Presentation at Drones Quilt Panel (7/22/2015) By Bill Ramsey
A thorough discussion of the legal, moral, and political consequences of the U.S. drone targeted killing program cannot be adequately completed in the space of an hour. There are books devoted to this discussion. I recommend “Drones and Targeted” edited by Marjory Cohen.
In it retired Princeton international law professor Richard Falk explains why weaponized drones pose a greater threat than nuclear weapons to international law and world order.
Then Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, describes how drone targeted killings are the latest manifestation of a long standing U.S. policy of assassinations. She traces the history from the Phoenix Program in Vietnam where 20,000 civilian supporters of the insurgents were eliminated to counter insurgency assassinations in Central and South America.
In the next Chapter, national security correspondent for the New Yorker and author of “The Dark Side: How the War on Terror turned into a War on American Ideals” details Obama administrations escalation of drone use for targeted killing.
Then Global Exchange and Code Pink political activist Medea Benjamin interviews the families of victims of drone strikes. Followed by a report by Alice Ross of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documenting civilian casualties of drone strikes.
This is followed by the co-chair of the International Committee of the Nation Lawyers Guide Jeanne Mirer’s exploration of how drone targeted killing violates specific US and international laws. Then, Butler University philosophy professor Harry van der Linden analyzes whether drone targeted killing can be justified under the just war theory’s restraints on the resort to war and the execution of war.
In the next chapter Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Pardiss Kebriaei discusses her role as lead attorney in the first legal challenge to the US targeted killing program Al-Alauqi vs. Obama.
Then the executive director of the public committee Against Torture in Israel Ishai Menuchen examines a drone targeted killing case that he brought before the Israeli High Court of Justice.
Next professor of law at the Moritz Collage of Law at Ohio State University John Quigley suggests that the drone targeted killing policy rebounds to the detriment of the US. by engendering resentment and the use of violence against the US and its personal.
And finally, Tom Hayden, author, activist, teacher and editor at the Nation places the advent of drones into a historical context of U.S. military invasions and occupations.
Perhaps a book club is in order.
Obama and International Law
President Obama came into office pledging to close Guantanamo and the practice rendition. Six years later, Guantanamo is still open and the rendition program has been replaced by an escalation of drone targeted killing. Instead of capturing and turning over those designated as suspected terrorists for torture and then holding them in indefinite detention, the President Obama simply eliminates them.
The President Obama, a lawyer specializing in constitutional law, cannot claim that it is unaware of the legal issues surrounding his drone targeting killing. During his first term in office, Obama was put on notice that the drone targeted killing program violated U.S. and International Law requirements.
The International Committee of the Red Cross’s guidance, entitled “Clearing the Fog of War” critiquing drone targeted killings was released on June 2, 2009. Some of you may remember that President Obama in responding to news of last month’s drone killing of civilians in Yemen blamed on “The Fog of War.”
United Nations Human Rights Committee’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston released a report on drone targeting killing on May 24, 2010.
On December 7, 2010 Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Obama, raising questions, based on international law requirements that HRW believes apply to the drone targeted killing programs.
In 2012, The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a law suits on behalf of the families of U.S. citizens who were killed by drone attacks, questioning the legality of targeted killings based on the due process rights of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
International Law and US Law violations
Briefly here are the legal issues raised of these reports and legal cases.
The UN Charter’s prohibition against aggressive war only allows a nation to carry out acts of war if it is about to be attacked or if the UN Security Council has authorized the use of force. The Geneva Conventions add the requirement that the attack must be militarily necessary and proportional and discriminate between “combatants” and non-combatants.
The ICRC and UN Human Rights Committee reports concluded that the U.S. drone targeted killings must be held accountable to the these provisions of international law.
Military necessity requires that those targeted must be engaged in hostilities or are about to be and thus can be designated as combatants.
It also requires that all other means, including attempts to arrest and appeals to surrender, must be attempted. Military necessity requires a reasonable level of certainty. Targeted killings of “suspected terrorists” fall short of this requirement because “suspected” leaves room for doubt.
“Proportional” means that the attack does not do more harm than it seeks to prevent, and that it distinguishes between combatants and civilians and avoids civilian causalities.
The “due process” requirements of the U.S. Constitution are relevant to drone targeted killing, because Supreme Court cases related to Guantanamo detainees have determined that the constitutional requirement to provide due process extends to “any person” who is the object of U.S. government action, regardless of his or her country of residence or nationality.
The person targeted person in a drone is denied the right to a trial or military tribunal and the killing takes place based only on suspicion and suspicion is nowhere near “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Are Drone Attacks are Precise?
One of the official justifications of the drone strikes is that while there is collateral damage it is far less than it would be in conventional air strikes or in special forces ground raids on homes. Officials contend that drone strikes are more precise.
Let’s examine this claim against the record of U.S. and Israeli drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Gaza.
Reprieve, a London based human rights organization and the London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, have documented the deaths of civilians resulting from US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan between November 2002 and November 2014.
Twelve years of US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed as many as 1,147 unnamed people in failed attempts to kill 41 targeted named individuals. Among the civilians killed were 159 children.
The 41 men who have been designated by the CIA and White House as targets of these raids appear according to US government media briefings on the drone attacks to have been killed multiple times. Can attacks that missed their targets over and over again, while killing over 1,100 including 159 children really be “precise?”
The U.S. practice of follow-on drone strikes violates Rule 25 and Rule 115 of the Geneva Conventions. Following some drone attacks on suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S. has launched an immediate second attack on emergencies medical teams attempting to treat the wounded at the scene of the attack. And then launches a third attack on the funeral procession of those killed in the first attack.
U.S. military officials have dubbed this a “double tap.” The Geneva Conventions which prohibit deliberate attacks on medical personnel and protect the right of conflicting forces to bury their dead, would call this “double tap” a double war crime.
Can the deaths of so many civilians be the result of a precise weapon? A report by the Center for Naval Analysis and the Center for Civilians in Conflict found that the drone attacks in Afghanistan have caused ten times more civilian deaths the piloted aircraft attacks
Israel’s use of Drones in Gaza
A report by the Gaza based the Al Mezan Center for Human rights documents that the Israeli Defense Force’s use of armed and surveillance drones has escalated in recent years, killing over 1,751 civilians and terrorizing thousands of children.
Over the past decade, Israel’s use of unpiloted drones has increased dramatically, with each new military assault on Gaza relying more heavily on drones than the last.
In December 2008 and January 2009, the Israeli attacks on Gaza killed 1827 civilians. 633 of these civilians were killed by drone strikes.
In December 2010 and January 2011, Israeli Attacks on Gaza killed 284 civilians. 77 of these civilians were killed by drone strikes.
In November of 2012, Israel used armed drones in its military offensive on Gaza killed a total of 201 civilians.
In the summer of 2014, Israel’s drones strikes killed 840 civilians, many of them children.
Israel’s persistent use of surveillance drones over Gaza is without precedent. Psychological terror has been inflicted on the people of the Gaza, especially children, by the constant presence of drones buzzing overhead with the capacity to rain death on those below at any moment.
This overhead constant buzzing is reminder that one’s death could come at any moment also raises violation of international law. According to international treaties prohibiting torture the persistent threat that one is about to be killed is classified as an act of torture. Now the treaty specifically refers to people in detention. But remember, residents of Gaza are not allowed to leave their small strip of land.