Monday, November 26, 2012

Use of drones needs more scrutiny under the laws of war

Under President Obama, drone strikes in the middle east rose dramatically. In Pakistan alone, Obama's drone strikes outnumbered Bush's five (or six) to one.  The blue spots on the map below are Obama's operations, and the red are Bush's:

"As a result, the number of estimated deaths from the Obama administration's drone strikes is more than four times what it was during the Bush administration -- somewhere between 1,494 and 2,618.
Reportedly, Obama's strikes are more accurate and kill higher numbers of militants than did Bush's even if they do so in more numbers, however, Obama's strikes have also expanded the meaning of appropriate targets. Bush targeted known leaders, while Obama's targets include nondescript gatherings of militants. The numbers of non-combatants killed is also reportedly higher under Bush's strikes, but the way the numbers are reported it is difficult to tell if parallel comparisons are being made:
"The number of civilians plus those individuals whose precise status could not be determined from media reports -- labeled 'unknowns' by NAF -- reported killed by drones in Pakistan during Obama's tenure in office were 11% of fatalities," said Bergen. "So far in 2012 it is close to 2%. Under President Bush it was 33%."
The foundation's analysis relies on credible media outlets in Pakistan, which in turn rely on Pakistani officials and local villagers' accounts, Bergen said, rather than on U.S. figures.
Here is another site with more specific numbers. Here is an excellent site with a topographical representation of strikes since 2004, with accompanying information for each strike.

The drone program is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where the national parliament voted in April to end any authorization for it. This, however, was "a vote that the United States government has simply ignored," according to Bergen. . . .
Non-combatants/civilians are terrorized by the strikes and have scaled down their regular activities. The uncertainty of the strikes destroys any sense of prolonged security.

Obama denies that he has any direct involvement in selecting targets, but says, "It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws. It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative. It has to be a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States."
"President Barack Obama's administration is in the process of drawing up a formal rulebook that will set out the circumstances in which targeted assassination by unmanned drones is justified, according to reports.
The New York Times said that, facing the possibility that the president might not be re-elected, work [to draw up a rulebook] began in the weeks running up to the 6 November election to "develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials." . . .
In October, Obama referred to efforts to codify the controversial drone programme. In an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show on 18 October, the president said: "One of the things we've got to do is put legal architecture in place and we need congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president is reined in, in terms of some of the decisions we're making."
While it is good that current strikes appear to be more accurate with less collateral damage, there are still questions of international law that should be answered prior to adopting any "legal architecture." It seems contrary to humanitarian concerns that any strikes would be made without having a definiteness to the rules of engagement. Now who was it they said shot first and aimed later?

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