What rules should govern the U.S. use of drones?

In a recent op-ed piece, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., argued that the United States needs to change its policy regarding the use of drones. Ellison says strikes by the unmanned aircraft undermine U.S. standing around the world and may be killing more innocent civilians than the United States has acknowledged. Today’s Question: What rules should govern the U.S. use of drones?

  • reggie

    To paraphrase a former Presidential candidate, drones are people, too, my friend. Or at least we should think of them as such. Their use in other countries should be governed by the same sorts of rules used when we deploy (or don’t) our highly trained soldiers.

    Equally problematic is the increasing domestic use of drones. We’re well down the slippery slope of being a nation under surveillance at all times. Drones are just another intrusion on the right to privacy.

  • Emery

    “Weapons speak to the wise, but in general they need men to interpret them”

    Pindar, Olympian Odes

  • Gary F

    “Ellison says strikes by the unmanned aircraft undermine U.S. standing around the world and may be killing more innocent civilians than the United States has acknowledged.”

    Just think if the media were more interested in looking into this instead of spending all their time worrying about Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

    Rep. Ellison, this topic is not important with the mainstream media because of who our President is.

    By the way, just what has happened to the anti-war left these days?

    • GregX

      the anti-war crowd is now a rightie-tightie group – called fiscal conservatives.

      what used to be called anti-war left are now running small progressive start up companies and largely ignoring the political right – because the PR is now beyond comical.

  • georges

    “Ellison says strikes by the unmanned aircraft undermine U.S. standing around the world and may be killing more innocent civilians than the United States has acknowledged.”
    Keith Ellison is calling Barack Obama a liar, and a killer of innocent civilians. And making us look bad to the rest of the World. That’s refreshingly honest of you Keith. Keep up the good work.
    Therefore, the answer to the question is all drones should be immediately grounded.

  • Steve the Cynic

    We should not be making enemies faster than we kill them, but our use of drones is doing that. The key to long-term national security is to make more friends than enemies.

    • Gary F

      Then were is the outcry from the anti-war crowd? Why isn’t CNN and MSNBC covering this?

      • Steve the Cynic

        There should indeed be more outcry. My guess, though (and I suspect it’s your guess, too, Gary F), is that the “anti-war left” has made a strategic calculation that Obama is less bad than the more hawkish Republicans, and they haven’t wanted to give aid and comfort to the opposition by criticizing his policies too loudly. Now that he’s safey re-elected, we might see more activism, and Ellison’s op-ed piece might be the first sign of that.

        • Gary F

          The Nobel Peace Price winner just gave Morsi, the Jew hating ruler of Egypt some F16 fighter planes, and not a peep from the anti-war crowd or the media.

    • Wally

      On no, Steve the C, I agree with you again! Don’t panic. See my reply to Jim G. above.

  • Rich in Duluth

    These are war machines. They should be used in declared wars, only. We should immediately pull our forces out of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    • Gary F

      Get them out of North Dakota too? Drones are common in NoDak right now.

      • Rich in Duluth

        I’m okay with them being in North Dakota or Minnesota or anywhere as long as they’re not shooting at anyone or, otherwise, violating our rights, and as long as they
        play safely with manned air traffic. They’re good observation platforms.
        We’re not going to get away from being observed. Have you seen your house on Google Maps? I can see the rows in my garden.

        • georges

          On some Google street view photos, you can zoom in to the living room bay window, see right through the room (with people in it) and right out the back bay window and view the back yard. A great creepy tool for the window peekers, and privacy invaders.

  • Paul

    The US should use the drones whenever their use will prevent US casualties. The civilian deaths are caused by an enemy’s fighting style, and the enemy has no problem with killing non-combatants. If the world thinks drones are too creepy for war, let them send their men to walk the mined roads and keep the peace.

  • Jim G

    Drones… keep our soldiers safe, tucked away, but the further we get away from our foes, the less we see the consequences of violent action. It is easier to dehumanize the people we are fighting. When armies fought with swords and lances soldiers looked into the eyes of their enemies. It is much easier to press a button to launch a hell-fire missile from an air-force base in Kansas, than it is to look a man in the eyes as you cut him down with your sword. Modern weapon technologies have increased the distance at which we can reach out and kill. The pace of innovation increases exponentially from the long bow to artillery, from muskets to rifles, now from piloted aircraft to remotely controlled drones. Of course we also have the ultimate in long distance killing at our disposal: nuclear weapons. The soldier now rarely sees the face of his target and that’s a problem because civilians become casualties.

