End the Use of Militarized Drones

(This is section 25 of the World Beyond War white paper A Global Security System: An Alternative to War. Continue to preceding | following section.)

Could there be a better way to guarantee a state of perpetual war? End the use of militarized drones. (Please retweet this message, and support all of World Beyond War’s social media campaigns.)
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Drones are pilotless aircraft maneuvered remotely from a distance of thousands of miles. Thus far, the main deployer of military drones has been the United States. “Predator” and “Reaper” drones carry rocket-propelled high explosive warheads which can be targeted on people. They are maneuvered by “pilots” sitting at computer terminals in Nevada and elsewhere. They are regularly used for targeted killings against people in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia. The justification for these attacks, which have killed hundreds of civilians, is the highly questionable doctrine of “anticipatory defense.” The President has determined that he can, with the aid of a special panel, order the death of anyone deemed to be a terrorist threat to the U.S., even U.S. citizens for whom the Constitution requires due process of law, conveniently ignored in this case. In fact, the U.S. Constitution requires respect of everyone’s rights, not making the distinction for U.S. citizens that we are taught. And among the targeted are people never identified but deemed suspicious by their behavior, a parallel to racial profiling by domestic police.

The problems with drone attacks are legal, moral, and practical. First, they are a clear violation of U.S. law under executive orders issued against assassinations by the U.S. government as far back as 1976 by President Ford and later reiterated by President Reagan. Used against U.S. citizens – or anyone else – they violate the rights of due process under the U.S. Constitution. And while current international law under Article 51 of the UN Charter legalizes self-defense in the case of an armed attack, drones nevertheless appear to violate international law. While drones might be considered legally used in a combat zone in a declared war, the U.S. has not declared war on the four countries mentioned above. Further, the doctrine of anticipatory defense, which states that a nation can legitimately use force when it anticipates it might be attacked, is questioned by many international law experts. The problem with such an interpretation of international law is its ambiguity—how does a nation know for certain that what another state or non-state actor says and does would truly lead to an armed attack? In fact, any would-be aggressor could actually hide behind this doctrine to justify its aggression. At the least, it could be (and is presently) used indiscriminately without oversight by Congress or the United Nations. Violated as well, of course, are the Kellogg-Briand Pact and each nation’s laws against murder.

Photo: Armed Predator drone firing Hellfire missile

Second, drone attacks are clearly immoral even under the conditions of “just war doctrine” which stipulates that non-combatants are not to be attacked in warfare. Many of the drone attacks are not targeted on known individuals whom the government designates as terrorists, but simply against gatherings where such people are suspected to be present. Many civilians have been killed in these attacks and there is evidence that on some occasions, when rescuers have gathered at the site after the first attack, a second strike has been ordered to kill the rescuers. Many of the dead have been children.note8

Opposition leader Imran Khan addressing a massive crowd at a protest against U.S. drone strikes in Peshawar, Pakistan, November 23, 2013. (Photo via @AhmerMurad)

Third, drone attacks are counter-productive. While purporting to kill enemies of the U.S. (a sometimes dubious claim), they create intense resentment for the U.S. and are easily used in recruiting new terrorists.

“For every innocent person you kill, you create ten new enemies.”

General Stanley McChrystal (former Commander, US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan)

Further, by arguing that its drone attacks are legal even when war has not been declared, the U.S provides justification for other nations or groups to claim legality when they may well want to use drones to attack the U.S. Drone attacks make a nation that uses them less rather than more secure.

Fifty nations now possess drones, and Iran, Israel, and China are manufacturing their own. Some War System advocates have said that the defense against drone attacks will be to build drones that attack drones, demonstrating the way in which War System thinking typically leads to arms races and greater instability while widening the destruction when a particular war breaks out. Outlawing militarized drones by any and all nations and groups would be a major step forward in demilitarizing security.

Drones are not named Predators and Reapers for nothing. They are killing machines. With no judge or jury, they obliterate lives in an instant, the lives of those deemed by someone, somewhere, to be terrorists, along with those who are accidentally—or incidentally—caught in their cross-hairs.

Medea Benjamin (Activist, Author, Co-founder of CODEPINK)

 (Continue to preceding | following section.)

