Saturday, May 11, 2013

PF 2013 NFL Nationals - Drones - introduction

Resolved: The benefits of American drone strikes against foreign targets outweigh the harms.


a. Something that promotes well being: advantage (superiority of position or condition)
b. Useful aid: help
An advantage or profit gained from something

There is probably no need to formally define this word.  It is used as an adjective thus characterizing "drone strikes" as something related to the United States.  Clearly in this context, the "drone strikes" are carried out by the United States.  I suggest American may be a poor choice of words, since I was once told by a Canadian person that Canadians also consider themselves American since America is more a region or continent than a single nation.  Hence, we are the United States OF America, not America. Okay, I digress.

Plain and simple a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle which is piloted by remote control.  There may be other kinds of drones, such as ground vehicles or underwater vehicles, but these are not the subject of controversy and not the topics of this debate.  The United States (America for the purpose of this debate) for a number of years has perfected the technology of remotely piloted aerial vehicles, initially using them as surveillance devices and eventually fixing various kinds of weapons to them, most commonly, missiles.  The pilot remotely flies the aircraft, identifies a target using its on board camera system (which may include optical and infrared imaging) and then remotely launches a missile attached to the airframe of the drone to the target.  The drone is then piloted back to its origin where it is recovered and used for future missions.  The missile attack, which is launched from the drone by the remote (American) pilot is referred to as a drone strike.

a: to aim and usually deliver a blow, stroke, or thrust (as with the hand, a weapon, or a tool)
b: to arrive with detrimental effect <disaster struck>
c: to attempt to undermine or harm something as if by a blow

foreign targets
This is important terminology in this debate.  Since the target is the objective of the strike, the person or thing which is intended to be struck, the resolution specifies foreign targets.  This is not foreign in the sense of "unknown" targets, rather foreign in the sense of non-"American".

1: situated outside a place or country; especially: situated outside one's own country
2: born in, belonging to, or characteristic of some place or country other than the one under consideration
3: of, relating to, or proceeding from some other person or material thing than the one under consideration
4: alien in character : not connected or pertinent
5: related to or dealing with other nations

This distinction of targets as "foreign" is important considering recent news in which it is charged that current US policy supports the use of drones to attack US citizens within the boundaries of the United States, under certain conditions.  This, in fact, was the motivation behind Senator Rand Paul's famous filibuster on March 6, 2013.  while this debate will no doubt examine the current drone usage policies of the United States, there should be no need to expand the debate to include domestic drone strikes based on this wording.  However, it is not so clear when we look to US drone strikes which target US citizens which happen to be on foreign soil.  This, in fact has happened in the infamous case of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen by birth with alleged ties to al-Qaida.

outweigh the harms
This is classic debate in which sides are asked to provide a comparative analysis of benefits and harms, advantages and disadvantages, good and bad. While the dictionary definition of "harm" is physical or mental damage the Con side will need to look much deeper than the obvious immediate result of a drone strike.  The harms are not just dead or injured people and property damage, but rather a far-reaching negative blow-back resulting from the fact that innocent individuals are often caught in the mayhem of a drone strike.  In addition, there is the perceived injustice of an execution without adequate due process and perhaps in some cases, the violation of international borders and state sovereinty as drones clandestinely slip across borders to acquire their targets.

Why The Resolution?

I think most debaters who will be debating this resolution at the NFL National Tournament in Birmingham will have a good working understanding of the issues of drone surveillance, warfare and targeted killing.  These topics are in the news, argued in Congress and have been debated in the past in high-school debate tournaments.  Despite your personal opinions to the contrary perhaps, we must understand the US believes the use of drone strikes against foreign targets has real and profound benefits which justify the policies, and we must understand that the criticisms and outcries in opposition to the policies are equally legitimate.  The resolution is being debated because the evaluation of benefits versus harms is far from settled and so each side will have the opportunity to expose both sides of the issue as deeply as possible in the context of an eight minute constructive.

The topic is potentially huge and there are many ways for both sides to argue the use of drones but I think debaters must be careful to stick to the primary objective of this debate, which is to present the comparative analysis based on current policies.  This means, in my opinion, it is pointless to debate whether the policy should continue, be amended, changed, or revoked.  The debate is much simpler than that.  We have a policy. Does it yield more good than bad results?  Nothing more needs to be discussed.

Weighing the Debate

Key to this debate will be the weighing mechanism which strongly suggests the framework one chooses will be all important.  The problem, as I see it, is there may or may not be common ground on which to base a comparison.  For example, one way to evaluate the benefits versus harms may be based upon an economic cost.  Simply put, the cost of setting up and operating a drone mission to take out a suspected terrorist may be far less than alternatives which require deploying a military squad to find and eliminate a suspected terrorist.  Other comparisons may evaluate the potential costs in terms of human lives.  In each of these frameworks, it is fairly simple to establish criteria on both sides which lend themselves to the weighing mechanism (economic cost or death toll). Personally, though, I don't think such debates will, in and of themselves, win the tournament.  The evaluation may incorporate elements of economic cost and will certainly discuss the cost of human lives but the real impacts will be much broader and much more difficult to quantify such as the political cost or international standing, and may become even more abstract through a comparison of the moral or philosophical issues.

