… in the U.S. government’s use of drones, you might want to revisit Duke professor Scott Silliman’s discussion of drones with the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society and with Carolina Journal Radio.

Silliman: A lot of folks have challenged the killing by drone by saying, “You can’t just go out there and kill somebody. You’ve got to capture them first, and only if you can’t capture them and you’re at risk can you use lethal force.” Well, the United States has taken the position, Mitch, that we are at war against these terrorists, and we have adopted what’s called the law of armed conflict paradigm. And that allows us, under the law, to kill anyone who is a combatant, regardless of where they are, unless they have actually taken themselves out of the fight.

Many other countries — Western European countries — believe that terrorism is a crime, not a war act, and so they would say that we can’t go around the world killing folks, but the United States has maintained — and, I think, properly so — we’re at war, and we can use lethal force. On the domestic side, when the president authorizes us to use lethal force, it’s perfectly legal, so I see no legal issues that are causing an impediment to our use of drones.

Kokai: Is there anything that needs to be done to ensure that the people who are being targeted are actual combatants? Does there have to be something — some I dotted, some T crossed — to ensure that some president, not necessarily the current one, but someone in the future, wouldn’t just use this to attack other enemies who might not be involved in a war?

Silliman: That’s an excellent question. And the one thing about drones, Mitch, is that you can study the target for a long period of time. These drones can linger and loiter for up to 40 hours in the air. So, traditionally, what they do is, they will track the suspect in his normal daily activities to confirm that that individual really is a member of al-Qaeda, or engaging, or planning to engage, in hostilities. So, rather than having a guy in an airplane firing a missile without really studying the lifestyle of the individual, this is much more precise, and the intelligence allows us to ensure that it really is a lawful target.