Drones have been used for surveillance since the Vietnam era. However, after September 11th, 2001 their use greatly expanded and their function shifted from purely for surveillance to becoming unmanned killing machines, armed with various munitions. “In 2003, US Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley said, ‘We’ve moved from using UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role.’” 
While drones were used by the George W. Bush White House in the Middle East, after Barack Obama took office he expanded the scope of the use of drones around the world, eventually relying primarily on UAVs for his wars.  This was a politically skillful maneuver for Obama because he could then sell to the American public how he was going to be the president who ended the war in Iraq, and greatly reduce the numbers of troops around the world, which surely aided in his popularity. However, what many people did not know, at least before several groundbreaking news reports about the drone program, is that Obama merely replaced American troops with unmanned drones in order to conduct his wars, which were sold to the public as a “cleaner” method of warfare, and more acceptable to the American public. In fact, a 2012 poll showed that “83 percent of Americans supported Obama’s drone program.”  Unfortunately, the American population has been hoodwinked, bamboozled, and outright lied to by Obama and his administration. 
In this post I am going to expose the moral and legal issues surrounding the drones, exposing the truth that oftentimes the mainstream media doesn’t bother to report and the government wants to hide from public knowledge. While all of this information is already out in the public domain in books, news stories, and talks, it’s an unfortunate fact that too many people in the U.S. and around the world do not understand what is going on in the world because they don’t take the time to thoroughly examine the claims made by government spokesmen or some sectors of the media, who often repeat government untruths. I hope this post will help pull the wool from the eyes of those who have been taken in by this massive propaganda campaign by the government and their puppet media.
Drones are said to be better than other more conventional methods of warfare because accidental deaths of both civilians and U.S. and allied troops are said to be greatly reduced, if not eliminated altogether. Unfortunately, the facts are vastly different. To demonstrate the complete lack of honesty on this point I will quote Obama from a virtual interview he conducted in January of 2012 on Google’s social networking platform called Google+. One of the questions was regarding the drone program and whether or not they caused many civilian casualties. Obama responded,
I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.” 
This is patently false. Not only have drones accidentally killed civilians, the U.S. has also purposefully targeted civilians on numerous occasions, which are obvious cases of war crimes. 
In February of 2012 the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that “282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.” And the numbers of innocents killed around the world continue to rise as I type. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism keeps updated tallys on their website. There are even studies which claim that “[t]here are estimates as high as 98% of drone strike casualties being civilians (50 for every one “suspected terrorist”).”
All this is bad enough, but probably one of the most troubling aspects of the drone war is the U.S. criteria of who they will target, which they have named “signature strikes.” An excellent study, titled Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan, about the drone war conducted by Stanford and NYU in 2012 discusses this issue. It reported that,
Under Obama, the program expanded to include far more “profile” or so-called “signature” strikes based on a “pattern of life” analysis. According to US authorities, these strikes target “groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.” Just what those “defining characteristics” are has never been made public. In 2012, the New York Times paraphrased a view shared by several officials that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.”The Times also reported that some in the Obama administration joke that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” they think it is a terrorist training camp. (12-13) [emphasis mine]
These chilling revelations are likely the reason for the numerous civilian casualties. The U.S. in most cases doesn’t even know the identities of the people they are killing!
Another horrible revelation that came to light in the media is another feature of the U.S. criteria for who they will target, and who they consider “militants.” The U.S. has a policy of counting every “military-aged male” in a strike zone as an “enemy combatant,” even if they have no clue who they are. As Gleen Greenwald has aptly said, this criteria is “sociopathic.” The New York Times reported that “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” (emphasis mine) These powers are only embraced by cold-blooded dictatorships, I’m sorry to say: Kill first, ask questions later.
Despite all of the damning evidence of civilian deaths, when looking at all of the above stats and numbers of people killed I believe many peoples’ eyes glaze over. “They’re just numbers,” people might think. “I don’t know them so who cares if they die?” Perhaps this is the mentality of many people who don’t necessarily agree with the killing of innocents but for some reason still accept it and defend the drone program? Rather than looking purely at the numbers, which can often dull our sense of morality since numbers can’t depict the victims’ humanity, I will quote from Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin’s 2012 book Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control. Within the pages of her book she recounts several such drone strikes:
Fifteen-year old Sadaullah, a local student, was particularly happy that day as there was an iftar (breaking of the fast) feast planned at his house that evening. His grandfather and uncles were coming, and his mother was cooking his favorite meal. Sadaullah saw the unmanned machine in the air and joked with his friends about the ”bangana,” a local name given to drones in the area due to the constant noise they make.
In the evening, the house was crowded with all the men in the family – his grandfathers, uncles, and cousins. Everyone broke their fast and proceeded to the courtyard for prayers.
The lucky ones had already reentered the house when the missile struck. Not Sadaullah. He fell unconscious under the debris of the fallen roof. When he awoke at a hospital in Peshawar, he was blind in one eye from the shrapnel and both his legs had been amputated. He later learned that his elderly uncle, who had been in a wheelchair, was dead, as were two of his cousins, Kadaanullah Jan and Sabir-ud-Din.
“I had a dream to be a doctor,” said Sadaullah, “But now I can’t even walk to school.” So he studies religion in the village madrassah and has little hope for the future.
