™re 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 youâ€™re a low level driver or cook doesnâ€™t 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 branchâ€™s authority to capture perceived terrorists who might have information crucial to domestic defense.
â€œWe 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 donâ€™t have detainee problems. No oneâ€™s upset that youâ€™re holding them in Gitmo. No oneâ€™s upset extraordinary rendition. Theyâ€™re dead, theyâ€™re 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 Bartonâ€™s presentation. Law student Lane Cryer argued that Bartonâ€™s statements were over-simplifying a complicated issue.
â€œArenâ€™t there additional concerns, particularly on the domestic front, American citizens being granted no deprivation of life without adequate due process and so when youâ€™re talking about targeted killings based on drone with this lack of transparency about how they did it â€“ arenâ€™t you denying a fundamental constitutional right?â€
Cryer was referring to Bartonâ€™s 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 someoneâ€™s life if they are a terrorist.
â€œ[Youâ€™re] out in the cafÃ©, out here and youâ€™re having a coffee and youâ€™re wondering why you ever went to law school because you donâ€™t 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 doesnâ€™t have the authority to do that, youâ€™re not a terrorist. So, whether itâ€™s a missile or a drone or a bomb, itâ€™s irrelevant.â€
The law student followed up by calling Americaâ€™s method of classifying someone as a terrorist, arbitrary. The use of drones is also growing domestically. Many law enforcement agencies, including the Miami-Dade Sheriffâ€™s 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 agencyâ€™s six testing sites. Peace activist Brian Moore spoke against that measure during their meeting. Moore said heâ€™s worried the unmanned aircraft would be a safety hazard if they were being tested at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
â€œDrones 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