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Justifications for U.S. Discontinuity of Drone Strike Program
Several independent organizations have raised a number of issues pertaining to the U.S. government's use of Drone Strike program to target and kill terrorists in their hideouts. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to look at the concerns raised by various independent bodies by looking at the demerits associated with the use of the program.
Initially, the first drone, MQ-1B Predator, was used by the government to gather intelligence on the terrorists' hideouts or in areas they're situated.. However, in 2002, the drone was turned into a war aircraft after it was equipped with missiles. Another drone, MQ-9 Reaper was built. An advanced model, it had better capabilities than Predator. Thus, it earned the name, 'hunter-killer.'
Despite the advantages associated with the use of the program, studies seem to suggest the demerits outweigh the merits which form the basis of this essay.
1. Civilian Casualties
The Obama administration termed the program as effective and precise. However, investigations from various independent bodies have shown the program is not precise. The White House, during the Obama administration, was tasked by various independent organizations to announce the number of civilians who had been killed by the drone strikes. The White House released the report indicating the air strikes had killed 64-116 civilians.
The figures contrast those from independent bodies such as The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The independent body puts the figures at 380-801. The organization states the release of the figures does not "include deaths in active battlefields including Afghanistan - where U.S. air strikes have shot up since Obama withdrew the majority of his troops at the end of 2014."
The New York Times notes in an article titled 'Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Unsure About Who Will Die,' "Every independent investigation of the strikes has found more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Generally, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect guess."
2. Involvement in Terrorism
Isn't it right to admit the U.S. government is acting in the same capacity it is trying to fight against - terrorism? The program is meant to eliminate terrorists and consequently sound a warning to those who would like to enroll as terrorists. However, what the government seems to forget is the impact the drone strikes have on civilians.
The civilians live in a state of fear never knowing when another air strike will occur. Will they be killed or will it be their family members, relatives or friends?
Terrorist instill fear in the hearts of others so that they can be feared. The U.S. government is acting in that same capacity through the employment of drone strikes. While the government's intention isn't to elicit fear among the civilians, the use of the program has made civilians in targeted regions to be afraid of U.S. in a ‘bad light.’
3. The Rise of Prolific Terrorists
What happens when you witness your family members, relatives or friends killed by a drone strike which is unmanned? You will become angry and develop hatred for the country that killed your loved ones and friends. You will seek to avenge their deaths. There are different avenues you can employ to avenge their deaths, one of them enlisting in a terrorist group.
This is well-illustrated by The Democratic Now, a non-profit news organization. The organization interviewed Richard Clarke who worked as a top official in counter-terrorism unit during Bush and Obama administration. When asked whether the program had gone out of proportion, he said, "...you cause enemies for the United States that will last for generations. All of these innocent people that you kill have brothers and sisters and tribe - tribal relations. Many of them were not opposed to United States prior to some of their friends and relatives being killed. And then, sometimes, they crossover, not only to being opposed to the United States, but being willing to pick up arms and become a terrorist against the United States. So you may actually be creating terrorists, rather than eliminating them.
Exploring Effectiveness, Consequences of Drone Warfare
4. It Is Prone to Human Error and Manipulation
In September 2016, a drone strike killed 15 civilians in Afghanistan. The U.S. believed it had targeted the ISIS militants. In another incident, in December 2013, a drone strike killed 14 civilians in Yemen who were returning back home from a wedding ceremony. The government mistook the vehicles they were travelling in belonging to al Qaeda militants.
The above incidents paint a sad picture of the ineffectiveness of drone strikes in targeting and killing terrorists. As long as someone is controlling an aircraft from a remote location, the controller is bound to make an educated guess. The controller will be unable to know whether civilians exist in the targeted location, and how many of them are in that place.
Human Rights Watch observes, "As with other aerial attacks, drone operations may be hampered by poor intelligence or local actors' manipulations, especially when operating outside of areas where US ground forces can direct them."
5. Violation of Human Rights and Laws-of-War
The U.S. government is breaking both the International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law. The large number of civilians killed designates the government doesn't respect the right of a person to live. In their use of the program, they are supposed to ensure civilians aren't part of their target.
Furthermore, the U.S. government is not conforming to Laws-of-War. In an article titled, 'The Truth about the United States Drone Program,' the Human Rights Watch observes that U.S. is violating Laws-of-war. "In an examination of seven U.S. targeted killing operations by drone and other weapon systems since 2009 in Yemen that had killed and wounded civilians, we found clear violations of international humanitarian war..."
The Human Rights Watch demanded the government of U.S. "...to clarify fully and publicly its legal rationale for conducting targeted killings and the legal limits on such strikes." The government has never responded to their request. Additionally, The Human Rights Watch wants the government to "...explain why its attacks are in conformity with all applicable international law and make public information, including video footage, on how particular attacks comply with those standards."
Moreover, there isn't any law in United States which gives the government and the intelligence agency, CIA, the right to employ this program. In an excerpt that appears in The New York Times originally published by The New Press, titled, 'The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law,' written by Jameel Jaffer, he remarks "...In this context, though, 'lawful' had a specialized meaning. Except at the highest level of abstraction, the law of the drone campaign had not been enacted by the Congress or published in the US code. No federal agency had issued regulations relating to drone strikes, and no federal court had adjudicated their legality. Obama administration officials insisted that drone strikes were lawful, but the "law" they invoked was their own. It was written by executive branch lawyers behind closed doors, withheld from the public and even from Congress, and shielded from judicial review."
The Pros And Cons Of Drone Warfare
It is evident the program is not effective as the U.S. government wants people to believe. The high number of civilians killed compared to the low number of terrorists killed raises questions about the ethics of the program.
Despite the fact it is legal for the U.S. government to employ the program as stipulated in Laws-of-War; the illegality arises from the secrecy surrounding the program. The government is silent in many issues which paints the picture it isn't adhering to international humanitarian laws governing countries. This coupled with the fact the government is carrying out the airstrikes outside the battlegrounds, in remote locations, further raises the legality of the government carrying out such strikes.
Lastly, will the government keep up with the rise of terrorists who have developed hatred for United States because of their use of the program? And, is the program precise in targeting only the terrorists without leading to the deaths of civilians? The New York notes, "Most security experts believe that drones, which allow a scene to be watched for hours or days through video feeds, still offer at least the chance of greater accuracy than other means of killing terrorists. By most accounts, conventional airstrikes and ground invasions kill a high proportion of noncombatants. But without detailed, reliable, on-the-ground intelligence, experience has shown drones make it possible to precisely kill the wrong people."
- Obama’s Covert Drone War in Numbers: Ten Times More Strikes than Bush. (2017, November 17). Retrieved from https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2017-01-17/obamas-covert-drone-war-in-numbers-ten-times-more-strikes-than-bush
- Former Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke: U.S. Drone Program Under Obama “Got Out of Hand.” (2014, June 02). Retrieved from https://www.democracynow.org/2014/6/2/former_counterterrorism_czar_richard_clarke_us
- Q & A: US Targeted Killings and International Law. (2011, December 19). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/12/19/q-us-targeted-killings-and-international-law
- US: End CIA Drone Attacks Demonstrate ‘Targeted Killings’ Adhere to International Law (2011, December 19). https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/12/19/us-end-cia-drone-attacks
- Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda. The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen. (2013, October 22). https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/10/22/between-drone-and-al-qaeda/civilian-cost-us-targeted-killings-yemen
Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die. (2015, April 23). https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/world/asia/drone-strikes-reveal-uncomfortable-truth-us-is-often-unsure-about-who-will-die.html