Meanwhile, the media reported that the strike had been a success, killing a group of militants, including Iiyas Kashmiri. It was not until two years later that Kashmiri was actually killed. (107-108)
She writes about another somber story,
One [of the victims] was [Pashtun tribal leader] Karim Khan, a resident of the tiny village of Machikhel, near Mir Ali in North Waziristan. On December 31, 2009, as most Americans were putting together their lists of New Year resolutions and gearing up for an evening of festivities to bid adieu to the first decade of the millennium, a drone strike leveled the hujra, or community space, located within the four walls of Karim Khan’s compound. Karim Khan’s family had used the space for years to organize the community for jirgas, or gatherings in which community members made decisions regarding issues that affected their tiny village, from pooling money for the medical care of an elderly relative to mediating a property dispute between brothers.
But there was not a jirga in process that evening. Indeed, Khan was not even in the village that night – he was hundreds of miles away in Islamabad. His brother Asif Iqbal and his eighteen-year-old son Zaeenullah Khan were home, though. They were chatting in the courtyard when a drone flew overhead, casting its dark, buzzing shadow over the hearths of the village of Machikhel.
But that night it didn’t just hover above, watching the movements of the villagers below, as it had done on other occasions. No, this time it let lose a missile into the very heart of the village. When the chaos of the explosion dissipated, and the ever-encroaching darkness settled back over the rubble and the blood, Khan’s brother and son had been blown to bits. […]
News reports alleged that the target of the drone had been Haji Omar, a Taliban commander. But the villagers insisted that Haji Omar had been nowhere near the village that night. The tragedy that forever scarred the lives of Karim Khan’s family was the product of a mistake. […]
Indeed Asif Iqbal was not a militant or even a militant sympathizer, but a schoolteacher. After receiving his masters in English literature from the National University of Modern Languages, he had returned to work as a schoolteacher in the adjoining village of Dattakhel. It was a post he had held for eight years, teaching children with whatever meager resources he could muster. For nearly a decade he had weathered threats and school closures enforced by the Taliban, and smiled through the restrictions placed by Pakistani security forces. Iqbal bravely confronted the myriad challenges of educating a population riven by war, arguing for the distant benefits of education against the instant power of firearms. […]
His bride of three years was now a widow so distraught that she could not speak for weeks after the attack. In her lap was Mohammad Kafeel, a two-year-old boy who would never remember his father, save for the worn, fingered photographs shown to him[.] […]
Also murdered that night was Karim Khan’s son, Zaeenullah Khan, a recent graduate from high school. The boy returned to the village inspired by his young uncle and got a job as a guard in the same modest school. Like his uncle, he was determined to convince the community of the value of education. He died close to his mentor that night, leaving behind hundreds of students with scant chance of resuming their education – young people no mired in hatred for the drone that had killed their teacher, aching for revenge. (109-111)
The government has for years hailed drones as the “safer”means of conducting warfare. However, after looking at all the data one thing is clear: Yes, drone warfare is safer, but safer for who? American soldiers. It seems obvious to me that given the government’s “sociopathic” criteria the only human beings they care about are in America (and even this is highly questionable). To them, what’s a few hundred dead civilians in another country they care nothing about? It was the same in Vietnam, in Iraq, and all the wars in between. In my mind, that is grotesquely immoral.
Sovereignty of Targeted Countries
I covered this topic in some detail in the last post but for thoroughness I will repeat myself here.
State sovereignty is defined as a “supreme power especially over a body politic,” and is also the “freedom from external control, or autonomy.” It is the second definition that most applies to the drone wars. Without explicit permission is one state allowed to come into the territory of another. Having said this, there are a few very specific exceptions to this rule. The Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) does allow intervention by other states so long as at least one of four factors apply. Bruce W. Jentleson’s American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007; pgs. 430-432) lays out the following exceptions to the ICISS:
1. Just cause, in terms of an “extreme humanitarian emergency” or completely dire situation and a credible claim that the United States or other intervener is acting for the humanitarian motivations more than out of particularistic self-interest.
2. Proportionality of the military means, which should be only enough to achieve the humanitarian objective.
3. A strong probability of success, taking into account collateral damage, civilian casualties, and avoidance of “destroying the village in order to save it.”
4. Force as a last resort.
Not a single one of the above four exceptions remotely apply to the drone wars. Allow me to take each exception in turn.
1.Just cause: There is no possible humanitarian purpose for drones, at least not the way in which they are used. An excellent study, titled Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan, about the drone war conducted by Stanford and NYU in 2012 discusses in much detail the humanitarian crisis that the drones have actually brought to Pakistan.
2. Proportionality of the military means: The destructive drones, which fire Hellfire missiles and destroy nearby buildings and extinguishes many innocent peoples’ lives, is clearly excessive military intervention, especially when there are several instances one can point to which demonstrates it’s entirely possible to capture and put known terrorists on trial. Most cases are not examples of “imminent” threats to any U.S. citizen, which is a very common excuse for these strikes. See my second post for examples.
3. Collateral damage, civilian casualties, etc.: Living Under Drones reports vast amounts of property damage, members of communities killed, economic chaos, declining mental health of the Pakistani civilian population, and education have all been greatly effected by the use of drones. I’d say this dire situation is a clear-cut case of “destroying the village in order to save it.”
4. Force as a last resort: I believe this criteria ought be to self-explanatory. It should be more than apparent how the drone war utterly fails this final exception because the Obama administration is avoiding capturing suspects, and is instead killing them outright.
