Friday, February 3, 2017

The Drone memos // Life in the Age of Drone Warfare

The Drone Memos collects for the first time the legal and policy documents underlying the U.S. government’s deeply controversial practice of “targeted killing”—the extrajudicial killing of suspected terrorists and militants, typically using remotely piloted aircraft or “drones.” The documents—including the Presidential Policy Guidance that provides the framework for drone strikes today, Justice Department white papers addressing the assassination of an American citizen, and a highly classified legal memo that was published only after a landmark legal battle involving the ACLU, the New York Times, and the CIA—together constitute a remarkable effort to legitimize a practice that most human rights experts consider to be unlawful and that the United States has historically condemned.

In a lucid and provocative introduction, Jameel Jaffer, who led the ACLU legal team that secured the release of many of the documents, evaluates the “drone memos” in light of domestic and international law. He connects the documents’ legal abstractions to the real-world violence they allow, and makes the case that we are trading core principles of democracy and human rights for the illusion of security.

From Jameel's introduction:
This book is possible because the secrecy surrounding American drone strikes has begun, at the margins, to erode. The documents collected here shed light on how a president committed to ending the abuses associated with the Bush administration’s “war on terror” came to dramatically expand one of the practices most identified with that war, and they supply a partial view of the legal and policy framework that underlies that practice. But while many of the documents collected here were meant to be defenses of the drone campaign, ultimately they complicate, at the very least, the government’s oft-repeated argument that the campaign is lawful.

To be sure, even the existence of these documents is an indication of the extent to which the drone campaign is saturated with the language of law. Perhaps no administration before this one has tried so assiduously to justify its resort to the weapons of war. But the rules that purportedly limit the government’s actions are imprecise and elastic; they are cherry picked from different legal regimes; the government regards some of them to be discretionary rather than binding; and even the rules the government concedes to be binding cannot, in the government’s view, be enforced in any court. If this is law, it is law without limits—law without constraint.

Ryan Goodman provides '10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Reading Jameel Jaffer’s “The Drone Memos”' here.  For me, the two most crucial on the list – which anyone writing about drones and limiting the discussion to targeted killing needs to ask themselves (and rarely does) – are these:
Despite the title of the book, how much of the discussion and issues raised are really about drones per se? How much applies to cruise missiles, night raids, and other forms of direct lethal action? What analytic or rhetorical work is being done by focusing on “drones”?

Despite the title of the book, how much of the discussion and issues raised are limited to pre-planned targeted killing? What about dynamic strikes when a moment of opportunity arises, or so-called signature strikes? What analytic or rhetorical work is being done by focusing on “targeted killing”?


“As the presence of the drone in public imaginaries expands, its military/imperial paternities are overshadowed while the modes of violence that drone operations enable are progressively normalized. This thoughtfully curated collection definitively interrupts those trajectories. Putting the drone in its geopolitical place, it traces drone genealogies through histories of surveillance and killing from above, to the colonial presents in which we are all implicated, and that we need now more than ever to stand against.” — Lucy Suchman, Lancaster University, UK

“Life in the Age of Drone Warfare is an intoxicating whirlwind of a volume explicating the drone in history, law, culture and geopolitics. Lisa Parks and Caren Kaplan steer the way through an incisive feminist and critical lens partnered with startling material evidence. We find the drone coiled within matrices of relations, both distant and intimate, calculative, legal and bureaucratic, yet embodied and affective. Twisted in not only a vertical but vortical kind of power, the drone winds, distorts, corkscrews and strangles—rewriting worlds as it goes.” — Peter Adey, Royal Holloway, University of London