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« Brennan Takes CIA Oath On Constitution -- WITHOUT Bill Of Rights | Main | WATCH: Santelli Battles Liesman Over Bogus Job Numbers »

Can A President Use Drones Against Journalists?

The New Yorker

By Amy Davidson

In thinking about drones strikes and targeted killings, it can be instructive to picture them hitting people you know, either deliberately or as collateral damage.  Doing so may not even be much of a stretch, nor should it be.  It’s already the case for people living in parts of Pakistan and Yemen.

Last week, I moderated a live chat on the ethics of drone warfare with Michael Walzer, the author of “Just and Unjust Wars”; Jeff McMahan, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers, who has also written about just-war theory; and The New Yorkers Jane Mayer, who is a master of the subject.  The discussion took some interesting turns, touching on the idea of a secret committee that the President would be asked to check with before killing an American and the question of whether China would ever assert the right to call in a drone strike on a dissident living in San Francisco.

After Walzer and McMahan suggested some criteria for strikes—criminality, risk of American lives—I asked them this:

Doesn’t a journalist working abroad who is about to release classified information about a war crime—thus committing a crime—that will provoke retribution or a break with allies—endangering Americans—fit this definition of a target?

Walzer didn’t initially think that it did. The danger to Americans, he said, had “to come directly not indirectly from the target before he can be a target.”

McMahan had a different view:

If the release of classified information really would seriously endanger the lives of innocent people and the only way to prevent the release of the information was to kill the journalist, then the journalist would be liable to attack.  But the evidential standards in such a case would be very high and would be unlikely to be satisfiable in practice.

“So Michael wouldn’t kill the journalist but Jeff just might…” I posted, and the chat moved on. But the question of the journalist is worth dwelling on, because it gets at some of the fundamental problems with the targeted-killing program. Who is “dangerous”? And who decides? A Justice Department white paper laying out the circumstances in which the President can kill Americans talks not only about Al Qaeda but also about “associated forces,” not clearly defined.

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Reader Comments (11)

It's worth checking out:


Feb 22, 2013 at 3:45 PM | Registered CommenterDailyBail
Can the Obama Adminstration assissinate people inside the U.S.?

It's a simple question that was put to John Brennan repeatedly during his confirmation hearings. The answer "no" should have been immediate. It wasn't. Brennan equivocated without ever answering the question. Glenn Greenwald has been all over this issue lately...


There is no power that any dictator possesses that Obama has not claimed for himself. That includes murder. This has been apparent for well over a year. Amicus George Washington has written about it extensively.


The so-called drone court is wholly unconstitutional and is designed to dupe the dull side of the knife drawer with a false sheen of legality. It is lipstick on a murderous pig.
Feb 22, 2013 at 5:43 PM | Registered CommenterCheyenne
This should more properly be called "the life and times of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient"...

What a travesty.
Feb 23, 2013 at 7:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterS. Gompers
The mere act of debating how and when it's OK for America to commit premeditated murder anywhere reveals all one needs to know about the appalling depravity of our nation. What, exactly, is being 'protected' via such barbarous tactics, other than further criminality?
Feb 23, 2013 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered Commenterh5mind
Black Churches Condemn Obama Administration's Drone Policy as Murder and Evil

Feb 24, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Registered CommenterDailyBail
Feb 24, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Registered CommenterDailyBail
A real president wouldn't but a dictator does what ever!
Mar 13, 2013 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered Commentercap
"release classified information about a war crime—thus committing a crime"
so now exposing a crime IS the crime? indeed WORSE than the crime?? So yes, Lets DO shoot the messenger...
most of the postulates in this piece wreak of the same sophistry Dershowitz used in 2002 when he dripped the first few drops of "its right to torture 'if it can prevent a bigger crime'..." No end to this slippery slope and no govt crime so brazen or egregious that it will inconvenience the American people to turn off their TVs and take action to stop it. The rank & file who enable all of this by their govt are unfathomably corrupt. Even under M.E. dictatorships they move their moral behinds and protest abuse.
Here? We prefer HBO.
This is a society that deserves every bit of Karma that is coming to it.
Mar 14, 2013 at 1:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterpashik
Clearly the "war on terrorism" was designed to justify ANYTHING no matter how irrational and murderous. Just who is a "terrorist", a nation that kills 19 innocents for every "terrorist" they claim to target or one who points out the murders?

This would all be terribly comical if the consequences of being a comic were not soon to be death.
Mar 14, 2013 at 3:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterLou
"Can A President Use Drones Against Journalists?"

Yes. Next question.
Mar 14, 2013 at 4:16 AM | Registered CommenterCheyenne

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