Finally, even Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that the drones are in violation of their sovereignty. Despite this ruling the U.S. refuses to halt its drone program, in direct violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. I believe this fact further helps to put the final nail in this horrible argument’s coffin.
Killing Many Innocents Tends to Piss People Off
This is more than apparent when you look at the large number of people who have provided clear and undeniable motivations for their attacks. They continually argue that they planned or carried out an attack because of U.S. actions in their country, because the U.S. killed friends and/or relatives, and destroyed their lives and homes. Despite all of the U.S.’s rhetoric about “winning the war on terror” the plain fact is vastly different. The U.S. is perpetuating the war on terror with its actions around the world. Until those actions stop, there will be those who will harbor serious grudges against the U.S. which could very possibly cause them to seek revenge of some kind in the future.
Here are a few examples:
I want to plead guilty and I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times forward because until the hour the US pulls it forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands and stops killing the Muslims and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking US, and I plead guilty to that. Well, I am part of that. I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people, and on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attacks, because only – like living in US, the Americans only care about their people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.” (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,34v. 10-CR-541 (MGC) 45 FAISAL SHAHZAD,56 Defendant Plea) [emphasis mine]
I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants. [emphasis mine]
CBS News reported the following note was left by one of the recent Boston bombers:
The note — scrawled with a marker on the interior wall of the cabin — said the bombings were retribution for U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and called the Boston victims “collateral damage” in the same way Muslims have been in the American-led wars. “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims,” Tsarnaev wrote. [emphasis mine]
In an e-mail sent to his mother, which he intended her to read after his death, Reid wrote that it was his duty “to help remove the oppressive American forces from the Muslims land.”
The road to safety begins by ending the aggression. Reciprocal treatment is part of justice. The [terrorist] incidents that have taken place […] are only reactions and reciprocal actions. 
In 2009 Muhammad drove past a U.S. military recruiting center in Arkansas, where he shot and killed one soldier and wounded another as they were standing outside. Police apprehended him shortly after the shooting and proceeded to interrogate him. He said that he was “motivated by the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” 
According to a March 31, 2009 BBC article titled Lahore ‘was Pakistan Taleban op’, Mehsud said that an attack upon a police academy was “in retaliation for the continued drone strikes by the US in collaboration with Pakistan on our people.”
Clearly, the reasons for these attacks are not because they “hate” our “freedom” or because they “hate” our “values.” The reason is quite simply what’s commonly called blowback: retributive actions by groups and individuals who have been harmed in some way by U.S. foreign policy. Until the U.S. changes its imperialistic tendencies, these attacks will continue with no end in sight.
Some may take a hard-nosed approach here and argue, “Well, we may be making more terrorists than killing them, but that just means we need to make more bombs!” I would hope no one would advocate such a short-sighted and, quite frankly, stupid strategy. This kind of “Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out” attitude is what got the U.S. in this mess in the first place, much like in Vietnam. The government thought they could simply destroy these less sophisticated fighters but they keep coming. Clearly, this hard-ass approach isn’t working. In fact, it’s backfiring because the relatives of all the dead innocent civilians become enraged and then decide to join al Qaeda as a way to get revenge against the U.S. Prior to their ordeal of losing their family to the “heartless Americans” many in the Muslim world would never have thought about attacking the U.S. and its occupying forces overseas. For example, prior to U.S. involvement in Somalia al Qaeda barely had any presence in the country at all. After the U.S. began using drones in the country and making use of their “targeted killing” strategy (an oxymoron if there ever was one) al Qaeda’s membership greatly expanded there. To quote Jeremy Scahill,
But, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, this strategy appear[s] to fuel the movements that created those “bad guys” in the first place. “If you use the drone, and the selected killings, and do nothing else on the other side, then you get rid of individuals. But the root causes are still there,” observed the former Somali foreign minister, Ismail Mahmoud “Buubaa” Hurre. “The root causes are not security. The root causes are political and economic.” 
The solution is to get on the good side of the civilian population, helping them to prop up their damaged economies and their standard of living, and the defeat of groups causing havoc will follow by denying them any safe havens. They will be marginalized, rather then strengthened, and eventually defeated.
To sum up, anyone who regurgitates this government propaganda is entirely deluded and I’d recommend they start paying more attention to independent media sources, rather than the mainstream media, because the independent media has demolished this silly justification long ago.
The Psychological Cost of Drone Warfare
While the drones are killing civilians left and right, the government continually touts one of their benefits: the risk to U.S. soldiers is now nil.  While this is true for bodily injury, it is not true for the mental health of those who pilot these UAVs and who pull the trigger and kill innocents. It has been widely reported that drone pilots often suffer from symptoms of PTSD just as regular soldiers in traditional combat roles on the ground. On Al Jazeera, a former CentCom spokesman, Josh Rushing, explained how remote-piloted killing can be just as personal as traditional combat.
He said that sometimes drone pilots watch individuals and their families for days at a time, seeing them walk the dog and do their family chores. “Man has never experienced this before – watching someone from above for so long without them knowing it, almost in a God-like way,” said Rushing. “Then one day the decision comes down that you’ve got to take them out. You hit the button and kill them. But you knew these people in a way, so it can become quite personal.” 
