What is clear about U.S. drone strikes is that, like all weapons of war, they cannot absolutely distinguish between the innocent and those whom the U.S. believes wish to do us harm. Despite all assurances and our best intentions, innocent people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (perhaps over a thousand) have been killed by missiles fired from drones. Reports released today by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International make a strong case for a violation of international law due to the number of civilian deaths by drones.

Apart from any violations of international law and simple morality, many Americans and others around the world have criticized drone warfare as angering people who must suffer the loss of loved ones and live under the constant drone threat, thus promoting more terrorism. Tom Fenton discusses this issue in a post published back in March.

To defend drone warfare as President Obama has done–“To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties”–assumes that the only actions the U.S. can take against foreign terrorism must be violent, military actions. It also creates a kind of civilian war games, in which killing a few civilians is better than killing many; this is not a democratic morality to be proud of, and as U.S. policy it does nothing but sanction and prolong war and violence, playing into the terrorists’ hands.

Surely there are many nonviolent measures we as a nation can take to discourage foreign terrorists. But the first step seems obvious: stop an unmanned military program that is failing in many ways. Even a former CIA counter-terrorism official has spoken out against the Obama administration’s broad use of drones.

But cutting back the use of drones is not enough, for killing even one innocent civilian is too much. We should arrest terrorists when we can and bring them to trial in U.S. courts. But we should also make sure we are not relying on “targeted killings” or an easy, murderous, inaccurate intelligence and technology to achieve justice. Above all, we have to stand for and abide by democratic principles and human rights in everything we do.

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