Zhao JInglun was a Nieman Fellow, class of 1981. He is the chief opinions writer for The Asian-American Times (NYC) and a columnist for the Hong Kong Economic Journal.
Is targeted killing by remotely piloted aircraft – also known as drones – legitimate?
The Obama administration says yes. It claims it can target anyone, anywhere in the world for assassination with drones because the US is involved in an international conflict against terrorism and it is conducting the killing in defense of American lives.
UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson thinks otherwise. With several UN colleagues, he has called for effective investigations into drone attacks, warning that some US drone strikes in Pakistan may constitute war crimes. In a recent Harvard speech, Emmerson said that he will be launching an investigation unit within the UN Human Rights Council to inquire into individual drone attacks.
In early October, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay called for a UN investigation into US drone strikes in Pakistan, questioning the legality of strikes which indiscriminately killed innocent civilians.
US drone strikes were initiated by George W. Bush and greatly expanded during the Obama administration. According to research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US government made 347 drone strikes since 2004 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwest Pakistan along the Afghan border which reportedly killed 2,572-3,341 people, including up to 884 civilians. The Bush administration made 52 strikes, while the Obama administration, as of Oct. 10, carried out 295 attacks.
A new report has just been released by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School entitled "Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan". The report emphasizes the terrorizing effects of the drone assaults: "Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning…The strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals."
The report disputes the Obama administration's claim that most of victims were high value targets, saying "The number of 'high level' targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2 percent."
Drone assaults actually motivated further terrorist violent attacks. The recent attempted-Times Square bomber, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad said he was "avenging the [drone] attacks."
An Obama administration representative told the New York Times that it counts all adult males killed by drone strikes as "militants". This means the US is operating on the principle that it presumes these "militants" guilty until proven innocent, which is in flagrant contradiction to American legal tradition. The LA Times summarizes the study's findings: "Far more civilians have been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan tribal areas than US counter-terrorism officials have acknowledged."
The drone war is no longer limited to Pakistan. It has spread to Somali and Yemen, among other places. According to the Washington Post, which recently published a series of three articles on the drone war, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa has become the combat hub for the Obama administration's counterterrorism wars in east Africa and the Middle East. Around the clock, about 16 times a day, drones take off or land at the US military base there.
One of the most controversial attacks was the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a US citizen, and his son. Targeted killing by drone strike is extra-judicial assassination by unchecked Executive decree. This means Obama can kill anybody he wants, including US citizens, without any charges or trials ever being brought.
Yet, in a February 2012 poll, 83 percent of Americans replied they support the drone strikes. This seems to confirm that Americans seek their own security in total disregard of the security of all other peoples.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/zhaojinglun.htm
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