Despite these pilots being thousands of miles away many describe watching the high-resolution monitors in horror as they see their fellow soldiers killed or as the bodies of those they kill are blown to pieces after they’ve released the drones’ missiles. On February 21, 2010 U.S. Air Force drone pilots thought they had come upon a group of militants heading towards American troops stationed not too far away, unfortunately, nearly two dozen civilians were murdered. The drone pilots mistook innocent men, women, and children as “Taliban” and with a push of a button extinguished their lives. “Having massacred a group of civilians, the crew tried to tell themselves that they did nothing wrong – that they were just doing their jobs,” writes Medea Benjamin.  And just as mass murderers, tyrants, and soldiers throughout history have justified the killing of their victims before them, they rationalize their anguish and crimes away. 
Drones: Coming to a Town Near You!
While Americans have not yet experienced the buzzing of drones overhead, with its all-seeing eye and munitions that are ready to deploy at a second’s notice, that terrifying feeling will be coming to the U.S. at some point in the future. Slate reports how many people have become afraid of drones because of their lethal and spying capabilities. It further cites a March 25, 2013 Gallup poll showing that only 13% of people would support launching strikes “in the U.S. against U.S. citizens living here who are suspected terrorists.” Even the killing of non-American suspected terrorists by drone is only supported by approximately 25% of the people surveyed.
Looking at this data it’s clear how Americans are clearly afraid of what kind of havoc this technology will reap on the U.S. But when it comes to people in far away lands they almost could care less, as the same Gallup poll says how 65% of people support targeting “suspected terrorists in other countries.”
This isn’t surprising, given the large potential for abuse. Those who would hate to see drones used on U.S. soil don’t care much about the families and towns that are ripped to pieces by the use of drones in other countries. This is why I quoted the above stories by Medea Benjamin about a few of the innocent victims of drone strikes overseas because if we can recognize these men, women, and children as no different than ourselves, then I believe it would be possible for the average person to reject the use of drones altogether because they can see what it does to a society. Imagine the government using drones in the same manner as they do in other countries, and after reading how they pick targets, I would think any rational person would be at least a little worried. I can imagine it now: a drone is flying overhead, watching and following a car driving on the highway very late at night. Maybe the drone operator gets suspicious and when the car pulls into a parking lot, the operator sees it is there to meet another car that has already parked. The drone operator believes that some form of illegal operation is taking place. As he watches the two men exit their cars, walk towards each other, and exchange something, he makes the decision to fire a missile at the cars, blowing the two men to pieces. Unfortunately for the drone pilot, the two men were merely meeting for entirely innocent reasons. The man who pulled into the parking lot was meeting a friend so he could pay him back the money he owes him. A week prior, his friend, at his request, bought tickets for him and his wife for a surprise trip to Hawaii. The two men were meeting so they could secretly avoid making his wife suspicious.
Abuse and human error make drones one of the most blatant and serious invasions of privacy that the American people face in the near future. This, along with their lethal capacities make drones on U.S. soil a grim prospect.
This is WAR: “[T]here was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off. ” – Cofer Black, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, September 26, 2002
This argument is nothing more than ludicrous government propaganda that tosses all legal principles out the widow. It is believed that because the U.S. government is at war it can pretty much do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. Whoever makes this argument needs to do a little reading about the legal principles surrounding war. Have they never heard of the Constitution or, more importantly, the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly lay out rules on what can and cannot be done in a time of peace and war?
Killing an American citizen without due process is a flagrant violation of these principles. Even in a time of war the Geneva Conventions forbid the targeting of civilians or “non-combatants.” For example, American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone strike, even though he was not a member of Al-Qaeda  and was clearly a non-combatant who did not engage in any form of hostilities whatsoever. Therefore, even if the U.S. were formally at war (a subject I will turn to next) his killing is still illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
The Geneva Conventions forbid the following actions. Each of the Articles of the Conventions I have provided have been clearly violated by the drone wars. Amazingly, even the Preamble has been violated by the U.S. with their refusal to respect the sovereignty of numerous countries.
The High Contracting Parties,
Proclaiming their earnest wish to see peace prevail among peoples,
Recalling that every State has the duty, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,
Believing it necessary nevertheless to reaffirm and develop the provisions protecting the victims of armed conflicts and to supplement measures intended to reinforce their application,
Expressing their conviction that nothing in this Protocol or in the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 can be construed as legitimizing or authorizing any act of aggression or any other use of force inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations,
Reaffirming further that the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and of this Protocol must be fully applied in all circumstances to all persons who are protected by those instruments, without any adverse distinction based on the nature or origin of the armed conflict or on the causes espoused by or attributed to the Parties to the conflict,
Have agreed on the following: (Protocol I, Preamble)
Children have been unfortunate victims numerous times of the U.S. drone campaign.
Children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault. The Parties to the conflict shall provide them with the care and aid they require, whether because of their age or for any other reason. (Protocol I, Art. 77, Sec. 1)
Just because hostile groups may be among civilians do not make civilians a legal target.
The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character. (Protocol I, Art. 50, Sec. 3)
Groups and people not taking part in active hostilities are to be treated humanely and are not to be viewed as targets for attack or aggression. I believe Anwar al-Awlaki would easily fall under this category since he never took part in any “active” “hostilities.”
Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. (Convention IV, Art. 3)
The civilian population is to be protected and harm to them must be avoided whenever possible.
The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.
