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Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

Obama’s Crusade for Drones: The Air Killers


By Marta Urzędowska

The Americans claim that drones are very precise and virtually infallible. September saw John Brennan, chief counter-terrorism advisor to the president, argue that drone attacks have not caused the death of a single civilian in the last year. On the other hand, in September research came out from Stanford and New York University indicating that unmanned planes had been killing a large number of Pakistani civilians and, by extension, augmenting locals’ hatred toward the United States.

Translated By Maciej Lepka

26 November 2012

Edited by Kyrstie Lane


Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza - Original Article (Polish)

An unmanned plane operator sits comfortably in front of the computer monitor in a base, often hundreds of kilometers away, and follows the target using a camcorder. In theory, errors are out of the question. Yet the reports prepared by scientists at Stanford and New York University clearly indicate that drones have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians. In the meantime, Barack Obama’s administration is working on the new rules of usage of – as human rights defenders put it – the surgical air killers.

During Obama’s time as president, there has been a significant increase in the employment of drones in fighting terrorism. His predecessor, George W. Bush, preferred detaining terrorist suspects, whom he referred to as “enemy combatants,” and keeping them in custody in the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama prefers unmanned planes, which during his term have performed about 300 air attacks in Pakistan as well as a few occasional assaults in Yemen and Somalia.

The Americans claim that drones are very precise and virtually infallible. September saw John Brennan, chief counter-terrorism advisor to the president, argue that drone attacks have not caused the death of a single civilian in the last year.

On the other hand, in September research came out from Stanford and New York University indicating that unmanned planes had been killing a large number of Pakistani civilians and, by extension, augmenting locals’ hatred toward the United States.

Killing by the Book

Currently, Obama has set out to draw up more transparent provisions for the usage of drones. According to The New York Times, the president’s administration is preparing a set of rules that will, once and for all, eliminate the problem of so-called “unjustified use.” Citing two anonymous sources in the government, the newspaper claims that more precise instructions, which are supposed to settle the dispute between the CIA and the departments of defense, state, and justice, are in the pipeline. Reportedly, the work on the new provisions started even before November 6, when the presidential election took place.

According to The New York Times, the administration remains undecided as to whether drones should be used as a measure of last resort, only when there is a direct threat to the U.S., or whether they should be employed more frequently to “help allied governments attack their enemies or prevent militants from controlling territory.”

The CIA: A Paramilitary Organization

Last week The Financial Times, in an editorial, demanded a more transparent policy from Obama on unmanned plane usage.

The policy has to be altered during Obama’s second term, the journal appeals, before giving a few harsh words about the CIA, which as a result of 9/11 has become “a paramilitary organization that kills terrorist suspects in Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa.” According to the newspaper, drone operations “are increasingly questionable on legal, moral and political grounds.”

The CIA controls drones from their secret military bases, killing suspects without even the slightest responsibility to external institutions, say the authors, who then go on to cite Kurt Volker, the former United States Ambassador to NATO, who regards the U.S. as a country “with a permanent kill list.”

Death Coming from Above

An unmanned plane operator sits comfortably in front of the computer monitor in a base, often hundreds of kilometers away, spending hours and days following his target on a camcorder before he finally decides to drop the bomb. He is well aware of the presence of civilians within range of the missile, and thus he can wait for them to disappear. The people below have no idea that they are being watched.

However, according to the report by scientists from Stanford and New York University, drones have killed hundreds of innocents, and have been wreaking havoc in the Pakistani borderlands, which further increases the number of enemies of the U.S.

The report also mentions the estimations of the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which states that drones have been responsible for the deaths of about 3,000 people since 2004, including 474 to 881 civilians.

Human Rights Defenders Outraged

Human rights defenders have been opposing the employment of drones for a long time. If they are now talking about new, more precise instructions being drawn up, it means that some kind of instructions have already been in use, argues Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in The New York Times.

In reality, however, the instructions have been disregarded just like the international law that has been in effect since World War II, he contends. In the final part of his statement, Jaffer questions the legality of the very process of preparing the instructions. “We demand specific information on the rules of the usage of unmanned aircrafts. I doubt that Americans are satisfied with the knowledge that is leaked by anonymous informants,” he asserts.*

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Cold Pink, also points out that creating formal rules regulating surgical assassinations is “disgusting.” “That they are trying to write the rules for something that is illegal is disgusting,” she argues.

*Editor’s Note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.



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