CIA officers sitting in an air conditioned room in Langley, VA remotely operate mechanized drones that carry out attacks/assassinations of suspected Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is it topical to pull drones out of Afghanistan? (Aside from the pesky question of whether its "substantial.") Do remote controlled weapons constitute military or police presence? If so, I could imagine this as a pretty good aff that could claim an advantage off of placing life and death decisions back into the hands of soldiers on the ground and removing life and death decisions from the video game dynamic created by the use of drones. What do you think? Topical?
WASHINGTON — A senior United Nations official is expected to call on the United States next week to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes against people suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda, complicating the Obama administration’s growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan.
Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Thursday that he would deliver a report on June 3 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that the “life and death power” of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not intelligence agencies. He contrasted how the military and the C.I.A. responded to allegations that strikes had killed civilians by mistake.
“With the Defense Department you’ve got maybe not perfect but quite abundant accountability as demonstrated by what happens when a bombing goes wrong in Afghanistan,” he said in an interview. “The whole process that follows is very open. Whereas if the C.I.A. is doing it, by definition they are not going to answer questions, not provide any information, and not do any follow-up that we know about.”
Mr. Alston’s views are not legally binding, and his report will not assert that the operation of combat drones by nonmilitary personnel is a war crime, he said. But the mounting international concern over drones comes as the Obama administration legal team has been quietly struggling over how to justify such counterterrorism efforts while obeying the laws of war.
In recent months, top lawyers for the State Department and the Defense Department have tried to square the idea that the C.I.A.’s drone program is lawful with the United States’ efforts to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees accused of killing American soldiers in combat, according to interviews and a review of military documents.
Under the laws of war, soldiers in traditional armies cannot be prosecuted and punished for killing enemy forces in battle. The United States has argued that because Qaeda fighters do not obey the requirements laid out in the Geneva Conventions — like wearing uniforms — they are not “privileged combatants” entitled to such battlefield immunity. But C.I.A. drone operators also wear no uniforms.
Paula Weiss, a C.I.A. spokeswoman, called into question the notion that the agency lacked accountability, noting that it was overseen by the White House and Congress. “While we don’t discuss or confirm specific activities, this agency’s operations take place in a framework of both law and government oversight,” Ms. Weiss said. “It would be wrong to suggest the C.I.A. is not accountable.”
Still, the Obama administration legal team confronted the issue as the Pentagon prepared to restart military commission trials at Guantánamo Bay. The commissions began with pretrial hearings in the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian detainee accused of killing an Army sergeant during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002, when Mr. Khadr was 15.
The Pentagon delayed issuing a 281-page manual laying out commission rules until the eve of the hearing. The reason, officials say, is that government lawyers had been scrambling to rewrite a section about murder because it has implications for the C.I.A. drone program.
An earlier version of the manual, issued in 2007 by the Bush administration, defined the charge of “murder in violation of the laws of war” as a killing by someone who did not meet “the requirements for lawful combatancy” — like being part of a regular army or otherwise wearing a uniform. Similar language was incorporated into a draft of the new manual.
But as the Khadr hearing approached, Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, pointed out that such a definition could be construed as a concession by the United States that C.I.A. drone operators were war criminals. Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, and his staff ultimately agreed with that concern. They redrafted the manual so that murder by an unprivileged combatant would instead be treated like espionage — an offense under domestic law not considered a war crime.
“An accused may be convicted,” the final manual states, if he “engaged in conduct traditionally triable by military commission (e.g., spying; murder committed while the accused did not meet the requirements of privileged belligerency) even if such conduct does not violate the international law of war.”
Under that reformulation, the C.I.A. drone operators — who reportedly fly the aircraft from agency headquarters in Langley, Va. — might theoretically be subject to prosecution in a Pakistani courtroom. But regardless, the United States can argue to allies that it is not violating the laws of war.
Mr. Alston, the United Nations official, said he agreed with the Obama legal team that “it is not per se illegal” under the laws of war for C.I.A. operatives to fire drone missiles “because anyone can stand up and start to act as a belligerent.” Still, he emphasized, they would not be entitled to battlefield immunity like soldiers.
Mary Ellen O’Connell, a Notre Dame University law professor who has criticized the use of drones away from combat zones, also agreed with the Obama administration’s legal theory in this case. She said it could provide a “small modicum” of protection for C.I.A. operatives, noting that Germany had a statute allowing it to prosecute violations of the Geneva Conventions, but it does not enforce domestic Pakistani laws against murder.
In March, Mr. Koh delivered a speech in which he argued that the drone program was lawful because of the armed conflict with Al Qaeda and the principle of self-defense. He did not address several other murky legal issues, like whether Pakistani officials had secretly consented to the strikes. Mr. Alston, who is a New York University law professor, said his report would analyze such questions in detail, which may increase pressure on the United States to discuss them.
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Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes Patrick Porter London, Hurst, 2009 x + 264 pp., ISBN: 978-1-85065-959-4 (pound14.99 paperback)
[The] 'cultural turn' is not new, but the latest version of an old reflex. For all the differences between America and the European conquerors that came before it, this is one similarity. In reaction to rebellion and resistance, America seeks to weaponise cultural knowledge, to find power in the ability to study, classify, and taxonomize peoples of the East … The effort to rearm culturally is America's modern attempt to institutionalize this wisdom, pursuing intimate knowledge about foreign societies and turning that knowledge into strategic payoffs. As a hegemon with a global military presence hires anthropologists into its forces, as the Pentagon frames Third World cultures as nests of pathological terror, and as the exotic enemy resurfaces in popular entertainment, the War on Terror marks the 'highest stage of Orientalism'.
Thoughts from McBride on the problems for the Aff with the Afghanistan slice of the topic:
Many aff’s ability to solve will be difficult given their inability to specific what happens after a withdrawal.
If the US reduces it’s military and police presence in Afghanistan can the US still continue to train the Afghan National Forces (ANF) to defeat the resurgent Taliban? The question is, would a complete withdrawal of the US military presence affect the ability of the Obama administration to encourage Taliban exclusion? The question in part asks what,exactly, constitutes US military presence. Can the US use DynCorp, the Virginia-based contractor that has been paid more than $1.2 billion since 2003, to continue training the Afghan police after a US withdrawal? And, does a withdrawal mean that the US is suddenly in acceptance of a Taliban controlled Afghanistan?
The old tried and true problem with most debate topics is that you can’t really topically specify what comes next. Absent a US presence in Afghanistan it will be hard to win that Obama’s non-physical insurgency/on the ground strategy will change much. Maybe there will be cards that say the administration will adapt to a pre-mature pull-out but I find it unlikely that these cards will assume the plan as opposed to Obama’s current goal of a limited withdrawal in 2011.
Example, if the current US strategy is to develop and gradually train the Afghan National Forces (ANF) to defeat the resurgent Taliban, what about the plan can topically change this? Let’s imagine that the training was somehow a result of US police presence in Afghanistan, even eliminating a police presence would still allow to train the ANF by other means. Given that the Obama administration is stepping up this effort, hoping to make the ANF the basis of a strategy that will allow the gradual turnover of tasks in July 2011.
OK, so what? I can imagine that a bunch of aff cards will depend on the notion of greater Taliban inclusion into the political process. How does that happen in a world where the ANF continues to hunt Taliban instead of Al-qeada? I guess the question is how much of the stabilization of Afghanistan depends on Taliban inclusion into the political process.
As long as the US views the Taliban as the enemy, Afghanistan will be incredibly polarized to the point of dsyfunctional.