The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are: (a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective; (b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or (c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol;
and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate: (a) an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects;
(b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. (Protocol I, Art. 50, Sec. 3, 4, and 5)
The military are only to attack military targets. Drones blowing up civilians’ homes is a clear violation of this article.
In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives. (Protocol I, Art. 48)
The Nazis killed more people than Islamic terrorists ever have, but U.S. assassins didn’t creep into Germany under the cover of night and slash all the throats of those responsible for the Holocaust. This massacre set a precedent for how to deal with those who commit atrocities and it’s not by assassination, which is illegal, but the U.S. government brazenly flouts this long-standing law. In 1976 former president Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905 which forbade assassinations of any kind by any member of the U.S. government. In a section of the order titled “Restrictions on Intelligence Activities,” Ford outlawed political assassination: Section 5(g), entitled “Prohibition on Assassination,” states: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.” Years later, former president Jimmy Carter would amend this order making it much more sweeping, stating that, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” There are also numerous legal experts who have come out against these policies but the U.S. government continually violates its own laws and principles. 
It is absolutely astounding to hear people cast away decades of legal principles and framework, who merely repeat the government’s statements, as if what the government says is remotely ever accurate.
The next topic I will discuss under this section is whether or not the U.S. is actually at war with those countries that it deploys drones in. As I’ve aptly demonstrated, even if the U.S. was legitimately at war its actions would still be considered illegal and amount to war crimes (not to mention grossly immoral).
So, is the U.S. legitimately at war? And are the drone strikes a legitimate case of “self-defense?” Let’s start at the beginning. Just days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, on September 14th “the House and Senate gave President Bush unprecedented latitude to wage a global war, passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).”  The AUMF stated in part,
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. 
Carefully read the full text of the bill. It specifically authorizes the U.S. government to use military force against “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” Many of the people the government kills do not fit that description by any stretch of the imagination. Such examples include Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, born in Devner, Colorado. It also did not include another 16-year-old boy I mentioned in the previous piece, Tariq Aziz. It also includes the militant group al-Shabab, who had nothing to do with 9/11, nor ever had any intentions to attack the U.S. The Obama administration began to attack this group in Somalia in 2011 even though the group was not a threat since all of their activities were confined outside the U.S.  While al-Shabab is not a peace-loving group by any stretch of the imagination, why is the U.S. using drones that kill many innocents and fuel the groups they’re trying to extinguish in Somalia? The same goes for Pakistan, who is actually a U.S. ally, who the U.S. has attacked with drones on numerous occasions.
Essentially, the U.S. government has used the AUMF as a “blank check” to kill whomever they wish with no accountability. This is blatantly goes against all international and humanitarian law.
Another aspect of the bill is the “right to self-defense.” This justification is dubious since, again, many of the individuals targeted by the U.S. pose no threat and had nothing to do with 9/11. The “signature strikes” I mentioned previously clearly violate international and humanitarian law since self-defense can only be claimed when there is an actual threat that must be deterred. If the government doesn’t know who they’re killing, how can they possibly know they want to attack the U.S.? It’s absolute lunacy!
Many who use the “this is war” argument are supposed liberals. I wonder how they would feel if they knew the ones who developed this convoluted doctrine were none other than Republican scoundrels Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The fact is, even they recognized that they were breaking the law and they were consciously trying to find ways around the laws so they could carry out their plans of a “global war.” Not long after 9/11, Cheney and Rumsfeld fought hard to dismantle the checks and balances that had always been in place, including restrictions on the most drastic of measures, such as the outright killing and/or assassination of an enemy. “Lawyers would be consulted to rubber-stamp secret policies and only certain, select members of Congress would be consulted. Briefings to Congress, including mandated full-access briefings to the elite ‘Gang of Eight’ congressional members who were historically briefed on intelligence operations regarding covert actions, would be censored and redacted internally at the White House, meaning a sanitized version would be given to US lawmakers. In the months after 9/11, Cheney, Rumsfield and their teams launched several major initiatives aimed at ensuring that no bureaucracy would stand in the way of their plans for the unchecked use of the darkest US forces. […] Cheney wanted to gut the inter-agency reviews of proposed lethal actions that were standard under Clinton.” 
Journalist Jeremy Scahill cited a source within the military that told him how “The Bush administration […] abused the authorities for ‘Operational Preparation of the Battlespace,’ which […] permits US military force to ‘lay the groundwork for any potential or future military operations, by sending intelligence collectors, or linguists, into a theater, into a place where you have not necessarily declared war upon [therefore in violation of their sovereignty], to ‘prepare the battlefield[.]’ This was somehow perverted into paramilitary operations, usually of a covert nature, with no semblance of accountability. They would tell Congress one thing, and do another. […] There was a lot of trepidation on the part of people in that community about what we were being asked to do, and where, and for what purpose. A lot of it was of questionable legality, and most of it was outside of any stated battlefield.” (emphasis mine) 
For a time, these policies were once thought to be advocated only by those deemed to be the “crazies,” unfortunately, under Obama these policies have become standard procedure, discarding the laws and checks and balances of the past. 
In conclusion, not only are the drone strikes often used in a manner that violates even the stated justification for the drone war (the AUMF), but it also clearly violates humanitarian and international law.