    We use these drones because we have them, but I think we need to evaluate whether we should continue to go down this rabbit hole. My rules would be; observe and gather information, with no weapons on board except in a declared war zone.

    • Wally

      Jim, you said what I was going to say. So I’ll just add a bit of history. War from a distance really accelerated in WWII, in which bombers could kill from miles above. WWII was when the wholesale slaughter of civilians began, and the Allies were worse than the Axis, not only the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also the firebombings of German and Japanese cities, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians died. This was planned butchery of “non-combatants.” So with drones, the bomber is a technician in another hemisphere, and maybe it’s just one missile, but every innocent family killed makes many more enemies.

      And what happens when drones become common in the USA, first for surveillance, then to take out the bad guys? How much “collateral damage” will be deemed acceptable?

      • Jim G

        Wally, My maternal grandmother’s family emigrated from Germany to avoid mandatory service in the Kaiser’s army in the early 20th century, so I had relatives living here and Germany in WWII. I can imagine the terror as fire bombs rained down from the sky in Dresden and other cities bombed during the war. Have we become like the Greek gods of fabled Mount Olympus; able to unleash fire and destruction at a whim, but lacking omniscience? Those gods were feared, not loved.

        • georges

          War from a distance accelerated during WW2, but it did not start there, not by a long shot, nor was WW2 when the “wholesale slaughter of civilians began.”

          The wholesale slaughter of civilians has always been a main objective of war, indeed, the “planned butchery of non-combatants” is a tactical strategy of warfare as old as the human species itself.

          Just because we have had recently a very short period in which American/European style civilized values have mitigated, to some extent, the primative butchery between the various tribes, it doesn’t mean that the true objective of war has disappeared. Only, sometimes, temporarily suspended.

          When Dresden, and other cities were fire-bombed, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki too, there is no difference at all to a city behind walls hundreds of years ago being fire-bombed and stoned by catapult and trebuchet. The babies and children and women are crushed and burned to death just as completely. And the fire bombers need not look into their eyes as they fling the fire over the wall.

          There are those who ascribe all the evils of the world to Americans, but they are being fooled by the history revisionists.

          The murder, torture, elimination of the other tribe, including the women and children, has always been the main objective, and the major tactic, of warfare. The more primative the tribes involved, the more it is used.

          “William Rubinstein wrote that “Pre-literate societies, even those organised in a relatively advanced way, were renowned for their studied cruelty …archaeology yields evidence of prehistoric massacres more severe than any recounted in ethnography (ie, after the coming of the Europeans). At Crow Creek, South Dakota, as noted, archaeologists found a mass grave of ‘more than 500 men, women, and children who had been slaughtered, scalped, and mutilated during an attack on their village a century and a half before Columbus’s arrival.”

          Those who believe the revisionist history, that claims the Dakota, etc., were innocents before the White Man came to America, will not believe the truth. Therefore, the truth is above their heads.

          Warfare has always been about the total elimination of the other people….men, women, children, babies………all of them. That has not changed, even tho it is temporarily suspended by the overriding principles of Capitalism.

          Read some history…….tis good for the soul.

          • Wally

            Jim G. My ancestors also came here, tired of Prussian wars. As a kid, my neighbor told me of surviving the bombings in Stuttgart, and listening to BBC broadcasts, which was illegal and very risky.

            Steve the C. Okay, you make some good points. There are genocides and mass murder of civilians throughout history, for example, Genghis Khan. But before the 20th century, mass murder of civilians was mostly done face-to-face, one at a time, with spear, arrow or club, and therefore time consuming Unless, of course, you forced an entire village into a structure and burned them alive, or gave a whole tribe smallpox with infected blankets.

            Civilians die in every war, but I stand by my statement of wholesale slaughter commencing in WWII, and that is due to the long-distance and high-casualty killing that technology allows.

          • georges

            Again……study history.

            If you do, you not be able to honestly “stand by my statement” anymore, as you will understand that it is just plain not true.

            Wholesale slaughter has always been with us, did not commence in WWII, and did not need long-distance or modern technology. Indeed, primative man delighted in wholesale slaughter of everyone on the other side, men, women and children, and they were more than up to the task of doing it face to face, eyeball to eyeball. In fact, you can go see it, right now, live, in real time action, among the current existing primative tribes.

