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DRONE ON, IGNORING THE MURDERERS May 23, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Human Rights, Terrorism Issues.
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The questions, moral and others, that surround the drone murder program in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, are many.

There is one suggestion that comes as no surprise that “signature strikes” will become automatic. An algorithm, a computer program, apparently can be designed that will make the decision without recourse to human decision making, as apparently happens now on “terror Tuesday” at the White House. Who then will be culpable, or subject to possible indictment? As ABC’s Rear Vision suggests this overcome a training problem for active human combatants. Enemies have to be dehumanized, and many participants in the carnage of the noble wars are victims of post traumatic stress disorder, which is particularly acute for drone operators because of the magnification of the scene made possible by the mounted cameras.

Nothing to see, which might become almost literally true, so move on. The program notes:

Sarah Knuckey is the director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University Law School and an advisor to the UN. She says the way that drones are used to conduct warfare is stretching the limits of previous international conventions and is likely to require new rules of engagement to be drawn up.

‘There is an enormous amount of concern about the practices the US is conducting right now and the policies that underlie those practices,’ she says. ‘But from a much longer-term perspective and certainly from lawyers outside the US there is real concerns about not just what’s happening now but what it might mean 10, 15, 20 years down the track.’

The rules of warfare built up after World War II to protect civilians are already hopelessly outdated, she says. The notion of border sovereignty has already been trashed by years of drone strikes, which she estimates have targeted upwards of 3,000 individuals, with reports of between 400 and 800 civilian casualties.

They have targeted village elders in Waziristan, who admittedly have links with the Taliban but who are not involved with Al Qaeda at all and who are not combatants. They have targeted individuals and claimed to have killed them, only to find that they are still alive and then targeted them again and then successfully killed them, begging the question of who it was they killed the first time.

‘International law traditionally has been in broad agreement about the meaning of self defence, and a state certainly is permitted to use self defence,’ she says. ‘But the threat must be imminent… In the US position, as it has developed, that concept of imminence has been expanded. So one doesn’t need to be responding to an immediate overwhelming threat, a direct threat, but that imminence would include striking someone who we know or believe is a member of an armed group, and may pose some threat, even if ill-defined, at some point in the future.’

‘[I]f the US is stretching ‘imminence’ to mean really at some point in the future, even if there is no immediate threat, other states may take this as an example, may take it as a precedent, and will also start attacking even when there is no direct immediate threat… this may lead to an increase in violence across national borders.’

The issue is further muddied for strikes in nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where at various stages local governments have explicitly or tacitly consented to US military drone strikes, Ms Knuckey says.

And while our international conventions may be struggling to keep up with the realities of drone warfare, the drone weapons themselves are also developing in ways that could further revolutionise armed conflict. Ian Shaw is a research fellow at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and specialises in the geopolitics of drone warfare. He says drones are not just becoming autonomous, they’re also becoming cooperative, smaller, and more agile.

‘I think that we’re still very much in the early days of drone warfare and drone technology,’ Mr Shaw says. ‘Rather than getting bigger, [drones] are actually getting smaller, and you see developments of drones that are the size of a fist, that resemble insects, hummingbirds and things like that. And really there’s a push to make drones what is called autonomous in a military sense in that they are able to fly and cooperate on their own without direct human input.’

‘What are the consequences on the world stage? [W]e are seeing the battle space spread and we are seeing notions like a theatre of war and fronts become increasingly irrelevant as drones target individuals in very precise locations. I really think that the way we imagine warfare has already changed in that I think that Iraq and Afghanistan will be the last time we see large troop numbers mobilised. I really think this logic of surveillance from the skies and strikes from the skies is really set to define conflict going forward.’

Luckily, all of this will be resolved by a former constitutional lawyer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. Scott Shane in The New York Times reports that the number of the drone strikes has decreased. He observes that “the targeted killing of suspected terrorists” has come to define President Obama’s presidency. So here is the news:

In a long-awaited address on Thursday at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama will make his most ambitious attempt to date to lay out his justification for the strikes and what they have achieved. He may follow up on public promises, including one he made in his State of the Union speech in February to define a “legal architecture” for choosing targets, possibly shifting more strikes from the C.I.A. to the military; explain how he believes that presidents should be “reined in” in their exercise of lethal power; and take steps to make a program veiled in secrecy more transparent.

So there you go. The leader of one of the world’s nations comprising a portion of the global population will establish the the law that should apply retrospectively and prospectively without reference to any legislative body to establish the international law. This is a very curious presumption to say the least. It may pass in the United States – and that I doubt. I suspect it will be another speech, fired up and ready to go, but saying nothing, other than secrecy is sacred and accountability is unknown – unless you are Augusto Pinochet, and then even the Nobel Prize winner for Economics could not help you.

Thom Hartmann interviews Medea Benjamin discussing her book, <em>Drone Warfare – Killing by Remote Control.

Part One:

Part Two:

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