Currently, drones are remotely piloted by members of the military, and even by private contractors, but according to several sources within the military, they plan on moving to unmanned, and completely autonomous, drones that search out targets and fire their munitions automatically without human interaction. If you believe this is science fiction, think again. These are capabilities that the military is currently trying to develop, and it is an enormous concern for human rights activists and even those in the technological field. Investigative journalist Nick Turse writes about this new breed of drone,
Fort Benning also saw the early testing of true robotic drones – which fly without human guidance or a hand on any joystick. This, wrote the Washington Post, is considered the next step toward a future in which drones will “hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans.” 
I don’t know about you, but this worries me greatly. The military seems to believe that the above atrocities would become a thing of the past if only they were able to erase the element of human error. However, they have a tremendous blind spot since computers make mistakes all the time. Just ask any software developer; anti-virus programs often find “false positives” and cause other glitches with the host computer. And this is just simple software! When we talk about purely autonomous drones hunting targets and extinguishing life how will we know the software won’t mistake a child with a broom outside sweeping for a militant with a rifle? At the very least humans have judgment and foresight (the tremendous lack of it in the government and military not withstanding) and can call off a strike at the last minute if something seems amiss. Can a computer do this? Many experts in the field of AI (artificial intelligence), robotics, and computer science don’t believe so.
In an April, 2013 article for CNN Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Professor of Public Engagement at the UK’s University of Sheffield and Chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, argues that current robotics hardware and software are not capable of carrying out the tasks that autonomous drones are required to do.
At this point, we cannot rely on machines having the independent facility to conform to international law. Current sensing systems are not up to the task. And even if machines had adequate sensing mechanisms they would still be missing the vital components of battlefield awareness and common sense reasoning to make decisions about who and when it is appropriate to kill.
Robots do not have the agency to decide if striking a target is proportional to the expected military advantage. There is no metric for this. Much of war is art and not science. A military commander must make a qualitative decision about the number of civilian lives that can be risked for a particular military objective. And that commander can be held accountable.
A robot doesn’t have the moral agency to be held accountable. Some would argue that the commander who sends a robot on a mission would be responsible (last point of contact). But that could be unfair since it could be the fault of the mission programmer, the manufacturer or one of dozens of little companies providing components. Maybe it should be the senior staff or policy makers who had the idea to use robots. Or the device could have been tampered with in the industrial supply chain or even damaged in action. Forensics are extremely difficult with such complex devices.
In the peer reviewed Journal of Law, Information & Science Noel Sharkey elaborates on the serious ethical and technological issues with autonomous drones. In Automating Warfare: Lessons Learned from the Drones (August, 2011), he writes,
[T]he main ethical problem is that no autonomous robots or artificial intelligence systems are able to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Allowing them to make decisions about who to kill would fall foul of the fundamental ethical precepts of the laws of war under jus in bello and the various protocols set up to protect civilians, wounded soldiers, the sick, mentally ill, and captives. There are no visual visual or sensing systems up to the challenge of competently making such decisions. A computer can compute any given procedure that can be written down in a programming language. We could, for example, give the computer on a robot an instruction such as, ‘if civilian, do not shoot’. This would be fine if and only if there was some way to give the computer a clear definition of what a civilian is. The laws of war certainly do not offer a definition which can be used to provide a machine with the necessary information. The 1944 Geneva Convention requires the use of common sense while the 1977 Protocol 1 essentially defines a civilian in the negative sense as someone who is not a combatant.
However, even if there was a clear computational definition of a civilians, robots do not have the sensing capabilities to differentiate between civilians and combatants. Current sensing apparatus and processing can just about tell us that something resembles a human, but little else. Moreover, it is not always appropriate to kill all enemy combatants. Both discrimination and appropriateness require reasoning. There are no AI systems that could be used for such real world inferences.
There is also the principle of proportionality and again there is no sensing or computational capability that would allow a robot to be able to make such a determination, nor is there any known metric to objectively measure needless, superfluous or disproportionate suffering. This requires human judgment. Yes, humans do make errors and can behave unethically but they can be held accountable. Who is to be held accountable for the lethal mishaps of a robot? Certainly not the machine itself. There is a long causal chain associated with robots: the programmer, the designer, the department of defence, the generals or admirals in charge of the operation and the operator. (4-5)
Even the United Nations has called for a halt on the manufacture and use of autonomous drones by all states. In April of 2013 the United Nations published their findings.
In part the report said,
One of the most difficult issues that the legal, moral and religious codes of the world have grappled with is the killing of one human being by another. The prospect of a future in which fully autonomous robots could exercise the power of life and death over human beings raises a host of additional concerns. As will be argued in what follows, the introduction of such powerful yet controversial new weapons systems has the potential to pose new threats to the right to life. It could also create serious international division and weaken the role and rule of international law – and in the process undermine the international security system. The advent of LARs [Lethal Autonomous Robotics] requires all involved – States, international organizations, and international and national civil societies – to consider the full implications of embarking on this road. (6)
The report continues to reiterate the common argument that drones enable states to engage in warfare much more readily due to the loss of risk associated with killed soldiers, thus potentially undermining international law.
During the larger part of the last two centuries, international law was developed to constrain armed conflict and the use of force during law enforcement operations, to make it an option of last resort. However, there are also built-in constraints that humans have against going to war or otherwise using force which continue to play an important (if often not decisive) role in safeguarding lives and international security. Chief among these are unique human traits such as our aversion to getting killed, losing loved ones, or having to kill other people. The physical and psychological distance from the actual use of force potentially introduced by LARs can lessen all three concerns and even render them unnoticeable to those on the side of the State deploying LARs. Military commanders for example may therefore more readily deploy LARs than real human soldiers.
