On 8 July 2016, most likely for the first time in history, Dallas, Texas police used a remotely piloted land vehicle — a type of drone — to bomb a criminal suspect to death. When asked whether the bombing was justified, a former Los Angeles police captain said yes: “This was not a conventional police operation. This was more of a war zone type operation”.
That Dallas could be a war zone for purposes of killing a criminal suspect and that police would use a bomb to do so are new examples of a continuing post-9/11 phenomenon. It is another case indicating the spreading, negative influence of legal arguments developed to weaken the restraints on the use of force. Other examples have been discussed here recently, including legal reasoning to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion and the abusive claims to self-defense in response to terrorism. This post will focus on the artificial war zone and the militarization of police practices.
“War Zones” Beyond War Zones
Just one week before the Dallas bombing, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released drone death statistics from killings “outside zones of active hostilities.” For years the Obama administration has argued for a broader understanding of what constitutes a battlefield, along with attenuated readings of the right of self-defense and of the right of a state to consent to the use of military force on its territory. In a speech at Harvard Law School in September 2011, John Brennan, currently the CIA director, said, “The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa’ida as being restricted solely to ‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan.” These efforts were first motivated to provide legal cover for the use of drones in targeted killing beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. (For an overview of the history, law, and ethics of using drones for targeted killing, see my review essay, Game of Drones.) Since then, the concept of a right to kill beyond a zone of active hostilities or hot battlefields has taken on a life of its own. It has morphed into the thinking and justifications behind killing with means other than drones, against targets other than Al-Qaida members, and by operators other than U.S. military and intelligence personnel, such as the Dallas police and Chinese law enforcement. Read the rest of this entry…