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8. The comprehensive report Living Under Drones. Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan (2012) by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law demonstrates that the U.S. narratives of “targeted killings” is false. The report shows that civilians are injured and killed, drone strikes cause considerable harm to the daily lives of civilians, the evidence that strikes have made the U.S. safer is ambiguous at best, and that drone strike practices are undermine international law. The full report can be read here: http://www.livingunderdrones.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Stanford-NYU-Living-Under-Drones.pdf (return to main article)

8 Responses

  1. A robust movement to challenge and bring about and end to the U.S. drone killings has sprung up in the past several years – see http://nodronesnetwork.blogspot.com/ There are people working on the issue in practically every state in the U.S. — and of course in many other countries. Nonetheless, much more work is needed. This technology is simply moving ahead of us too fast. I’ve written frequently about this issue – for instance http://joescarry.blogspot.com/2014/10/drones-3d-future.html

  2. I may have further comments later, but what initially jumps out at me is that you spend a lot of words talking about ‘Due Process’ and the Constitution and collateral damage which are abstractions that cover the realities.

    I think you can make the point at more of a gut level by saying that we are killing ‘suspects’. This aligns the drone wars with police brutality in the US. It also makes the civilian casualties that are mentioned all the more incomprehensible. The collateral damage is collaterral to a crime.

    Drones are snipers in the sky. They are often deployed in areas where there is no war and prosecution of a ground war would be illegal. The pilots and shooters are backed by civilian an military analysts. Many times none are aware (as local forces are) of the local culture and normal patterns of activity of the people being scrutinized and targeted. So, their decisions are not tempered by knowledge of context.
    Technically the pilots of the drones are participants in a war, and that makes their location legitimate targets to anyone who can find a way to reach them. It makes the American continent a fair target in the ‘war’.

  3. Check out BadHoneywell.org to learn more about a new campaign that is taking off to Boycott and Divest Honeywell International, Inc. Honeywell is an all-around corporate sociopath, with involvement in nuclear weapons production, fracking, supporting the TPP, you name it. But they also manufacture the engines and navigational equipment for the Reaper drone, with contracts of at least half a billion dollars- meanwhile, they pour millions in political lobbying money into bribing our elected representatives to encourage the military spending from which they profit. Check out the website to learn more about how to get involved, and also follow us on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BADHoneywell?ref=bookmarks) and on twitter @badhoneywell.

    1. Thanks, Mathias, and thanks for all of your great work on the campaign to end drone warfare and surveillance!

  4. I was 7 years old in 1944 when I was taken to London (who needed specialist medical services because of illnesses induced by the carpet bombing of the Clydeside). I’ve never forgotten the terror that was induced by hearing reports that German V1 and V2 rockets might strike the area at any time without warning. I’ve reasoned since then that Hitler made his war unwinnable by acting unselectively to crush anything he didn’t ‘like.’ Had he used his resources to improve people’s lives the outcome would have been quite different. America requisitioned many of Hitler’s advisers subsequently. It now has improved upon the German fascist techniques by combining them with policies stating there’s no need to crush folks who are merely squealing and crying; a sense of ‘freedom’ is induced by crushing only those at distance, or those at home who might effectively be noticed screaming. Germany and America both utilized impressive methods of ‘crowd control’ to reinforce the concepts that ‘big is better’ and ‘might is right.’ It is unfortunate that 99% of the world’s population now appear to be viewed as target practice for the pleasure of leaders of the international oligarchy.

    1. Thanks Gordon – powerful testimony. And your insight that “a sense of ‘freedom’ is induced by crushing only those at distance, or those at home who might effectively be noticed screaming” is one that everyone should stop and think about.

  5. Why is there so much opposition to armed drones, as opposed to other military hardware, all of which are killing machines? Are they really worse than manned aircraft, where higher altitude and shorter observation times make it harder for the pilot to know what/whom he is hitting/killing; or, soldiers on the ground, where the fear and excitement of war push them to “shoot first and ask questions later?”
    I do agree that sending in a drone is just as much an invasion as the alternatives above.
    Also, why are the political leaders and armchair generals, who send whole armies off to kill, considered non-combatants? Is sending off whole armies of idealistic young people, caught up in the war rhetoric, really more civilized than the ancient practice of dueling? When the all volunteer army was instituted, I thought it was a great idea; but, now I see it as a way for the elite (most U.S. politicians are millionaires) to promote wars while assuring that their children will not have to fight in them. We are also increasingly fighting proxy wars on the assumption that foreign lives are less important. Perhaps the real problem with drones is that they make war more acceptable.

    P.S. I tried to use the link under Note 8, but got an error message.

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