This ease could potentially affect political decisions. Due to the low or lowered human costs of armed conflict to States with LARs in their arsenals, the national public may over time become increasingly disengaged and leave the decision to use force as a largely financial or diplomatic question for the State, leading to the “normalization” of armed conflict. LARs may thus lower the threshold for States for going to war or otherwise using lethal force, resulting in armed conflict no longer being a measure of last resort. According to the report of the Secretary-General on the role of science and technology in the context of international security and disarmament, “…the increased capability of autonomous vehicles opens up the potential for acts of warfare to be conducted by nations without the constraint of their people‟s response to loss of human life.” Presenting the use of unmanned systems as a less costly alternative to deploying “boots on the ground” may thus in many cases be a false dichotomy. If there is not sufficient support for a ground invasion, the true alternative to using unmanned systems may be not to use force at all. (11)
The UN also notes another legal argument requiring a human component to life-taking activities.
It is an underlying assumption of most legal, moral and other codes that when the decision to take life or to subject people to other grave consequences is at stake, the decision-making power should be exercised by humans. The Hague Convention (IV) requires any combatant “to be commanded by a person”. The Martens Clause, a longstanding and binding rule of IHL, specifically demands the application of “the principle of humanity” in armed conflict.68 Taking humans out of the loop also risks taking humanity out of the loop. (16-17)
In conclusion, the UN writes,
There is clearly a strong case for approaching the possible introduction of LARs with great caution. If used, they could have far-reaching effects on societal values, including fundamentally on the protection and the value of life and on international stability and security. While it is not clear at present how LARs could be capable of satisfying IHL and IHRL requirements in many respects, it is foreseeable that they could comply under certain circumstances, especially if used alongside human soldiers. Even so, there is widespread concern that allowing LARs to kill people may denigrate the value of life itself. Tireless war machines, ready for deployment at the push of a button, pose the danger of permanent (if low-level) armed conflict, obviating the opportunity for post-war reconstruction. The onus is on those who wish to deploy LARs to demonstrate that specific uses should in particular circumstances be permitted. Given the far-reaching implications for protection of life, considerable proof will be required.
If left too long to its own devices, the matter will, quite literally, be taken out of human hands. Moreover, coming on the heels of the problematic use and contested justifications for drones and targeted killing, LARs may seriously undermine the ability of the international legal system to preserve a minimum world order. (20-21)
Given the UN’s worries about this new technology, they have set out the following guidelines:
The Human Rights Council should call on all States to declare and implement national moratoria on at least the testing, production, assembly, transfer, acquisition, deployment and use of LARs until such time as an internationally agreed upon framework on the future of LARs has been established:
Invite the High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene, as a matter of priority, a High Level Panel on LARs consisting of experts from different fields such as law, robotics, computer science, military operations, diplomacy, conflict management, ethics and philosophy. The Panel should publish its report within a year, and its mandate should include the following:
(a) Take stock of technical advances of relevance to LARs;
(b) Evaluate the legal, ethical and policy issues related to LARs;
(c) Propose a framework to enable the international community to address effectively the legal and policy issues arising in relation to LARs, and make concrete substantive and procedural recommendations in that regard; in its work the Panel should endeavour to facilitate a broad-based international dialogue;
(d) Assessment of the adequacy or shortcomings of existing international and domestic legal frameworks governing LARs;
(e) Suggestions of appropriate ways to follow up on its work.
All relevant United Nations agencies and bodies should, where appropriate in their interaction with parties that are active in the field of robotic weapons:
(a) Emphasize the need for full transparency regarding all aspects of the development of robotic weapon systems;
(b) Seek more international transparency from States regarding their internal weapons review processes, including those under article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. (21-22)
The United Nations has no hidden political agenda in this matter as many individual states do. I believe these recommendations are vital to protect the legal, moral framework that is the underpinning of modern law and society.
Massive Government Surveillance
I am a huge proponent of privacy and one of the issues surrounding the domestic use of drones is the large areas that government agencies will be able to surveil. According to TruthDig, new drone cameras are capable of watching “an area about the size of a small city” all at the same time. I cannot fathom the enormous privacy implications of this, especially when governments are currently engaged in a host of data gathering activities of innocent people. This new technology will simply expand their surveillance powers to unimaginable heights.
In this piece it has been my goal to set out as clear of a case against the drone war as possible, focusing on its practical, legal, and moral shortcomings. I firmly believe that the use of drones is too much of a costly and immoral strategy since it perpetuates the conflicts they are supposed to put a stop to, and they cause entirely too much death and destruction wherever they go. The coming era of autonomous drones just exacerbates the current problems.
Now that I’ve laid out my case I will now briefly discuss what I believe is a much better alternative, which is simply good, old fashioned, law enforcement. As I’ve demonstrated, and history has shown, it is entirely possible to capture suspected and actual terrorists and bring them to justice: the legal way. Top al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists have been captured this way on numerous occasions. Examples include: Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, Eric Robert Rudolph, Faisal Shahzad, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, and yes, even Osama bin Laden. They used good detective work (along with a few exceptionally botched and hair brained schemes that caused and continues to cause a lot of havoc in the Middle East), found bin Laden, and raided his compound. Unfortunately, they decided to assassinate him, rather than follow the example of the Nuremberg trials and try him for his crimes. Yes, the reported dramatic and heroic fire fight originally described by the government was yet another lie.  bin Laden was simply shot in the face – unarmed – as he was looking around the corner from the door to his bedroom by the SEAL team sent in to kill him. 
