“Targeted” Killings: the Drone Murders

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.

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Postscript

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

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William Pfaff:   “Of Drones and Dishonor”

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Other links:

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drone-data/

http://law-wss-01.law.fsu.edu/journals/transnational/vol19_2/paust.pdf

http://www.policymic.com/articles/15340/drone-strikes-in-pakistan-have-killed-thousands-of-civilians

http://americansecurityproject.org/issues/asymmetric-operations/the-strategic-effects-of-a-lethal-drones-policy/

http://www.propublica.org/article/everything-we-know-so-far-about-drone-strikes

 

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