A recent article in McClatchy papers entitled, Obama’s drone war kills ‘others,’ not just Al Qaida leaders clarifies the recent lies by the Obama administration that only senior Al Qiadia leaders are targeted by drones. Unremarkedly many of those “non-civilians” killed are not Al Qaida connected, are not senior members of anything, and are often the product of mafia-type turf wars, clan-based feuds or even neighbourhood spats in the various countries where the US likes to kill people with drones.
It is therefore important to note that these are not “drone wars” these are drone murders. There is no officially announced US war going on between the US and Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia.
Jordan Paust in a labyrinthine legal argument entitled ‘Self-defense targetings of non-state actors and permissibility of U.S. use of drones in Pakistan” attempts to argue that the US is permitted to kill anyone it thinks could be considered a threat in the future ( i.e a perversion of the term “imminent threat”) on foreign soil under the rules of international engagement. This argument subverts international law to a remarkable degree; implying that anyone can murder anyone else if they just might possibly fit the pattern of someone who might in the future decide they might do something nasty to another’s nation. My guess is that means probably 50% of the world’s population should be exterminated right now using that logic. However it is the type of tortuous logic that US federal lawyers are using to defend the morally and legally indefensible . It should also be noted that the US logic in killing Taleban leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan by drone is based upon the premise that the Taleban are a lethal threat to US troops; which of course they are while the US continues to occupy their homeland. However the Taleban (unlike Al Qaida) are not, and never will be, any threat to the US homeland.
Drone apologists will also argue that the use of drones is a humanitarian approach to removing problems for the US because the killings are ‘targeted’; but again that pre-supposes that the brave little men behind the computer screens firing the rockets from drones know for real who they are killing.
They don’t: hearsay, patterns of behaviour that infer that a person who is behaving suspiciously is a terrorist, confused information feeds, or simply deliberate mis-information all play a significant part in creating one error of judgement after another. The McClatchy article says that ” drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.” In addition the US government’s and CIA process of using ‘Signature Strikes” ensures that many more innocent people will be killed.
A “signature strike” is a killing of someone believed to be a militant whose identity isn’t necessarily known. Such strikes are reportedly based on a “pattern of life” analysis – intelligence on their behavior suggesting that an individual is a militant. The policy, reportedly begun by Bush in Pakistan in 2008, is now allowed in Yemen, under stricter criteria.- from Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes. Often the signature is simply a group of young men who happen to be in the ‘wrong’ place at the ‘wrong’ time. Anonymous State Dept officials tongue in cheek (but realistically) describe the process as identifying 3 young men doing jumping jacks in a field as being terrorists.
A Stanford and New York University law schools study estimates that there are, on average, 49 civilian deaths for every one known terrorist killed. In my view this also is likely to be a vast under-estimation of the “collateral damage”. Weapons manufacturers love to sell the virtues of their weaponry, and none of its vices.
Policy Mic notes that ‘The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, including 176 children.
Drone apologists will say that it is “hearsay” that the drone murders cause anger and fear and and a consequential increase in the number of new “terrorists” who hate the US. The Stanford study is sufficient in itself to explain why that viewpoint is a nonsense. Death from a cloudless sky that kills your innocent brother, sister grandparents or children is enough to arouse life-long hatred and anger in any human being. Or, as in many reported cases, civilians are attacked by drones when they go to help those injured in a previous drone attack; a clear violation of international law. But of course all that hatred helps to fuel demand for even more weapons…
The logic of using drones is that they can kill where having boots on the ground would be risky or problematic (ie no collateral damage in the US media of “our boys” being killed) . Thus when the US State Department makes assertions about who it is killing and limited civilian collateral damage, it simply is making it up; it doesn’t have a clue who it is really killing , unless it is confirmed at some later date by other events and information; and civilian deaths for the most part, don’t get reported.
In addition the ever-present fear of imminent annihilation from out of the blue creates absolute terror among children and others who are less mobile and vulnerable . Policy mic again states “the interviewee described the constant surveillance of the drones as “a wave of terror,” adding that “children, grown-up people, women, they are terrified. . . . They scream in terror.” Another described the drones as “like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there.” Many of the drones are capable of hovering almost invisibly at high altitude for hours on end before firing at their targets.
Thus it is absolutely clear that the United States not only violates human decency and morality but also violates internationally binding agreements on the rules of war, in its use of drones. The drone murders must stop.
A great article by Faisal Moghul on the The Orwellian Paradigm or, Killing you, for your own safety explores the irrational (or perhaps quite rational) language and ethics of the War on Terror
William Pfaff: “Of Drones and Dishonor”