The fast developing predator drone technology, officially called unmanned
aerial vehicles or UAVs, is becoming so dominant and so beyond any
restraining framework of law or ethics, that its use by the U.S. government
around the world may invite a horrific blowback.
First some background. The Pentagon has about 7,000 aerial drones. Ten years
ago there were less than 50. According to the website longwarjournal.com,
they have destroyed about 1900 insurgents in Pakistan's tribal regions. How
these fighters are so clearly distinguished from civilians in those mountain
areas is not clear.
Nor is it clear how or from whom the government gets such "precise"
information about the guerilla leaders' whereabouts night and day. The
drones are beyond any counterattack - flying often at 50,000 feet. But the Air
Force has recognized that a third of the Predators have crashed by
Compared to mass transit, housing, energy technology, infection control,
food and drug safety, the innovation in the world of drones is incredible.
Coming soon are hummingbird sized drones, submersible drones and software
driven autonomous UAVs. The Washington Post described these inventions as
"aircraft [that] would hunt, identify and fire at [the] enemy - all on its
own." It is called "lethal autonomy" in the trade.
Military ethicists and legal experts inside and outside the government are
debating how far UAVs can go and still stay within what one imaginative
booster, Ronald C. Arkin, called international humanitarian law and the
rules of engagement. Concerns over restraint can already be considered
academic. Drones are going anywhere their governors want them to go
already - Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and countries in North Africa to name a
few known jurisdictions. . . .
[Using military documents, press accounts, and other open source
information, an in-depth analysis by TomDispatch has identified at least 60
bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations.--Nick Turse, "America's Secret Empire of Drone Bases,"
counterpunch.org, October 17, 2011]
[Today, the Pentagon deploys a fleet of 19,000 drones, relying on them for
classified missions that once belonged exclusively to Special Forces units
or covert operatives on the ground. American drones have been sent to spy on
or kill targets in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia
and Libya. Drones routinely patrol the Mexican border, and they provided
aerial surveillance over Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five
times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All
told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as
terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens. In the process, according
to human rights groups, they have also claimed the lives of more than 800
civilians.--Michael Hastings, "The Rise of the Killer
Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret," rollingstone.com, April
[The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit earlier this year
seeking Justice Department memos justifying the targeted killings, such as
the strike against dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Awlaki last
year.--Tabassum Zakaria, "White House: U.S. drone killings legal to combat
threats," Reuters, April 30, 2012]
[The lawsuits call on the government not only to categorize the strikes as
war crimes and seek prosecutions, but also to appeal to the United Nations
Security Council, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the
International Court of Justice to stop them.--Michele Langevine Leiby, "2 Pakistani lawsuits pressure government to deal
with CIA drone strikes," washingtonpost.com, May 14, 2012]
["There's evil people in the world. Drones aren't evil, people are evil. We
are a force of good and we are using those drones to carry out the policy of
righteousness and goodness."--Glenn Greenwald, "
Obama defender Rep. Peter King," salon.com, June 10, 2012]
[CRS says the Administration appears to have redefined the meaning of
"imminence," one of the required elements for justifying the use of force in
self-defense on the territory of another country. . . .
This legal memo from CRS, which is supposed to be secret and available only
to members of Congress, concludes that the Obama administration's actions
cannot be reconciled with customary laws of war and appears to supersede the
supreme law of the land, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But the
memo points to two other legal constraints being either ignored or
First, the US laws which prohibit assassinations by government officials. .
[Aside from the moral ugliness of violent covert action, its record as a
national-security strategy isn't encouraging. On occasion, interventions have delivered
short-term advantages to Washington, but in the long run they have usually sown deeper
troubles. Lumumba's successor, the dictator Joseph Mobutu, may have been an ally of the
United States until his death, in 1997, but his brutal rule prepared the way for Congo's
recent descent into chaos. Memory of the C.I.A.'s hand in Mosadegh's overthrow stoked
the anti-American fury of the Iranian Revolution, which confounds the United States to
this day. Foreign policy is not a game of Risk. Great nations achieve lasting influence
and security not by bloody gambits but through economic growth, scientific innovation,
military deterrence, and the power of ideas.--Steve Coll, "REMOTE CONTROL: Our Drone Delusion,"
newyorker.com, January 19, 2013]
["the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind
of war, as long as it's done properly"--David Swanson, "A New
Kind of War Is Being Legalized," counterpunch.org, October 23, 2013]
[The Bush administration launched the assassination program in October 2001 in
Afghanistan, expanded it in 2002 to Yemen, and went from there. Under Obama, with an
actual White House "kill list," the use of drones has again expanded, this time
nine-fold, with growing numbers of attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, as
well as in the Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian war zones.--Rebecca Gordon, "An Illegal
Military Strategy Disguised as Technological Advance," truthdig.com, July 18, 2016]