Drones: Backfiring on U.S. Strategy

Predator drones are equipped with large and powerful
cameras that beam real-time images to their operators. Last February, a
crew operating out of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, asked for an air
strike against three
vehicles with males supposed to be insurgents. An OH-58D Kiowa
helicopter fired
Hellfire missiles and rockets which destroyed the three vehicles.
Instead of
insurgents, 23 innocent men, women and children were killed and 12 more
seriously injured.

In a scathing report released on May
29, the American
military blamed the "inaccurate and unprofessional reporting" by a team
Predator drone operators that led to the strikes. This episode
illustrates the
serious risks involved in the use of drones, which many law experts
violate rules of war. Predator drones are extensively used in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they track and kill
suspected insurgents, sometimes with their own missiles.

A report by the UN Special Rapporteur
on extrajudicial,
summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, makes a thorough
assessment on
the effect of drones, whose use has provoked significant controversy.

Drones' proponents argue that since
they have significant
surveillance capacity and great precision, they are able to avoid
civilian casualties and injuries. They also state that since drones may
the ability to conduct aerial surveillance and to gather "pattern of
information, they may allow operators to distinguish between peaceful
and those engaged in direct hostilities. The above episode is a clear
demonstration of the fallacy of this argument and of the dangers to
civilians of
using such lethal weapons.

According to the Alston report, the
main concern about
drones is that they make it easier to kill without any risk to a State's
I believe that an even greater risk is the process of trivializing war,
it thus a deadlier, more dangerous activity since it affects not only
those who
are target but also those who direct the operation and for whom war
becomes no
more significant than a video game.

An additional complication to the use
of drones is that
in many cases international forces are too often uninformed of local
or too credulous in interpreting information, to be able to arrive at a
understanding of a situation, wrote Michael N. Schmitt, a Professor of
International Law at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security

Studies, in Germany.

According to Schmitt, precision warfare
such as the one
carried out by drones intersects (or has the potential to interact) with

international humanitarian law in four specific areas: the prohibition
indiscriminate attacks; the principle of proportionality, the
requirement to
take precautions in attack; and perfidy and other misuses of protected

Precision attacks as carried out by
drones may violate
international humanitarian law's tenet of distinction, as stated in
Articles 48,
51 and 52 of Additional Protocol I. As indicated by Schmitt, distinction
been cited as a "cardinal" principle of international humanitarian law
by the
International Court of Justice.

CIA officers are concerned that the use
of drones will
backfire and may help Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders recruit more
militants. "Some
of the CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect,
drones' program] is doing more harm than good," said Jeffrey Addicott,
legal adviser to U.S. Special Forces in an interview with Inter Press

Presently, several countries including
China, France,
India, Israel, Iran, Russia, Turkey and the United Kingdom either have
or are
seeking drones with the capability to shoot laser-guided missiles. If
the use of
these dangerous weapons becomes more frequent, so will the safety of
civilians and violations of international humanitarian law.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.