Nuremberg's Relevance To Drones & Targeted Killing

Without a doubt, al-Awlaki was not a man of peace. In a current Politico article on the latest targeted killing by US drones, all the questions that disturb me about drone warfare are asked, but regrettably not answered with respect to the lessons of the past. Especially the recent past that helped build post WWII peace for decades.

 drone skies image 

In What's the legal process for targeted killings like al-Awlaki's? Politico's Josh Gerstein ( tries to ask these questions and keep his job. But is it possible for Americans to ask questions within their own country anymore? If the debate on education reform is important for one reason, it is the maintenance of peace and the dangers of forgetting. Maybe it's coming so soon during Rosh Hashanah but this issue triggered thoughts of Nuremberg. I tried to explain myself on Fabius Maximus recently and trying to explain it better here.

At a literal level the Nuremberg Trials seem out of context here because it was very opposite to 'targeted killing' by drones and for many folk a very long time ago now. Also, with the drones there is no presumption of innocence, which is required for a trial so the two at first seem incompatible. At Nuremberg, the landmark trial of German Nazis involved in war crimes, prosecutors, including US Justice Robert Jackson, knew that 'doubt' was the biggest threat to repeating history and ending the terror of that age, and that collecting evidence publically, would help this. I think that worked.

The loss of these values concerns me. Without any “aspiration to do justice”, we support an endless suspension of habeas corpus. Very dangerous. Nuremberg may be a different case, but that does not mean it is irrelevant to the issue of targeted killing by drones today. I encourage you to read the speeches and writing of Justice Robert H Jackson between the 1940s and 50s. As the Chief Prosecutor for the US at Nuremberg, and the architect of the international trial model, he was a powerful advocate of procedural fairness who warned against government over-reach.

The following 3 links really make sense to me when I consider what is becoming normalised international policy. As former student of history, I am worried about our capacity to misrepresent the past. As an artist, I have felt for some time a blanket of noise sweep away the sensitive and the sacred from daily life and art itself. And as a human being I see resistance to this as important.

  1. Robert H Jackson's website is;
  2. Killing Awlaki was illegal, immoral and dangerous (CNN article by Mary Ellen O’Connell, the Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law and Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution at University of Notre Dame Law School;  and
  3. Newly restored film:  Nuremburg: It's Lessons For Today [The Schulberg/Waletzky Restoration


All text and images on this website are Copyright © to Carl Gopalkrishnan 2019