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Question: Drones (unmanned bombers), Should they be outlawed? CPNN article: Ban ‘Killer Robots’ Before It’s Too Late
CPNN Administrator
Posted: Dec. 31 1999,17:00

This discussion question applies to the following articles:

Ban ‘Killer Robots’ Before It’s Too Late
UN Counter-Terrorism Expert to launch inquiry into the civilian impact of drones and other forms of targeted killing
Protesters march on RAF base calling for UK's killer drones to be banned
Medea Benjamin to Receive 2014 Gandhi Peace Award (United States)
United States: Ad for drone pilots to refuse runs in Air Force Times
USA Exclusive: Air Force Whistleblowers Risk Prosecution to Warn Drone War Kills Civilians, Fuels Terror
Peace Activist Kathy Kelly Heads to Prison for Protesting U.S. Drone War
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David Swanson
Posted: Oct. 18 2013,07:44

AWKWARDEST AND MOST AUTHORITATIVE EVER COMMENTS ON DRONES

By David Swanson

from War Is a Crime Website

The comments come from Malala and the U.N. respectively.

President Obama invited Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for girls' education, to meet with his family. And she promptly explained that what he is doing works against her agenda and fuels terrorism. [2]

Malala is a victim of violence in Pakistan, having been attacked by religious fanatics opposed to her work. But Obama may not have expected her to speak up against other forms of violence in her country.

Malala recounted: "I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact."

President Obama may also have not expected most people to notice or care. The corporate media have virtually ignored [3] this part of a widely-reported meeting.

It's up to us to surprise everyone with the depth of our interest and concern. Almost 100,000 have thus far signed a petition [2] to ban weaponized drones, soon to be delivered to the U.N., the I.C.C., the State Department, the White House, Congress, and embassies.

The United Nations has released a report on "armed drones and the right to life" (PDF [4]). The report begins by noting that, as of now, weaponized drones are legal:

"Although drones are not illegal weapons, they can make it easier for States to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories of other States. As such, they risk undermining the protection of life in the immediate and longer terms. If the right to life is to be secured, it is imperative that the limitations posed by international law on the use of force are not weakened by broad justifications of drone strikes."

Drones, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reports, risk making war the normal state of affairs:

"Peace should be the norm, yet such scenarios risk making its derogation the rule by privileging force over long-term alternatives. . . . Given that drones greatly reduce or eliminate  the number of casualties on the side using them, the domestic constraints — political and otherwise — may be less restrictive than with the deployment of other types of armed force. This effect is enhanced by the relative ease with which the details about drone targeting can be withheld from the public eye and the potentially restraining influence of public concern. Such dynamics call for a heightened level of vigilance by the international community concerning the use of drones."

[2]The U.N. Charter and this report seek to make war an exceptional state of affairs. This is a very difficult, and a morally depraved thing to attempt with an institution that deserves total abolition.  War does not work as a tool with which to eliminate war.  But, even within that framework, the U.N. finds that drones create extra-legal war:

"An outer layer of protection for the right to life is the prohibition on the resort to force by one State against  another, again subject to a narrowly construed set of exceptions. The protection of State sovereignty and of territorial integrity, which onoccasion presents a barrier to the protection of human rights, here can constitute an important component of the protection of people against deadly force, especially with the advent of armed drones."

The strongest excuse for war is the claim of defense against an actual attack.  The next best thing is to pretend an attack is imminent.  The Obama Administration has famously redefined "imminent" to mean eventual or theoretical -- that is, they've stripped the word of all meaning.  (See the "white paper" PDF [5].)  The U.N. doesn't buy it:

"The view that mere past involvement in planning attacks is sufficient to render an individual targetable even where there is no evidence of a specific and immediate attack distorts the requirements established in international human rights law."

U.S. lawyers at Congressional hearings have tended to maintain that drone killing is legal if and only if it's part of a war.  The U.N. report also distinguishes between two supposedly different standards of law depending on whether a drone murder is separate from or part of a war.   Disappointingly, the U.N. believes that some drone strikes can
be legal and others not:

"Insofar as the term 'signature strikes' refers to targeting without sufficient information to make the necessary determination, it is clearly unlawful. . . . Where one drone attack is followed up by another in order to target those who are wounded and hors de combat or medical personnel, it constitutes a war crime in armed conflict and a violation of the right to life, whether or not in armed conflict. Strikes on others confirmed to be civilians who are directly participating in hostilities or having a continuous combat function at the time of the follow-up strike could be lawful if the other international humanitarian law rules are respected."