In my experience as a coach and judge for Public Forum debate, I tend to think abstract arguments are good for establishing an aura of credibility (ethos) but judges tend to focus on more practical arguments which have direct impact on the experience of the judge.  So while moralistic or philosophical issues will influence, they may not be the sole reason for decision and the debate will be won by the side which can weigh the issues in real-world terms such as less cost, fewer deaths, increased security, decreased terror threat, troop safety, etc. or conversely, loss of innocent lives, human rights violations, destruction of property, loss of international credibility, and so on.

An Examination of the Issues

Self Defense and Human Rights

Despite the issues surrounding the morality or legitimacy of just war theory, drone usage policy pushes the boundaries of widely accepted norms and international laws according to some sources.

Amnesty International 2012:
"...some details of the purported legal rationale for current policies and practices of the United States of America (USA) in the deliberate killing of terrorism suspects, including far from any recognized battlefield, and particularly through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (popularly known as drones). The picture slowly emerging gives grounds to conclude that US polices and practices are unlawful, violating the fundamental human right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life.
While some of the killings in question, if conducted in the context of specific armed conflicts, for instance in Afghanistan or at some times in some parts of Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, may not violate international human rights or international humanitarian law, the policy appears also to permit extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law, virtually anywhere in the world."

The Amnesty paper, which gives useful details on the numbers and scope of the deaths resulting from US drone policy, explains some of the public rationale behind the current US policy as a legitimate act of self-defense from a faceless, non-aligned enemy which transcends borders.
"Speeches by the Legal Adviser to the Department of State,4 the General Counsel of the
Department of Defense,5 the US Attorney General,6 the CIA General Counsel,7 and the
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism,8 have argued that
US policy and practices for deliberate and premeditated “targeted killing” of individuals
identified as terrorism suspects are lawful under international law on two grounds (the officials have, it must be noted, carefully avoided directly addressing the so-called ‘signature
strikes’ or ‘Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes’9):
  • That the USA is engaged in an armed conflict with “al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces” that is global in scope, allowing for US use of lethal force, virtually anywhere in the world, against anyone it believes to be sufficiently involved with these groups, and further permitting the killing of a “proportionate” number of civilians in the vicinity of that person, whether or not there is any real reason to believe that they themselves are involved in terrorism;
  • That the USA is entitled to use lethal force against terrorism suspects in a very wide range of situations on the basis of its right under international law to self-defence."

Shadow War

A key issue arises under the banner of executive privilege and the powers of the executive branch to shape international policy apart from the full consent of Congress.

Boyle 2012:
"...the president has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America's temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the "kill list" being resolved in secret on "Terror Tuesday" teleconferences with administration officials and intelligence officials.
The creation of this "kill list" – as well as the dramatic escalation in drone strikes, which have now killed at least 2,400 people in Pakistan alone, since 2004 – represents a betrayal of President Obama's promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the US constitution. As Charles Pierce has noted, there is nothing in the constitution that allows the president to wage a private war on individuals outside the authorization of Congress."

While Boyle nicely frames the US drone policy as an unprecedented and possibly illegal expansion of US executive power, his impact statements tend to underplay the true cost to the international credibility of the US as a beacon of international justice.

"Instead of restoring counterterrorism to its proper place among America's other foreign policy priorities, President Obama has been seduced by political expediency and the lure of new technology into adopting a policy that kills first and asks questions later. He may succeed in crippling al-Qaida and preventing some attacks today, but it is now harder than ever to believe that a young child in Pakistan hearing the whirring noises of drones above them will look up and see Obama's America as "the relentless opponent of terror and tyranny, and the light of hope to the world"."

Extrajudicial Killing and Innocent Deaths

One of the key issues for many opponents of US policy hinges around the lack of due process for the intended targets, which as already seen in the previous Amnesty International issue violates interpretations of the international right to not "arbitrarily deprive a human being of life".  The world was given a glimpse of the nature of the Obama administration's policies in May 2012, when Becker and Shane published their famous article in the New York Times revealing a "secret kill list".  While the article provides interesting insights in the commonalities and differences with the prior George W. Bush counter-terror policies, it also reveals the calculus which justifies the collateral damage widely criticised by human rights groups.

Becker & Shane 2012:
"...Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths."

Part 2 - Legitimacy

Amnesty International, 2012

Obama's drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder
Michael Boyle, The Guardian, 2012

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will
Jo Becker and Scott Shane, New York Times, 2012

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