            By the way, no one ever “gave a whole tribe smallpox with infected blankets.” That is just loser revisionist history that liberals love to promote as if it really happened. It didn’t. A couple of British guys discussed it, perhaps, but it did not happen. The Natives were attacking the Europeans, and in the course of killing and scalping them, they carried home the smallpox to their own. As the natives had no natural immunity to European diseases, many died. Just like many Europeans died because they did not have natural immunity to diseases carried by the indigenous peoples. This biological street runs both ways.
            Come out into the light of day. Tis good for the soul.

      • Steve the Cynic

        Indeed. The WWII carpet bombings of cities like Dresden and Tokyo were meant to terrorize, so that people would stop supporting the war. The official rationalization was that they were legitimate targets because they were centers of industry that supplied the military, but it was literally state sponsored terrorism. I’m glad the right side won, but not proud of how it was done.

  • Clark

    If Ellison dislikes, must be good for U.S. . Let ‘s see, they cut off our heads with dull knives and believe in holy war. If you locate a terrorist and can turn him into a thousand pieces, perhaps a good message to send to others. They all hate us anyway, why not destroy the worst of the worst. Who listens to ellison anyway?

  • kim

    “What rules?”? For a start, the Constitution. Then any international agreements that we’ve signed on to.

    I think it’s past time for an international discussion about what it means to be “at war”. How many conflicts has this country been involved in since WWII? Quite a few, and yet I don’t believe any of them, technically, were “wars”. But they sure looked and felt like wars. And now, for all practical purposes, an entity other than a nation has declared “war” on the “non-Muslim fundamentalist” west. I don’t think a technically correct way to declare war on a non-state even exists, in existing law. “The rules” need to catch up with the realities.

  • GregX

    FOIA !!!
    All of the commercial and research drone flights in the USA should be publicly available for 7 days prior to the flight.

    Everywhere else …. well … that for the attorneys to sort out.

  • georges

    Indeed, Obama is, by his use of drones to do the killing, drawing us ever closer to perpetual low-grade warfare. And by doing so, he is ruining the very moral character of our nation.

    We once were a nation that did things right. We went to war only when absolutely necessary….and then we ended the war as fast as we possibly could. This is the way decent people behave.
    But now we have come to the sorry condition where we drag out wars indefinately, no end in sight, just drift from one country to another, now even killing them, soldiers and civilians alike, by remote control, like changing the channel on the TV.
    There should be massive protests at the White House. But, before that can happen, the kool-aid must be neutralized.

    • Steve the Cynic

      When did America ever go to war “only when absolutely necessary”? There are a few examples of absolute necessity (e.g., WWII), but every generation of Americans has seen the country wage wars of debatable legitimacy, the most numerous of those being the Indian wars. (And for an interestng perspective, ask any Canadian friends you may have what they were taught about the War of 1812.)

      • georges

        We always went to war only when absolutely necessary, pre Korean War, with the possible exception of the civil war.
        See what I mean by kool-aid?

        • Steve the Cynic

          You’re not very well acquainted with history, huh? There was no golden age of American national virtue, unless you subscribe to an extremely jingoistic reading of American history. Motives for going to war are almost always mixed.

          • georges

            It must be a horrendously awful way to live, always believing the worst about your country, your ancestors, your people.

            Kool-aiders will believe anything, as long as it is derogatory to their own. Thai’s why kool-aiders are all Leftists and Democrats

            They believe we attacked, without any reason whatsoever, the natives. That we purposely killed them off with disease riddled blankets. And other assorted lies.

            Most people know the term “Drank the kool-aid” comes from the Jonestown suicide/murder massacre, where Jim Jones convinced more than 900 people to drink poison kool-aid and die. Jones had to murder some of them, as not all would drink the kool-aid willingly.

            Few are aware, however, that Jim Jones was a good Democrat Party member and a high up government office holder in the administrations of 2 Democrat Party mayors, one in Indianapolis, and one in San Francisco.

            Yep, Jim Jones was a regular Democrat liberal. He was already organizing his religion, and was the darling of the San Francisco Leftist Liberal Democrats. Like Nancy Pelosi…and Harvey Milk….and Jerry Brown….and Dianne Feinstein……and George Moscone…..and Willie Brown….Elijah Muhammad…..Rosalind Carter…..Walter Mondale…..leftist from all over the country were worshippers of the good Democrat Temple High Priest.

            Yes, all the Democrats just loved Jim Jones. They treated him like the Second Coming. He was their guru, their leader.

            Jim Jones is still the only person to murder a U.S. Congressman.

            Kool-aiders will believe anything. That’s why we rational people work to not let them get in positions where they can make decisions of importance.
            Best to avoid the beginnings of evil.

