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UN, Amnesty International, Reports, New Film Expose Obama's Criminal Drone Program


October 27, 2013
Debra Sweet / The World Can't Wait & David Swanson / War Is a Crime.org

Almost 5 years after the spike in US use of targeted killing of people via drone (thousands have been killed), the United Nations' special rapporteur, Ben Emmerson, has released a report saying these drone strikes by the US have killed civilians by the hundreds and should be carried out in accordance with international law -- a ringing condemnation the US' use of killer robots flown from 8,000 miles away, to attack people on the basis of "suspected patterns of behavior."

http://www.worldcantwait.net/index.php/features/covert-drone-war/8416-the-dirtiness-of-u-s-drone-war

Dirtiness of US Drone War Exposed
Debra Sweet / The World Can't Wait

(October 24, 2013) -- Almost 5 years after the spike in US use of targeted killing of people via drone by the Obama administration (thousands have been killed), the United Nations, or rather its special rapporteur Ben Emmerson, has released a report saying these drone strikes by the United States have killed civilians by the hundreds, or more, and should be carried out in accordance with international law.

Anyone wanting a ringing condemnation of how utterly wrong it is for the United States to use killer robots flown from 8,000 miles away, attacking people on the basis of suspected patterns of behavior (a "signature" drone strike) and on the President's order should be outraged.

The personal stories of family members obliterated in seconds, with only parts to be buried, shock the conscience, as war crimes do. But let's speak the truth and call them war crimes, not just cry for "accountability."

Joining the United Nations in criticizing US drone strikes -- to a point -- are Amnesty International "Will I Be Next?" and Human Rights Watch, "Between a Drone and al Qaeda" each of whom issued their own reports this week.

These reports come out just ahead of a debate at the UN Friday October 25 on the use of drones, and of the visit of Pakistan's Prime Minister Sharif, who told Obama today to end the drone strikes in Pakistan, while no doubt also appealing to him for more military aid.

Kevin Gosztola describes the Amnesty report in "Drone Victims Recount Horror of Follow-Up Strikes Launched Against People Rescuing Wounded." Actual reporting and documentary footage are beginning to show us the victims. (See Madiha Tahir’s "Woulds of Waziristan" and Robert Greenwald/Brave New Films "Living Under Drones.")

I agree with David Swanson, who wrote today in A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized:
Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the US government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up. [See Swanson's complete essay below.]

There is more compelling evidence of the dirtiness of drone war from Brandon Bryant, the former US Air Force drone pilot who quit in 2001 after almost six years on teams carrying out targeted killing and surveillance in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly from drone control consoles at US bases. He was told that during his 6,000 hours of flight time, 1,626 targets were killed, which made him "sick to his stomach." In an interviewed published today in GQ magazine by Matthew Power, Confessions of a Drone Warrior:

In the early months, Bryant had found himself swept up by the Big Game excitement when someone in his squadron made "mind-blowingly awesome shots, situations where these guys were bad guys and needed to be taken out." But a deep ambivalence about his work crept in. Often he’d think about what life must be like in those towns and villages his Predators glided over, like buzzards riding updrafts. How would he feel, living beneath the shadow of robotic surveillance? "Horrible," he says now.

CNN reports that:
Bryant says that during his time monitoring drones’ cameras and aiming its laser targeting system, he became numb and carried out the job in "zombie mode." When he left the Air Force in the spring of 2011 -- after nearly six years -- he says he turned down a $109,000 bonus to continue operating the drones.

Some children wounded by drone strikes will be in Congress Tuesday October 29 telling their stories, although Shazad Akbar, their attorney, has not been given a visa to come. We shall see what happens with that testimony, which I hope reaches the people living here, as it will be lost on those in this Congress, Democrat and Republican, who revel in their dirty wars.

I heard Davis Swanson speak Wednesday in NYC, where he said:
The primary problem with weaponized drones is that the weapons murder people. And they murder people in a way that looks more like murder to a lot of observers than other forms of military murder do -- such as murder by indiscriminate bombing or artillery or infantry or dropping white phosphorous on people. When President Obama looks through a list of men, women, and children at a Tuesday terror meeting, and picks which ones to murder, and has them murdered, you can call it a war or not call it a war, but it begins to look to a lot of people like murder.

Murder carried out by a murderous system.

Debra Sweet is the director of World Can't Wait, and blogs at debra.worldcantwait.net.



A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized
David Swanson / War Is a Crime.org

(October 22, 2013) -- There's a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law.

On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.

Which are which? Even their best researchers can't tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal.

The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the US government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn't come up.

Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can't tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the US government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and -- remarkably -- recommends this: "Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty."

However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes "judicial review of drone strikes," but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn't reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.

The UN special rapporteurs' reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the US State Department won't let their lawyer come).

Attention is being brought to the issue, and that's mostly to the good. The UN reports make some useful points: US drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike's victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can't legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and -- most powerfully -- threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life.

However, the UN reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say -- the determination will be political rather than empirical.

The UN wants transparency, and I do think that's a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don't need to see that lawyerly contortionism.

Remember Obama's speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn't meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.

(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the US for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)

We don't need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. But let's stop for a minute and consider.

The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it's not a case where they could have been captured, it's not "disproportionate," it's not too "collateral," it's not too "indiscriminate," etc., -- the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it.

We're not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let's be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it's done properly, and it's giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but that's stunning. Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria. And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.

What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning?

Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)? Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else? Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be "proportionate" and "necessary"?

If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can't always tell which is which, won't drone killing continue? The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?

For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don't we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill?

Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org Maybe we can push that over 100,000 … or 200,000.

It's always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot -- just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?

It isn't strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe.

As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated.

When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we're never asked.

We're going to have to speak up for ourselves.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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