Predator Drones: Counter terrorism tools or murder weapons?

A predator drone over the Middle East
A predator drone over the Middle East

Drones are unmanned advanced technology. They are directed remotely, most times without radar detection, its functions are manifold not least its surveillance purposes. Drones are used for espionage, they are uitilised to drop bombs from a ‘safe’ distance and shoot missiles. Drone warfare was first initiated by the USA under the leadership of George Bush, however, the Obama administration has been a huge supporter of drones and they are now seen as a center piece of U.S. counter terrorism strategy. Drones are everywhere; not only are predator drones used throughout the Middle East, but drones are seen and used throughout the western world, from delivering Amazon parcels, to recording wedding videos.

The Amazon drones appearance is a lot different to U.S. military predator drones.
The Amazon drones appearance is a lot different to U.S. military predator drones.

It is apparent that the public are becoming desensitized towards drones due to the fact that they are also being used for non- violent objectives. The public are acknowledging drones but drone strikes are rarely reported on in the news.

The use of drones overseas is a much more serious topic. From a foreign policy point of view drones work extremely well; they are cheap, deadly and do not pose a direct risk to American lives, they are controlled remotely by American army personnel thousands of miles away. According to a national survey of American citizens conducted by the Pew research center in 2015, the majority of the American public continues to back and support drone attacks. We all know drones exist and are regularly used in the Middle East but what we tend not to hear about is the catastrophic consequences of U.S. led drone strikes.

Stats produced by thebureauinvesigates.com indicate that in Pakistan alone (U.S. led drone strikes regularly take place in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia too) the total amount of militants killed over the period from 2004 to 2015 is between 2,471-3,983. However, between 423-965 innocent civilians and 172-207 children have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. This works out that around one in every four casualties of U.S led drone strikes are innocent civilians or children and not terrorists.

Furthermore, as reported by Scott Shane of the New York Times, civilians are often regarded as terrorists, he says: “There’s been dispute over the way civilian deaths are counted. The CIA often counts able bodied, military aged males who are killed in strikes as militants unless they have concrete evidence to prove them innocent.”

Therefore, it is certainly difficult to determine or even estimate the amount of terrorists that are thwarted by drones, it seems to be the case that U.S. intelligence are not clear on the number of deaths caused by drones due to the huge estimates scale, however, it is clear that drone strikes are the cause of thousands of innocent civilian deaths.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Defending the use of drones, US Attorney General, Eric Holder said: “We only take these kind of actions when there’s an imminent threat, when capture is not feasible, when we are confident we are doing so in a way that’s consistent with federal and international law.” But a report by NBC news completely discredits Holder’s statement. According to a U.S. Justice Department memo “an imminent threat does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

Clearly this indicates the plainly obvious use of Orwellian doublespeak from a United States official. Furthermore, it is easy to see why so many civilians are murdered due to drone strikes; drone controllers are seemingly able to kill whoever they see fit without any repercussions. In September 2012, Stanford Law School published a piece that reported that CIA officials were tracking three potential terrorists in which one of them was thought to have been Bin Laden. At least one of these three men was killed via the use of a predator drone “due to his height.” Reports later proved that the victim thought to have been Bin Laden was actually an innocent man collecting scrap metal. Certainly serious questions need to be asked if U.S. military personnel are using predator drones to kill people based on nothing more than their height.

According to Rosa Brookes, a professor at Georgetown University, the executive branch of the U.S. government claims that: “They have the right to kill anyone anywhere on the Earth at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by secret officials.”

100921-N-2839R-002 PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 21, 2010) BQM-74E drones are set up for launch on the flight deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) during a Valiant Shield 2010 missile exercise. Lassen is assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Fire Controlman 2nd Class Roberto Ruvalcaba/Released)
100921-N-2839R-002
PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 21, 2010) BQM-74E drones are set up for launch on the flight deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) during a Valiant Shield 2010 missile exercise. Lassen is assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Fire Controlman 2nd Class Roberto Ruvalcaba/Released)

The United States seemingly has a vice like grip on the modern world, which should be a truly terrifying thought for everyone. U.S. officials have publicly stated that they do not have to be convinced that a target is a potential terrorist, they only have to be convinced that “it is an appropriate target.” The U.S. government can clearly only estimate the number of people killed by drone strikes, which is shambolic.  It is thought that the USA are prioritizing the expansion of drone surveillance throughout the world. If this is the case then no man, women or child should feel safe from the ever hovering eye of the surveillance drone. Children from drone hot bed spots such as Pakistan have their own name for drones, they call them “death bombs from the sky”.

The US military  employ the stance of the never-ending War on Terror for dropping bombs in the Middle East, in an attempt to cripple so called rogue regimes and destroy suspected terrorist bases. Drone use is increasingly entangled with the ever growing need for surveillance. As aforementioned their cost effective benefits win favor, although they remain a very expensive technology. With the increase of drones some believe that the need for ground troops decrease dramatically. In recent years drone strikes have missed their intended targets whilst cases of misinformation and inaccurate intelligence have led to mounting civilian causalities. There is a notion that drone warfare makes killing unbearably less difficult in our modern climate. There it becomes an easier choice for the government and the military to use drones than to send more troops, and cause catastrophic violence at a comfortable distance.

America gives the thumbs up for predator drones
America gives the thumbs up for predator drones

The issue we must debate is the lack of total transparency where drone strikes are concerned. Such information is withheld, redacted heavily or highly classified. These destructive weapons have various roles, and protecting as well as preventing collateral civilian causalities is not a priority it seems. The casualty rates are sparingly reported while the UN does very little; their powers have been hampered, at times even paralysed, by divisions amongst their member states. Therefore it begs the question, are the UN’s structures and procedures of the UN appropriate for the political reality of the 21st Century? There is nothing currently illegal or inherently wrong with drones insofar as a machine replaces a pilot on the battlefield. Drones are more accessible to the public now than they were a decade ago. Drones provide an apparent strategically and tactical superiority to the USA that in the short-term makes them feel more secure. While long term civilians grow more insecure and fearful of drones. There is no doubt that this kind of military technology can be valuable against terrorism. However, its use must be scrutinized and regulated by the UN and laws should hold drone operators accountable.

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