Extra-judicial executions by unmanned drones: from science-fiction to collateral damage
A court case in the UK will suggest that civilians engaged in aiding to guide unmanned aircraft to kill people in foreign countries may be committing serious violations of international law making them liable to prosecution. The high level of civilian deaths perceived as “collateral damage” further puts into question this novel form of political assassinations.
“Human rights lawyers will issue proceedings saying that employees at the UK intelligence agency who assist the US in directing drone attacks in Pakistan could be liable as “secondary parties to murder” and that any UK guidance allowing the passing of information to the CIA for use in the strikes is unlawful.” [The Observer]( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/11/gchq-staff-war-crimes-drones).
Political assassination by sending commandos into foreign countries has been a long established practice which managed to keep, however, an air of secrecy. There was no need to acknowledge such practices at official level since the identity of those charged with these missions was also highly secretive. The general public mostly got news of them through glamorised presentations by the film industry. James Bond had a “license to kill”. Hollywood steroid-filled muscled heroes sweating in Technicolor behind enemy lines always fought the bad guys, and won.
Many a science-fiction film introduced the gravity defying unmanned device invariably persecuting the heroes under the orders of some totalitarian regime. From a flying syringe full of poison in *Dune* to murderous white balloons in the British TV series *The Prisoner* these highly selective agents of the Powers that be appeared to be as far away into the future as Mars colonies and downloading one’s consciousness into a computer. Remote controlled aircraft had been created in 1916 but it was not until the Vietnam War that the US government acknowledged their use, mainly for reconnaissance.
Peacetime uses of these machines are of course proving to be very positive in fires, dangerous reconnaissance such as flying over the Fukushima Nuclear Plant after the earthquake and also in the film industry.
Killing Drones began to be used in Pakistan in 2004, apparently in the beginning with Pakistan’s government’s approval but more recently the numbers of civilians and non-combatant members of the population that have been killed or maimed in drone attacks have raised serious complaints from the Pakistani government accusing the US of “going it alone”. There is further awareness that such attacks are turning public opinion against the US and strengthening the position of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Pakistan.
According to the [Bureau of Investigative Journalism]( http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/10/most-complete-picture-yet-of-cia-drone-strikes/) “305 CIA attacks have taken place in Pakistan – 8% more than previously reported. Under President Obama alone there have been 253 strikes – one every four days. Between 2,347 and 2,956 people are reported to have died in the attacks – most of them militants. The minimum number of reported deaths is far higher than previously believed – with 40% more recorded casualties. Most of those killed are likely to be low-ranking militants. Up to 150 named militants have so far been killed. The Bureau has collated credible news reports of 392-781 civilians being killed in the attacks. The Bureau has identified credible reports of 175 children killed in the drone strikes. Under President Bush, one in three of all attacks is reported to have killed a child. For the first time the Bureau has compiled accurate details of recorded injuries in drone strikes, revealing that at least 1,158 people have been wounded.”
**Is this legal?**
Assassination is illegal, so the name has been changed to “targeted killing” to include anybody who may be plotting something within the definition of terrorism against the US or another drone using country. The [American Civil Liberties Union]( http://www.aclu.org/national-security/frequently-asked-questions-about-targeting-killing) states in its website, “A program of targeted killing far from any battlefield, without charge or trial, violates the constitutional guarantee of due process. It also violates international law, under which lethal force may be used outside armed conflict zones only as a last resort to prevent imminent threats, when non-lethal means are not available. Targeting people who are suspected of terrorism for execution, far from any war zone, turns the whole world into a battlefield.”
**The Nonviolent View**
It is true that when violence is rampant nonviolence has very little to offer to stop it in the short term. But this only means that it should work even harder in the prevention of further violence. It has been shown that blatantly unjust wars only help radicalise the communities of the victims. Social justice is the only way to prevent the development of armed conflict in a given population. And electing governments committed to the respect of human rights in one’s own country and in others is the only way to stop creating enemies. Voting with fear as one’s guide for the loudest sabre rattler can only maintain us into the circle of violence we live in today.