Unmanned Drones - Targeted Killing vs. "Collateral Murder"

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

Unmanned Drones - Targeted Killing vs. "Collateral Murder"

by
Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - When a
Pakistani-U.S. national pleaded guilty last week to a failed attempt to
detonate explosives packed in a vehicle in the heart of New York City,
he admitted that one of the reasons he targeted the busy Times Square
neighbourhood was to "injure and kill" as many people as possible.

The presiding judge,
Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, asked the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, 30,
whether he was conscious of the fact he would have killed dozens of
civilians, including women and children.

"Well,
the (U.S.) drone-hits in Afghanistan and Iraq don't see children; they
don't see anybody. They kill women, they kill children. They kill
everybody. And it's war," he said, at his arraignment last week.

Describing
himself as a "Muslim soldier", Shahzad also told the judge one of the
reasons for his abortive act of terrorism was his anger at the U.S.
military for recklessly using drones, which have claimed the lives of
scores of innocent civilians, along with suspected insurgents, in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The
United States calls the inadvertent killing of civilians "collateral
damage" while critics describe it as "collateral murder".

A New
York Times columnist last week quoted the outgoing U.S. military
commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as defining the "insurgent
math" in Afghanistan: for each innocent you kill, you make 10 enemies.

But
whether they needlessly kill civilians or not, the remote-controlled
drones, being guided mostly by computers located at the far-away
headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley,
Virginia, are the weapons of the future, say military analysts.

Since they are unmanned, they are weapons that the U.S. military can deploy to kill without any risk to its own forces.

Also
known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones are being increasingly
used to patrol the Texas-Mexico border to prevent drug trafficking and
stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.

Siemon
Wezeman, a research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS that more and more countries are
acquiring UAVs, either from national sources or imported.

"It
has been a market with significant growth in the last decade and that
growth is widely expected to remain in the coming years," said Wezeman,
who also did research on UAVs for a report to the European Parliament
in 2007-2008.

He pointed out that a recently released U.N. report correctly mentions that over 40 countries currently have UAVs in service.

As
the report states, the main appeal of using UAVs to carry out targeted
killings in hostile territory is the lack of risk to the forces of the
state doing the killing - there is no pilot or other personnel anywhere
near the hostilities; no dead troops to explain; no dangerous rescues
to think of; no embarrassing capture of assassins.

As a secondary appeal - and the report doesn't mention this - one can count plausible deniability, Wezeman said.

In
case things go as planned, there is very little evidence of who did the
deed - no immigration papers; no fingerprints; and no television
footage, (unlike the recent killing of a Hamas leader, Mahmoud
al-Mahboub, in a Dubai hotel by a Mossad hit squad that was captured on
closed circuit TV).

"And if things go wrong, at worst the
'enemy' can show the remains of a UAV - ownership of which can be
denied by the actor that used it (no captured pilot or dead pilot to
show)," Wezeman said.

Lastly, there is no need for expensive
logistics and training to carry out long-range assassinations in
hostile territory, nor does one have to organise and explain (or cover)
special forces doing dirty work.

Oxford Analytica, an
independent strategic-consulting firm which draws on a network of more
than 1,000 scholar-experts at Oxford and other leading educational
institutions, says the market for unmanned aircraft systems "has surged
over the last decade, driven by proven operational successes in Iraq
and Afghanistan and by Israel's extensive usage".

The worldwide market for such systems is expected to be worth about 55 billion dollars through 2020.

The
United Nations, which released a report last month criticising the use
of drones for "targeted killings" by U.S. military forces, has warned
that more than 40 countries either possess UAVs or are armed with the
technology to manufacture it.

These include Israel, Russia, Turkey, China, India, Iran, Britain and France.

Authored
by the special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Philip Alston,
the study said the first "credibly reported" CIA drone killing took
place in Nov. 2002 when a Predator UAV fired a missile at a car in
Yemen. That attack killed Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harithi, an al Qaeda
leader allegedly responsible for the bombing of the U.S. warship 'Cole'
in Yemeni waters.

Since then, said the study, there have
reportedly been over 120 drone strikes, "although it is not possible to
verify this number".

According to the U.N. report, drones were
originally developed to gather intelligence and conduct surveillance
and reconnaissance. But the use of drones for "targeted killings" has
generated significant controversy.

"Some have suggested that
drones as such are prohibited weapons under international humanitarian
law because they cause, or have the effect of causing, necessarily
indiscriminate killings of civilians, such as those in the vicinity of
the targeted person," the report said.

"The appeal of armed
drones is clear: especially in hostile terrain, they permit targeted
killings at little to no risk to the state personnel carrying them out,
and they can be operated remotely from the home state."

It is also conceivable that non-state armed groups could obtain this technology.

SIPRI's
Wezeman told IPS there is a strong possibility that non-state groups
could also acquire such systems, noting that Hezbollah, the militant
Islamic group in Lebanon, has used UAVs against Israel.

However,
the killings by drones are not supposed to lead to increased civilian
deaths and/or indiscriminate killings, but rather the opposite. As in
all targeted killings, the idea is to get the enemy leadership and to
decapitate enemy forces.

He said targeting the enemy's
leadership has almost never been a popular policy among states fighting
other states or non-state groups - probably including for fear of
retaliation and a sense of 'that is not done' - but the merits both for
winning a fight and reducing the cost of the fight are obvious. Thus
the potential for such attacks on the enemy's leadership may actually
be a positive thing, he said.

One alternative is to 'execute' specific persons that are out of reach or hiding in another country.

Until
now, Wezeman said, those targets have been labelled 'terrorist' and the
actions were part of a 'war', and as such somehow defensible. However,
one could imagine similar attacks on drug lords and other 'criminals'
who are impossible to get at in another way. The trouble there, of
course, is that the order for execution may not be given by a court
after proper trial, he added.

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