          • Steve the Cynic

            It’s not about simply believing the worst, georges. It’s about accepting the whole truth, good and bad together. It’s only self-deluded ideologues like yourself who see anything as either all good or all bad. America has done more good than harm for the world, but the good doesn’t excuse the harm.

        • V.

          The Mexican War? The Spanish-American War? There was basically *no* necessity to those.

  • Regnar James

    They hurt people and should be banned.

  • Regnar James

    Why don’t we tend to our own flock and keep our noses out of others business?

  • Chris

    I love BHO

  • Pearly

    “what rules should govern the U.S. use of drones?”
    We don’t need on stinking rules! POTUS

  • David

    [replace “robot” with “drone”]
    The Three Laws of Robotics (often shortened to The Three Laws or Three Laws) are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. The rules were introduced in his 1942 short story “Runaround”, although they had been foreshadowed in a few earlier stories. The Three Laws are:

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

    • V.

      Drones are remotely controlled, not robots. How are they different from other vehicles?

  • John

    The main rule is they should not be used against American citizens and second they should not be used in an undeclared war, officially declared by Congress, NOT the President. Also they should NOT be used over American airspace, spying on US.

  • Maggie

    Do we want to use unmanned aircraft to find a lost child, a person with memory loss for whatever reason that became disoriented driving and now is parked and lost, the Alzheimer patient that has walked away from her or his residence, people lost at sea, or a skier lost in an avalanche? Might they be used to assist when checking the construction of tall or large buildings or bridges by safety inspectors? Be careful how broadly you paint with your legal paint brush.

  • jockamo

    Oh……..RayRay…….say it isn’t true!!!!!!!!!

    Yes, Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans at the time of Katrina, who raised his hands in righteous indignation at George W. Bush for not preventing the massive hurricane from beating down on his city……

    ………has been indicted by the Federal Government on 21 counts of

    various bribery and theft during his 8 years as Mayor of Sin City.

    Just another Democrat running his city for his own, and his Party’s, profit. HarHarHar

    And, in an unrelated news story, the U.S. 7th circuit court of Appeals upheld Scott Walker’s law stripping public workers of their evil Union-based cheating.
    A victory for the middle class against the thievery of the privledged government class. Hurray for the middle class.

    • Steve the Cynic

      And how does that relate to the topic of drones?

  • Roy Wehking

    Drones are necessary. Vote for those who are driven by conscience and the drones will be used with minimal privacy issues and with minimal civilian casualties.

    • Steve the Cynic

      Even the best of consciences can be deceived, and it’s often self-deception. We humans have an almost infinite capacity to rationalize our morally ambiguous choices. Churchill and FDR were both men of conscience, yet they both rationalized carpet bombing of cities. Most Christian clergy in Germany rationalized their decision not to oppose Hitler as an appropriate separation of religion and politics.

      • Roy Wehking

        You make a good point. I have thought of the examples in history many times and have also seen it in business. Seems, somehow and someway good people justify bad things. Thing how bad it would be if they started out without a conscience.

  • Reader

    New control technologies seem to migrate first to the battlefield and then to law enforcement at home. We should be alarmed at promiscuous drone use in undeclared wars, or broadly declared war, and many of the reasons for this are given already above by others. But the dark side of domestic drone surveillance and ultimately weaponized aerial law enforcement are extremely troubling. We should slow down to a crawl on this before we turn over our freedoms in a rush by the weapons industry to make money and Congress’ tendency to feed all things military and law enforcement.

    One freedom we still have is to walk out into the night (some places still in mystical darkness) and carry a frame of reference of direct contact with something greater than both ourselves and our tribe. This freedom to commune with universal forces in solitude will be flattened if and when we need be concerned about who may or may not be watching from above. And this is only an intangible. Consider the risks of abuse of this technology… a window peeping fly by of that young lady’s house, or to inflict surveillance harassment upon a foe, or mistaken suspect, or if weaponized with energy field technology the dangers become more serious than a mean cop armed with a Taser.

    The fearful gave us so much bomb grajde radioativity to make us safe from the big bad Russian Bear that we now have to foist it onto nuclear power plants like Fukushima to burn off but with an added plutonium moxi-fuel toxicity by a factor of at least 500. There will no doubt be similar unforseen consequences from the abused technologies of our Homeland Security anti-terrorist hysteria. Look before you leap with empowering technology. The new evolving enemy may turn out to be far more toxic than what we are fighting toay.