US Drone Attacks - Illegal and Unacceptable

A US Predator drone (unmanned aeriel vehicle), firing a missile (from Drone Wars UK website)

A missile launched from a US drone aircraft killed eight people - or 'suspected militants' as the western media refers to them - in North Waziristan today. A week ago five other people were extrajudicially executed in the region by another of the thousands of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by the US. Its the way the CIA operates these days in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, under the command of Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama.

We have moved on from the days of extraordinary rendition, when kidnapping and torture was the modus operandi of the CIA. There has been no accountability for this grave abuse of human rights, and it has therefore taught the abusers that they can get away with whatever they decide to do to individuals, even whole societies, anywhere in the world.

In addition to the illegality of extrajudicial killing, there is a huge human cost to these attacks. Independent investigations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists show that between 482 and 832 civilians have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Of these, 175 were innocent, defenceless children.

The US have adopted the same covert tactics in Yemen, where they have murdered between 58 and 146 civilians since 2001. And in Somalia US drones have killed up to 57 innocent people in the last five years. Its a hidden war against societies that are being tramautised and radicalised by the indiscriminate attacks.

US drone strikes in Pakistan have risen from one a year in 2004 to one every four days under President Obama. Thousands of people have been killed. But despite all the evidence of civilian deaths, the US insists that drone strikes are 'the most accurate weapon in history'.

What they don't speak about is the grotesque, detached way in which the killing is done using drones. Pilots located in a control centre, possibly thousands of miles away, fire supersonic armour piercing Hellfire missiles that strike their targets with appalling consequences. In an article written last year Ted Rall pointed out that it's easy to see why generals and politicians are so enthusiastic about this form of warfare. The pilotless planes, guided by operators manning a joystick in places like the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and armed by Xe (the private contractor formerly called Blackwater) are relatively cheap, says Rall. "A Predator costs $4.5 million; an F-22 Raptor fighter jet runs $150 million a unit". And the absence of a pilot eliminates the risk that a person that costs millions to train will be killed or captured by enemy forces.

UN representatives like Christof Heyns, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, have been very critical of the US drone attacks. Speaking in Geneva last week Heyns indicated that some of the attacks may even constitute international war crimes. He ridiculed the US suggestion that targeted drone strikes on al-Qaida or allied groups were a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks. "It's difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to [events] in 2001," he said. "Some states seem to want to invent new laws to justify new practices".

Governments all over the world are now claiming that rendition is unacceptable, although few are demanding accountability or redress for the suffering caused. But at the same time they are silent on the US policy of murder using drone aircraft. The illegal and immoral attacks on homes and communities is done without a passing thought for people living there. Not a single government in the West is prepared to take a principled stand on behalf of the victims, despite their rhethoric about respecting human rights. The 'international community' remains shamefully silent while innocent people - people who are never represented at the high profile international gatherings - continue to suffer and die. 

Afghanistan and Pakistan are two of the most abused places on earth today. To illustrate this, Rall quotes a well-placed US military source who confirmed that Afghan security "isn't a priority, it isn't even much of a passing thought". Contrary to President Obama's claim that the US is in Afghanistan in order to prevent the country from becoming a base for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups and to combat opium cultivation, the military source claimed that Afghanistan isn't about Afghanistan at all. "Afghanistan is a staging area for drone and other aerial strikes in western Pakistan," he says. "Nothing more, nothing less. Afghanistan is Bagram [airbase]."

US congressman Dennis Kucinich outlined the consequences of this strategy for the US. If the drone programs are not shut down he said, "then what we are looking at is the potential of war of all against all, a pulverisation of national sovereignty and a rejection of the structure of international law".

As soon as that happens, the international community will then start demanding respect for international law, and justice, and human life, and the right of ordinary people to security and peace - just as they did after September 11, 2001. When the ordinary people being attacked are or own families and friends, it all becomes so different.

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