The growing use of drones in undeclared wars

By Glenda Cimino - Irish Anti War Movement

The politics of the Obama administration has been rightly labelled the “politics of illusion” by writer Jeffrey St Clair. While Bush tortured ‘suspected’ enemies and sent them to Guantanamo and other illegal secret prisons, Obama has been approving the assassination of  “suspected militants’ in several countries with drones, whether or not war has been declared.

Jo Becker and Scott Shane reported in the New York Times that Obama maintains a “kill list.” After consulting with his counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, Obama personally makes the decision to have individuals executed. Brennan was closely identified with torture, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition during the Bush administration. The Times story, based on interviews with three dozen current and former Obama advisers, reports that “Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been taken into U.S. custody” because he doesn’t want to add new prisoners to Guantanamo. This is far from what many American people expected in the last election when they voted and applauded Obama’s [unfulfilled] promise to close Guantanamo.

The CIA and the U.S. military’s covert unit Joint Special Operations Command maintain these “kill lists” of individuals suspected of terrorism, including U.S. citizens, who are being targeted for death outside of zones of armed conflict, without charge, trial, or conviction. The U.S. government argues that targeted killing outside of war zones is permissible because they are fighting a “global war” against Al Qaeda but this justification not only distorts long-standing and internationally accepted laws of war but also sets a dangerous precedent for rendering the entire world a potential battlefield. [see Declaration of the Drone Summit on  for the full statement].

According to Cohn and Mirer in Counterpunch, since 2004, some 300 drone strikes have been launched in Pakistan alone. Twenty percent of the resulting deaths are believed to have been civilians. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission says U.S. drone strikes were responsible for at least 957 deaths in Pakistan in 2010.

In the three and one-half years since Obama took office, between 282 and 585 civilians have been killed, including more than 60 children. “The CIA’s drone campaign has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to rescue victims or who were attending funerals,” a new report by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found.

AntiDrone March on Waziristan, Pakistan next Saturday

Finally, some Americans are awakening to the awful truth of what is being done in their name. This week, 40 American anti-war activists will be going on a peace delegation to Pakistan to learn more about the effects of drone strikes. On October 7, the group will join in a massive anti-drone march to Waziristan, where the drones have been killing many civilians. They will also take a petition to the U.S. Ambassador in Islamabad. [ ]. This action came out of a people’s drone summit in Washington DC last April.

Drone Summit

On April 28-29 this year, CODEPINK, Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights hosted the first international Drone Summit in Washington, DC. They saw the urgent need to address the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones and the need for national governments and international institutions to quickly move to establish appropriate protections and regulations.

People from across the United States and around the world gathered in Washington to learn about the disturbing increase in the use of remotely piloted aircraft (drones) for illegal warfare killing and surveillance and discuss what we could do together to bring these issues into greater public debate, to bring the use of drones under democratic control, and to ensure that the use of drones complies with the prohibitions against illegal war and killing and illegal surveillance in international law, the U.S. Constitution, and other U.S. law.

They pledged, among other things, to educate the public about civilian deaths in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere as a result of the use of drones for illegal killing; to agitate with news media to report truthfully on civilian casualties from the use of drones for illegal killing and to report on violations of privacy rights by the use of drones for surveillance; to refrain from research on drone and robotic weapons and to divest from companies involved in research, production and manufacture of drones for illegal surveillance and killing.

The United Nations Charter permits the use of military force only if authorized by the Security Council or if a state is acting in self-defense after suffering an armed attack – this condition does not apply to U.S drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – and who knows where else.

The U.S. executive branch, by substituting its own bureaucratic process for the due process required by the Constitution and international law, is assuming the role of judge, jury, and executioner. This needs to be stopped, and only the power of the people can stop it. The U.S. government should be pressured to demilitarize its counterterrorism strategy while increasing its conflict-resolution initiatives and prioritizing a legal approach to prevent and eliminate terrorist threats, thereby following the nonmilitary approaches in the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Congress should also prohibit the sale of drones to other countries that systematically violate human rights.

The US is setting a dangerous precedent. All technologies tend to spread and be acquired by diverse groups. The use of drone warfare, like nuclear weapons, will not be restricted to the US alone, and such attacks do not make anyone safer. In fact, unless this is controlled now, in future, no one and nowhere on earth will be safe from random death from the air.