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.
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
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)
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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)