In the end, I believe humanity must abide by the laws that we have set down for ourselves because if we don’t, where will we stop? Where is the limit? There is no reason why these principles that have guided humanity for so long should be simply tossed aside in order to please the “sociopathic” war mongers in the U.S. government. To quote Jimmy Carter:
For too many years, we’ve been willing to adopt the flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries, sometimes abandoning our own values for theirs. We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is better quenched with water. This approach failed, with Vietnam the best example of its intellectual and moral poverty. But through failure we have now found our way back to our own principles and values, and we have regained our lost confidence.
If only we would follow this excellent advice we, and the rest of the world, would be so much better off.
1. Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, by Media Benjamin, OR Books, 2012; 18
2. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, by Jeremy Scahill, Nation Books, 2013; 250-251
3. Ibid.; 515-516
5. Dirty Wars; 516
6. Dirty Wars; 248-249
8. Dirty Wars; 260
9. Ibid.; 494
10. I’d like to take the opportunity to point out how it may seem as if the government has miraculously grown a conscience in this case but I believe the move away from “boots on the ground” operations has more to do with politics than morality. Allow me to explain. I don’t think the evidence supports the viewpoint that the U.S. government cares anything for the men and women they put in harms way. Examples include sending the troops to fight a pointless and immoral war in Iraq under George W. Bush and the government’s lack of care for those who they send into harms way to fight their own imperialist battles. In 1994 there was a report of the U.S. Congress for the Committee of Veterans’ Affairs which detailed various medical experiments conducted on soldiers without their knowledge or consent by the government. It read in part,
According to a report published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) last year, approximately 60,000 military personnel were used as human subjects in the 1940’s to test two chemical agents, mustard gas and lewisite. Most of these subjects were not informed of the nature of the experiments and never received medical followup after their participation in the research. (Note 14) Additionally, some of these human subjects were threatened with imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth if they discussed these experiments with anyone, including their wives, parents, and family doctors. (Note 15) For decades, the Pentagon denied that the research had taken place, resulting in decades of suffering for many veterans who became ill after the secret testing. According to the 1993 IOM report, such denial by the DOD continues: “This committee discovered that an atmosphere of secrecy still exists to some extent regarding the WWII testing programs. Although many documents pertaining to the WWII testing programs were declassified shortly after the war ended, others were not.” (Is Military Research Hazardous to Veterans’ Health? Lessons Spanning Half a Century)
To quote historian William Blum,
The catalogue of Pentagon abuses of American soldiers goes on … Troops serving in Iraq or their families have reported purchasing with their own funds bullet-proof vests, better armor for their vehicles, medical supplies, and global positioning devices, all for their own safety, which were not provided to them by the army … Continuous complaints by servicewomen of sexual assault and rape at the hands of their male counterparts are routinely played down or ignored by the military brass … Numerous injured and disabled vets from all wars have to engage in an ongoing struggle to get the medical care they were promised … One should read “Army Acts to Curb Abuses of Injured Recruits” (New York Times, May 12, 2006) for accounts of the callous, bordering on sadistic, treatment of soldiers in bases in the United States … Repeated tours of duty, which fracture family life and increase the chance not only of death or injury but of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered”, on December 4 and other days, ran a series oná Army mistreatment of soldiers home from Iraq and suffering serious PTSD. At Colorado’s Ft. Carson these afflicted soldiers are receiving a variety of abuse and punishment much more than the help they need, as officers harass and punish them for being emotionally “weak.”
Keep the above in mind the next time you hear a president or a general speaking on Memorial Day about “honor” and “duty” and about how much we “owe to the brave young men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom and democracy.” (The Anti-Empire Report #41: Johnny got his gun, January 12, 2007)
It is because of these facts that I believe this embrace of drone warfare is done for two main reasons: 1) they avoid the public relation nightmares related to solders’ deaths, and 2) they can conduct their wars more or less behind the backs of Americans so as to avoid criticism and controversy.
11. Drone Warfare; 90
12. Ibid.; 94
13. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Back Bay, 1996; 237-240
14. Dirty Wars; 361-363. Specifically, Jeremy Scahill writes, “[T]he available evidence regarding al Qaeda’s relationship with Awlaki in 2010 suggests that Awlaki was not an operational member of the group but was seeking out an alliance with like-minded individuals.” He also quotes journalist Abdul Rezzaq saying that Awlaki “did not hold any official post at all” and that “AQAP viewed Awlaki as an ally.” While later near the end of his life, Awlaki did become very hostile of U.S. policies and did agree with al Qaeda’s mission and tactics, he was not himself a member. As Scahill pointedly says, “[W]ords are not actions.”
16. Dirty Wars; 19
18. Drone Warfare; 128
19. Dirty Wars; 23-24
20. Ibid.; 182-183
21. Ibid.; 9
22. The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare, by Nick Turse, Haymarket Books, 2012; 26
23. Dirty Wars; 251-252
24. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, by Mark Mazzetti, The Penguin Press, 2013; 285