The complex mumbo-jumbo of multiple legal standards for multiple scenarios, complete with calculations of necessity and distinction and proportionality and collateral damage, mars this report and any attempt to create enforceable action out of it. But the report does, tentatively, find one little category of drone murders illegal that encompasses many, if not all, U.S. drone murders -- namely, those where the victim might have been captured rather than killed:

"Recent debates have asked whether international humanitarian law requires that a party to an armed conflict under certain circumstances consider the capture of an otherwise lawful target (i.e. a combatant in the traditional sense or a civilian directly participating in hostilities) rather than targeting with force. In its Interpretive Guidance, ICRC states that it would defy basic notions of humanity to kill an adversary or to refrain from giving him or her an opportunity to surrender where there manifestly is no necessity for the use of
lethal force." [2]

Pathetically, the report finds that if a government is going to pretend that murdering someone abroad is "self-defense" the action must be reported to the U.N. -- thereby making it sooooo much better.

A second UN report (PDF [6]) goes further, citing findings that U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians, but failing to call for prosecutions of these crimes.  That is to say, the first report, above, which does not list specific U.S. drone murders of civilians, discusses the need for prosecutions.  But this second report just asks for "a detailed public explanation."

The fact that an insane killing spree is counter-productive, as pointed out to Obama by Malala, in case he hadn't heard all his own experts [7], is not enough to end the madness.  Ultimately we must recognize the illegality [8] of all killing and all war. In the meantime, prior to the U.N.'s debate on this on the 25th, we can add our names to the growing movement to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org [9]


Links:
------

[2] http://banweaponizeddrones.org
[3] http://www.fair.org/blog....message
[4] http://warisacrime.org/sites....nes.pdf
[5] http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i....per.pdf
[6] http://warisacrime.org/sites....es2.pdf
[7] http://warisacrime.org/lesssafe
[8] http://davidswanson.org/outlawry
[9] http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org
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David Swanson
Posted: Nov. 01 2013,14:20

Finally a Drone Report Done Right

By David Swanson

The U.N. and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently released a flurry of deeply flawed reports on drone murders.  According to the U.N.'s special rapporteur, whose day job is as law partner of Tony Blair's wife, and according to two major human rights groups deeply embedded in U.S. exceptionalism, murdering people with drones is sometimes legal and sometimes not legal, but almost always it's too hard to tell which is which, unless the White House rewrites the law in enough detail and makes its new legal regime public.

When I read these reports I was ignorant of the existence of a human rights organization called Alkarama, and of the fact that it had just released a report titled License to Kill: Why the American Drone War on Yemen Violates International Law.  While Human Rights Watch looked at six drone murders in Yemen and found two of them illegal and four of them indeterminate, Alkarama looked in more detail and with better context at the whole campaign of drone war on Yemen, detailing 10 cases.  As you may have guessed from the report's title, this group finds the entire practice of murdering people with flying robots to be illegal.

Alkarama makes this finding, not out of ignorance of the endless intricacies deployed by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.  Rather, Alkarama adopts the same dialect and considers the same scenarios: Is it legal if it's a war, if it's not a war? Is it discriminate, necessary, proportionate? Et cetera.  But the conclusion is that the practice is illegal no matter which way you slice it.

This agrees with Pakistan's courts, Yemen's National Dialogue, Yemen's Human Rights Ministry, statements by large numbers of well-known figures in Yemen, and the popular movement in Yemen protesting the slaughter.  While the other "human rights" groups ask President Obama to please lay out what the law is, whether his killing spree is part of a war or not, who counts as a civilian and who doesn't, etc., Alkarama actually compares U.S. actions with existing law and points out that the United States is violating the law and trying to radically alter the law.  This conclusion results in a clear and useful set of recommendations at the end of the report, beginning with this recommendation to the U.S. government:

"End extrajudicial executions and the practice of targeted killings by drones and other military means."

This recommendation is strengthened by a better informed and more honest report that much more usefully conveys the recent history of Yemen (including by noting honestly the destructive impact of the IMF and the USA), describes the indiscriminate terror inflicted by the buzzing drones, and contrasts drone murders to alternatives -- such as negotiations. This analysis enriches our understanding of why drone wars are counterproductive even from the point of view of a heartless sociopath rooting for Team USA, much less someone concerned about human rights.

It is, then, possible to write a human rights report from a perspective concerned with the rights of humans, and not some combination of concern with human rights and devotion to U.S. imperialism.  This is good news for anyone interested in giving it a try.  The field is fairly wide open.

Some nations' statements at the U.N. debate on drones this month, including Brazil's, also challenged the legalization of a new form of war.  And all of these groups and individuals have something to say about it as well.
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