Mr Alston does not like anything to do with the use of "targeted killings." He likes the US employment of UAVs in the role of mechanical killer even less. He likes the use of drones so little that he appears to be sincerely convinced that the US has let some evil incubus out of the laboratory, and the result will be a form of blood drenched international chaos as state after state rushes to get their own drones in the air with the intent of killing as many people as they can under the dubious rubric of "fighting terror" by killing "terrorists." What makes this dystopian vision most alarming in the mind of Mr Alston is the simple reality that drones, in principle at least, can kill anyone, anywhere, thus making the entire globe a potential combat zone rather than having the killing restricted to tight little hygienic areas of battle.
To zero in a bit tighter on the target of Mr Alston's distaste for UAVs in the role of Controlled Killer In Faraway Lands, is the American tendency to treat the machines as being clandestine in nature and thus under the operational fingers of the US clandestine service, CIA. Somehow Mr Alston has convinced himself that UAVs operated by military personnel in uniform are somehow less distasteful than the same machines run by civilians wearing whatever. Apparently this distaste is rooted in Mr Alston's belief that the military services of the US are more accountable, more transparent, and more responsible than the spooks of the clandestine service, who, by the very nature of their task, work in the deepest of plausibly deniable shadows.
Reading the report, or at least the interminable sections focusing on the Sins of Uncle Sam, one gets the impression that Mr Alston and his lady associates have formed a strange view of how the American version of Assassinate A Terrorist is played. Mr Alston must be of the view that the spooks of CIA sit around idly choosing somebody, anybody, to put in the sights of one of their far off Predators or Reapers. Not only that, but Mr Alston has apparently concluded that the bloody spooks are totally unconcerned about their distant machines wreaking havoc among the civilians, or at least the non-combatant civilians down range.
These conclusions, to say nothing of the nightmare scenario constructed upon them, violate reality in numerous ways. The processes by which individuals are selected for the attention of the remotely operated vehicles are known in outline and appear replete with safeguards, reviews, and internal accountability of a high order. Further, the operators of the American programs are as aware as General McChrystal of the counterproductive effect of killing non-combatants, with the result that the strikes are more carefully planned and the munitions delivered have been made smaller in their lethal radii.
Mr Alston might be forgiven for his exaggerations were they not so underscored by numerous internal contradictions in his report. (Take a dekko yourself, bucko, as the Geek gets bored doing all the keystrokes necessary to import block quotes.) Mr Alston is not so easily forgiven for omitting the contextual reality that the spooks would much rather capture the targeted subject, because a corpse, particularly one which has been tastelessly spread over the landscape, is of no real intelligence value.
Killing bad guys is justified by the simple fact that doing so perturbs the organizational integrity and thus the operational effectiveness of groups dedicated to killing Americans and other people including the folks in whose midst the bad guys, the jihadists, exist, often without local permission other than that extorted by fear. A bad guy merits killing by his position in the hostile entity--and that liability is in no way compromised by his being remote from the scene of combat operations.
The World War II "targeted killing" of Admiral Yammamoto stretched American technology to its (literal) limits. But had the architect of Pearl Harbor been in Tokyo or even, hypothetically, some neutral nation's capital, killing him would have been just as appropriate and just as important as a means of undercutting the combat capability of Imperial Japan.
So it is with the non-uniformed, non-state actors of al-Qaeda, Taliban, or any other group engaged in hostile operations of whatsoever sort against the US. If a heavyweight or even a middleweight member of a jihadist group is taken out anywhere in the world whether by a UAV or more traditional means, say, a knife in the back, the result is to diminish the capacity of the hostile entity to operate against us or our allies.
This may strike the lofty thinking as an example of that dreaded ethic, the ethic of means being justified by ends. And, so it is. There is nothing inherently evil in this sort of ethical approach and there never has been.
The US government is not in the business of wholesale slaughter. Nor is it in the better interests of the US to appear to be so. Neither is it in the higher, better national interests of the US to encourage any and all comers to emulate our technological means. There is no better example of this contention than the continued American refusal to furnish Predator type UAVs to Pakistan despite repeated requests from Islamabad to do so.
The question that Mr Alston and his ilk in the Human Rights Council should be addressing is far removed from the use of UAVs by the US in so-called "extrajudicial killings." That question is how should the civilized states of the world work most effectively to stop the expression of political Islam through the violence, the indiscriminate, civilian slaughtering violence so common to the type of mind behind 9/11, 7/7, the Mumbai Raid, or the literally hundreds of suicide and roadside bomb attacks on civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel, Somalia, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, and other places.
That, Mr Alston, should have your sole and undivided attention for that is extrajudicial killing at its greatest body count.