Should the LAPD use drones to take out alleged cop-killer Christopher Dorner?

The former LAPD officer and Navy vet is a highly trained killer who's considered armed and extremely dangerous

San Bernadino County sheriffs search a home for former Los Angeles cop Christopher Doner on Feb. 10.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD officer and Navy reserve wanted for the shooting deaths of a motorcycle cop and a former LAPD captain's daughter and her fiance, left a long, rambling note warning authorities that there will be bloodshed to avenge what he saw as an unfair end to his law enforcement career. "I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty," he wrote. "You will now live the life of the prey."

An imposing figure trained in the art of warfare, Dorner is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Southern California police are nervous. Tensions are high.

Last Thursday, a team of seven police officers from El Segundo, Calif., mistakenly opened fire on a blue pickup truck believed to be Dorner's, despite the make, model, and color all failing to match Dorner's. Instead, police discovered that they had injured 71-year-old Emma Hernandez, a newspaper delivery-woman, and frightened her daughter, 47-year-old Margie Carranza, who insisted that they hadn't heard the police's calls to pull over. "How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large, black male?" witness Richard Goo, 62, told the Los Angeles Times.

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Now, the search is intensifying. And today, rumors surfaced suggesting that the LAPD may be using unmanned search drones in its hunt for Dorner, who is believed to be hiding somewhere in the mountainous Big Bear wilderness. (U.S. Customs and Borders protection says they aren't using drones; the LAPD has neither confirmed or denied.)

Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian proposes a thought experiment: Let's imagine that police manage to pinpoint Dorner's location. Dorner has already essentially admitted his guilt in his manifesto. And if he's hiding alone out there, would it be permissible to send an unmanned drone to take him out? After all, he's a highly skilled domestic terrorist waging a one-man war of attrition against the police, who have already demonstrated that going after Dorner the traditional way risks collateral damage. Greenwald continues:

[S]uppose the LAPD locates Dorner in a cabin in a remote area of the California wilderness, just sitting alone watching television. Why should they possibly risk the lives of police officers to apprehend him? Why would anyone care if this terrorist's rights are protected? What's the argument for not simply killing him the moment he's located? Given that everyone seems certain of his guilt, that he's threatened further killings of innocents, that he declared himself at "war", and that the risk from capturing him would be high, what danger is created by simply shooting a Hellfire missile wherever he's found? ...

The impetus for my asking is obviously the widespread support for killing U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki without a trial or charges based on suspicions of guilt: It's far from clear that apprehending Awlaki would have been infeasible, and Dorner poses at least as much risk to Americans as Awlaki did, almost certainly more so. [Guardian]

Read Greenwald's entire article at the Guardian.

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Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for Previously, he was a tech reporter at TIME. His work has also appeared in Men's Journal, Esquire, and The Atlantic, among other places. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.