By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the commonlaw of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power.
~John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, Ch. III, (kudos to Bron)
On the night of February 13th, 773 RAF Avro Lancaster bombers swept in low and fast on the Saxony railway town of Dresden. It was early 1945, The Third Reich was collapsing and some 600,000 people had taken refuge in the city to avoid the Allied onslaught. The presumed target was the military complex on the outskirts of town known as the Albertstadt. Dresden, itself, was riddled with military garrisons intermingled among the civilian population. In two waves, the RAF dropped 650,000 incendiaries and 8,000 lbs of high explosives and hundreds of 4,000 pounds bombs on the city center, all with little to no resistance. The entire city was ablaze. RAF crews reported smoke rising to a height of 15,000 ft. Fires were seen 500 miles away from the target.
The next day, February 14, 1945, as Dresden was trying to cope with the crisis, 450 U.S. B-17 Flying Fortress long-range bombers assigned to the 1st Bombardment Division of the United States VIII Bomber Command arrived at 1230 local time. Guided by the fires, they discharged 771 tons of bombs.
The results on the ground were horrific with an estimated 25,000 killed. Survivor Lothar Metzger recalled:
We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.
I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.
Some estimates bring the number of those killed to 100,000. Nazi propagandists took the figure to 200,000. RAF recon noted that ” 23 percent of the industrial buildings, and 56 percent of the non-industrial buildings, not counting residential buildings, had been seriously damaged. Around 78,000 dwellings had been completely destroyed; 27,700 were uninhabitable, and 64,500 damaged, but readily repairable.”
The raid, ordered by Churchill, rendered such a blow to Western psyche that he distanced himself from the raid saying, “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so-called ‘area-bombing’ of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our allies… We must see to it that our attacks do no more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy’s war effort.” Of mention, is no sense of the human cost to the enemy of the raid. Th emphasis seems to be purely egocentric: What kind of country will we have when this is all over?
However British Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris was not so circumspect:
“Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier. The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these things.”
“War is hell” seems to claim the Air Marshall, and strategic concerns take precedence over humanitarian ones in a war zone. Is he right, or are both he and Churchill “war criminals” to quote some of the more animated commentary on the blog? Neither were prosecuted or charged with war crimes for the Dresden raid.
Which brings us to David Drumm’s fine posting yesterday about a claim of double-tapping Drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere in support of the war against the terrorists. The evidence published by the 18-month-old Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) claims that 6 instances of double-tapping have occurred with rescuers being targeted with second strikes. A review of 5 of those sources (ABC’s article was not easily retrievable) reveals that one arguably involved an attack on civilians, one was unclear on the status of the rescuers, and three reported second attacks on militants and extremists.
In response to my query on this point, David correctly pointed out that the Obama Administration does consider fighting age men in the strike zone “militants.” That fact was disclosed in a long New York Times article:
It is also because 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.
But does six instances of secondary attacks obscured by the fog of war prove that the US has a policy of targeting innocent rescuers? Can it even be said that we are indifferent to the humanitarian concerns of rescuers even as we attack our enemies on their home turf?
From a legal perspective, targeting killing of persons who present an imminent threat to a country is permissible. Obama himself has insisted on such evidence before authorizing the strikes though there are trade-offs, according to the New York Times. The CIA’s man in the White House, John Brennan, a crusty Irishman who has spoken in defense of civil liberties and to close Guantanamo but who has faced withering criticism for his role in post 9/11 interrogations, explains Obama’s analysis:
The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives. It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things.
Assassination of persons is generally regarded as murder although, by executive order, the US President may order the killing of foreign leaders who represent an imminent threat to the US.
Former U.S. District Judge (S.D. NY) Abraham Sofaer explains the difference:
When people call a targeted killing an “assassination,” they are attempting to preclude debate on the merits of the action. Assassination is widely defined as murder, and is for that reason prohibited in the United States…. U.S. officials may not kill people merely because their policies are seen as detrimental to our interests…. But killings in self-defense are no more “assassinations” in international affairs than they are murders when undertaken by our police forces against domestic killers. Targeted killings in self-defense have been authoritatively determined by the federal government to fall outside the assassination prohibition.
Likewise, Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser US Department of State, defends the use of drones as ” part of “responsibility of US to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.”
But what then about rescuers killed trying to aid militants?
Georgetown Law Professor Gary Solis, author The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War, and no friend of the US drone policy concedes that “Legal guilt does not always accompany innocent death.” In an example, published by Harper’s Magazine, Solis comments on a US helicopter attack on civilians rendering aid to combatants. “Can a van picking up wounded victims be fired upon? If the helicopter personnel reasonably associated the unmarked van with the presumed enemy personnel, yes. An “enemy” vehicle without red cross, red crescent, or white flag receives no special protection, even if wounded personnel are on board.”
Thus, even critics of the drone program conclude that trying to render humanitarian aid to injured militants affords no protection unless they are clearly visible as such. There is nothing in any of the articles cited by the BIJ indicating that rescuers were so denominated.
What then to make of the double-tap policy and the humanitarian toll. I see no proof that US drone masters are “targeting civilians.” Targeting implies intention and given the Administration’s definition of militants in a strike area it is unlikely that there is the intention to harm civilians rescuers where proof of such status exists. The Administration argues that its definition is based on its decade long experience with al-Qaeda. One certainly can argue with the definition of “militant” given its breadth, but does this definition make us any more culpable that acknowledged WWII heroes Winston Churchill or Air Chief Marshall Harris in arguing that our prime responsibility in war is to deny the enemy the ability to wage war against us even as civilians are maimed or killed?
What do you think?
Sources: linked throughout
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger