The Deadly Danger of Drones
Obama sure loves killing people with his drones.
GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.N. investigator has called on the Obama administration to justify its policy of assassinating rather than capturing al Qaeda or Taliban suspects, increasingly with the use of unmanned drone aircraft that also take civilian lives.
Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged Washington to clarify the basis under international law of the policy, in a report issued overnight to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The 47-member Geneva forum is to hold a debate later on Tuesday.
The U.S. military has conducted drone attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, in addition to conventional raids and air strikes, according to Heyns, a South African jurist serving in the independent post.
Citing figures from the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, he said U.S. drone strikes killed at least 957 people in Pakistan in 2010 alone. Thousands have been killed in 300 drone strikes there since 2004, 20 percent of whom are believed to …be civilians.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week defended Washington’s use of drone strikes, days after one killed one of al Qaeda’s most powerful figures in Pakistan, Libyan-born Abu Yahya al-Libi.
“Although figures vary widely with regard to drone attack estimates, all studies concur on one important point: there has been a dramatic increase in their use over the past three years,” Heyns said.
“While these attacks are directed at individuals believed to be leaders or active members of al Qaeda or the Taliban, in the context of armed conflict (e.g. in Afghanistan), in other instances, civilians have allegedly also perished in the attacks in regions where it is unclear whether there was an armed conflict or not (e.g. in Pakistan),” he said.
Human rights law requires that every effort be made to arrest a suspect, in line with the “principles of necessity and proportionality on the use of force”, the investigator said.
There had been no official or satisfactory response to concerns laid out by his predecessor, Australian expert Philip Alston, in a 2009 report on his investigation a year earlier.
“The Special Rapporteur again requests the Government to clarify the rules that it considers to cover targeted killings … (and) reiterates his predecessor’s recommendation that the government specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture ‘human targets’ and whether the State in which the killing takes places has given consent,” Heyns said.
Pakistani Ambassador Zamir Akram took the floor in Monday’s opening session to say that his country consistently maintained that the use of drones was illegal and violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, “not to mention being counter-productive”.
“Thousands of innocent people, including women and children, have been murdered in these indiscriminate attacks,” he said.
We thought this would be a good time to talk about drones again. Our morning has been figuratively filled with them. (And our skies will be literally filled with them soon enough…)
The preceding bit of news caught our eye just moments after we received this email from a regular contributor…
Our dictator in chief MUST clarify his criteria for the lethal use of drones overseas. Administration officials assure us that a “high degree of confidence” is required that the person targeted by a drone is a terrorist. However, press reports have suggested that mere “patterns of behavior” and other vague criteria are actually being used to decide who to target in a drone strike. I am concerned that an already troublingly low threshold for execution on foreign soil may be even lower than we imagined.
The use of drones overseas may have become so convenient, operated as they are from a great distance, that far more “collateral damage” has become acceptable. Collateral damage is a polite way of saying killing innocent civilians. Is the ease of drone use a slippery slope to disregard for justice, and if so what might that mean for us as they become more widely used on American soil against American citizens?
This dramatic increase in the use of drones and the lowered threshold for their use to kill foreigners has tremendous implications for our national security. At home, some claim the use of drones reduces risk to American service members. But this can be true only in the most shortsighted sense. Internationally the expanded use of drones is wildly unpopular and in fact creates more enemies than it eliminates.
Earlier this month a former top terrorism official at the CIA warned that President Barack Obama’s expanded use of drones may actually be creating terrorist “safe havens.” Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA’s counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006, told a British newspaper that, “[the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences.”
After a drone strike in Yemen last month once again killed more civilians than suspected al-Qaeda members, a Yemeni lawyer sent a message to President Obama stating “Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda.” These are the unseen victims of the president’s expanded use of drones, but we should pay attention and we should ask ourselves how we would feel if the tables were turned and a foreign power was killing innocent American children from thousands of miles away. Would we not feel the same?
The expanded use of drones overseas has been matched with the expanded use of drones in the United States, which should alarm every American who values the Constitution and its protections against government interference in our private lives. Recently, the governor of Virginia welcomed the expanded use of drones in his state because they “make law enforcement more productive.” I find that attitude chilling and am sure I am not alone.
Do we want to live in a country where our government constantly flies aircraft overhead to make sure we are not doing anything it disapproves of? Already the Environmental Protection Agency uses drone surveillance to spy on farmers and ranchers to see if they are in compliance with regulations. Local law enforcement agencies are eyeing drone use with great anticipation. Do we really want to live under the watchful eye of “Big Brother”? It is terrifying enough to see how drones are being misused abroad. We must curtail the government’s ability use drones right away lest the massacres in Yemen and Pakistan turn out to be crude training exercises for what the administration has in mind on our own soil.
Finally, we turn Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com published who has been following the drone story for a while. Last month he wrote the following…
In these last years, this country has pioneered the development of the most advanced killing machines on the planet for which the national security state has plans decades into the future. Conceptually speaking, our leaders have also established their “right” to send these robot assassins into any airspace, no matter the local claims of national sovereignty, to take out those we define as evil or simply to protect American interests. On this, Brennan couldn’t be clearer. In the process, we have turned much of the rest of the planet into what can only be considered an American free-fire zone.
We have, in short, established a remarkably expansive set of drone-war rules for the global future. Naturally, we trust ourselves with such rules, but there is a fly in the ointment, even as the droniacs see it. Others far less sagacious, kindly, lawful, and good than we are do exist on this planet and they may soon have their own fleets of drones. About 50 countries are today buying or developing such robotic aircraft, including Russia, China, and Iran, not to speak of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And who knows what terror groups are looking into suicide drones?
As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it in a column about Brennan’s speech: “What if the Chinese deployed drones to protect their workers in southern Sudan against rebels who have killed them in past attacks? What if Iran used them against Kurdish separatists they regard as terrorists? What if Russia used them over Chechnya? What position would the United States take, and wouldn’t it be hypocritical if it opposed drone attacks by other nations that face ‘imminent’ or ‘significant’ threats?”
This is Washington’s global drone conundrum as seen from inside the Beltway. These are the nightmarish scenarios even our leaders can imagine others producing with their own drones and our rules. A deeply embedded sense of American exceptionalism, a powerful belief in their own special, self-evident goodness, however, conveniently blinds them to what they are doing right now. Looking in the mirror, they are incapable of seeing a mask of death. And yet our proudest export at present, other than Hollywood superhero films, may be a stone-cold robotic killer with a name straight out of a horror movie.
Consider this as well: those “shining drones” launched on campaigns of assassination and slaughter are increasingly the “face” that we choose to present to the world. And yet it’s beyond us why it might not shine for others.
In reality, it’s not so hard to imagine what we increasingly look like to those others: a Predator nation. And not just to the parents and relatives of the more than 160 children the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented as having died in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. After all, war is now the only game in town. Peace? For the managers of our national security state, it’s neither a word worth mentioning, nor an imaginable condition.
In truth, our leaders should be in mourning for whatever peaceful dreams we ever had. But mention drones and they light up. They’re having a love affair with those machines. They just can’t get enough of them or imagine their world or ours without them.
What they can’t see in the haze of exceptional self-congratulation is this: they are transforming the promise of America into a promise of death. And death, visited from the skies, isn’t precise. It isn’t glorious. It isn’t judicious. It certainly isn’t a shining vision. It’s hell. And it’s a global future for which, someday, no one will thank us.
Why should you care about America’s flying robot killers blowing up a few women and children thousands of miles away?
Maybe you shouldn’t.
After all, it doesn’t really affect you, right? All that stuff about “blowback” may be a concern for soldiers and politicians, but it’s not like you’ll be the target of a drone strike anytime soon…
While a drone may not be dropping any bombs on you, it may soon be dropping the proverbial dime. Don’t think for a minute that the U.S. government isn’t going to use its drone army to keep tabs on everything you do.
The federales are dreaming of an army of drones — some 30,000 or so — filling America’s skies by the end of this very decade. That’s one drone for every 10,000 U.S. residents.
Or to put it another way, that’s the population of a medium-sized U.S. city being under complete surveillance by three or four dozen of those 30,000 drones.
That leaves plenty of drones to keep an eye on the smaller burghs and rural areas.
We pray that the local, state or federal government won’t resort to using the drones to rain death and destruction from above on U.S. soil. But if we had to be honest (and we do!), we think that will happen in due course.
There’s not much you can do about any of this. At least not directly. But you can push back against this terrifying advance of the terror police state.
It can start with small steps. You could start by learning how to get the government out of your everyday physical environment. The bastards are already making you poorer (and, it turns out, dirtier) right now in dozens of little ways right there in your own home.
You can’t stop the advance of the drones…yet…
But you can start to take your life back from the feds by hacking your showerhead. Click here to get a special report that will show you how.
You’ll also learn — among other things — why your lawn mowers keep leaving all that grass for you to clean up. And how to make it work the way it’s supposed to.
As soon as you click you’ll be added to the Laissez Faire Today mailing list. Don’t worry. It’s completely FREE. And you’ll get an insightful column every weekday from Laissez Faire executive editor, Jeffrey Tucker.
It’s no defense against drones. But these are concrete steps you take right now to start improving your life. By taking the government out of it.
We’ll all get to those eventually. Just make sure to keep tuning in.