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Today’s Headlines and Commentary

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Friday, March 15, 2013 at 1:41 PM

First up: U.S.-Afghanistan talks, as reported by Karen DeYoung and Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post.   According to them, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has lambasted the United States’ refusal to transfer, to Afghan custody, certain detainees at Bagram prison.  But unnamed U.S. officials say Karzai’s rhetoric is just that—and thus intended only to bolster his local support, as U.S. influence on the security situation wanes.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson publicly describes some of the details gleaned from his meetings with witnesses to North Waziristan drone strikes.  He said some of the attacks’ victims were “adult males carrying out ordinary daily tasks,” CNN.com reports.

Jonathan Hafetz of Seton Hall Law has this op-ed in Al Jazeera.  He aims to re-focus the debate over targeted killings:

But framing the public debate over targeted killing around citizenship is a mistake. It diverts attention on a handful of cases, while ignoring the programme’s broader impact. It also risks sending a message the US can ill-afford to send – that it cares much more about the rights of a few of its own citizens affected by lethal drone strikes than the many foreign nationals in various countries who are the programme’s main targets and victims.

Robert Latiff and Patrick McCloskey also think we’re missing the bigger picture, as they argue in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. Their concern is that drones are the “primitive precursors to emerging robotic armies:”

The problem is that robotic weapons eventually will make kill decisions on the battlefield with no more than a veneer of human control. Full lethal autonomy is no mere next step in military strategy: It will be the crossing of a moral Rubicon. Ceding godlike powers to robots reduces human beings to things with no more intrinsic value than any object.

When robots rule warfare, utterly without empathy or compassion, humans retain less intrinsic worth than a toaster—which at least can be used for spare parts. In civilized societies, even our enemies possess inherent worth and are considered persons, a recognition that forms the basis of the Geneva Conventions and rules of military engagement.

Lethal autonomy also has grave implications for democratic society. The rule of law and human rights depend on an institutional and cultural cherishing of every individual regardless of utilitarian benefit. The 20th century became a graveyard for nihilistic ideologies that treated citizens as human fuel and fodder.

And over at the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer seizes on Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster, in order to make the case for updating the 2001 AUMF, so far as drones and targeted killings are concerned.

Speaking of Rand Paul, Michael Shear writes in the New York Times on the implications of an apparent divide among the Republican Party on foreign policy.  It’s illustrated both by Senator Paul’s filibuster and by remarks by Senators Paul and Rubio during the CPAC conference this week.

John Podesta, chairman of the Center for American Progress and a Chief of Staff to President Clinton, authored this Washington Post op-ed earlier in the week.  He called for the Obama administration to release the OLC memos on targeted killing.

Meanwhile, an Iranian fighter jet attempted to chase down a U.S. drone in international airspace—but hit the brakes after being warned off by the United States.  So writes Thom Shanker over at the Times.

More on President Obama’s cyber-flavored meeting, earlier this week, with CEOs: Eric Chabrow of GovInfoSecurity. Honeywell CEO David Cote said that the “agreement” reached by all those in the meeting was that “as light a government touch on this as possible” was appropriate. Here’s Reuters on Cote’s remarks.

The Justice Department has charged a social media editor at Thomson Reuters for his alleged involvement with Anonymous’  hack of the LA Times back in 2010. Here’s the New York Times story.

And Reuters reports, as do The Wall Street Journal and the Times, that President Obama and China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, had a phone call on Thursday.  During it, the pair talked about concerns over cyber. But NPR’s Tom Gjelten wonders whether the talk of grave cybersecurity threats—as illustrated during DNI Clapper’s congressional testimony earlier this week—is just hype.

Hype or no hype, Bill Gates is pretty pleased that cyber matters are getting more attention. That’s what he said in this interview with the Washington Post.

For your consideration: the Montreal Gazette’s blow-by-blow account of a malware attack on a Canadian government agency late last year, and details about the country’s ongoing debate a debate about the government’s role in information sharing.  The attack’s details were obtained through a FOIA-like request.

Hey hey, recent cyberattacks have North Korea pointing its finger at its southern neighbor and Uncle Sam, reports Cho Sang-Hun of the Times and Youkyung Lee of the AP.

NBC News revives the debate over the term “drone” to describe unmanned aerial systems—or unmanned aerial vehicles, or remotely piloted aircraft, or whatever you call them. And over at U.S. News, Jason Koebler discusses industry’s concerns about privacy hawks’ opposition to drone technology.

Foreign Policy (h/t Alan), tells us that a  Saudi Arabian government committee has reached some important conclusions about the death penalty and Sharia law.  It turns out that the latter authorizes the execution of convicted criminals by firing squad—and not merely by sword.  Foreign Policy dutifully investigates the effect of the pronouncement on long-toiling swordsmen, whose employment opportunities might dwindle: 

Does this mean those few remaining swordsmen will be out of a job soon? It turns out the Saudi newspaper Okaz asked one of them: Mecca-based executioner Mohammad Saad al-Biishi. He says he’s not concerned, citing the fact that he’s already received firearms training. In the meantime, he’ll keep on with the beheadings.

“I just returned from Ranyah governorate, where one of the judgments was implemented with a blow from a sword,” he told the paper.

Even if the transition to firing squad occurs, al-Biishi is optimistic about the future of his profession, and has been apprenticing his son in beheadings. He acknowledges, though, that the government’s concerns about a shortage of qualified swordsmen are justified. “This profession is not desired by many,” he told Okaz, “despite the salary and personal reward we gain from it.”

For more interesting law and security-related articles, follow us on Twitter and check out the Lawfare News Feed, visit the Georgetown Center on National Security and the Law’s Security Law Brief, Syracuse’s Institute for National Security & Counterterrorism’s newsroll, and Fordham Law’s Center on National Security’s Morning Brief and Cyber Brief. Email Raffaela Wakeman and Ritika Singh noteworthy articles to include, visit the Lawfare Events Calendar for upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings at the Lawfare Job Board.

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