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La Presse, Canada

American Drone Attacks:
The World Must Break
Its Silence”


By Nicolas Bérubé

Translated By James Johnson

9 February 2013

Edited by Kath­leen Weinberger


Canada - La Presse - Original Article (French)

American drone attacks have killed at least 3,400 people in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia since 2002. This week, the Obama administration maintained that these strikes were “legal, ethical and wise.” And yet, as our correspondent reports, a growing number of experts are taking a stand against these killings, carried out in murky legal circumstances.

The drone strikes directed by the Obama administration infringe on human rights and must be denounced more vociferously by the allies of the United States, according to one leading expert on the subject.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, holder of the Chair of International Law at the University of Notre Dame and specialist in issues relating to the use of force, feels that the Obama administration is not getting enough criticism or pressure from the Western world over these extrajudicial killings.

“Canada is saying nothing. Germany is saying nothing. Sweden is saying nothing. Norway, Chile, Finland, Austria… Nobody is speaking out against this practice. Nobody is taking any action,” she said in an interview with La Presse.

The issue of drone strikes was thrust back into the limelight this week, when NBC News published a secret memo in which the Obama administration states the logic used to justify the use of drones to kill any American citizen who is “a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or an associated force of al-Qaida” and who is located outside of a war zone.

Mrs. O’Connell, whose works are cited in the memo, does not think that the justifications given by the Obama administration would hold up in an international court.

President Obama’s assumption of power in 2009 led many to predict the end of drone strikes. And yet, in his very first week in the White House, the president authorized an attack on an “enemy fighter” in a house in Pakistan, killing a two-year-old child in the process.

In September 2011, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, from Denver, was killed with other youngsters of the same age while they were cooking around a roadside fire in Yemen. He was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American ex-al-Qaida associate who was killed two weeks earlier in another drone strike in Yemen.

“The Bush administration was accused of turning a blind eye, of allowing torture – that sparked outcry. But while Obama has maintained and built upon a program which has killed 3,400 people since 2002, many of whom were Americans, he has done so with impunity,” Mrs. O’Connell said.

Barack Obama authorized nearly 300 drone strikes in Pakistan in the first four years of his administration — six times as many as were carried out in George W. Bush’s presidency.

"Extremely Vague"

In an interview with La Presse, Noureen Shah, Associate Director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at Columbia University’s Human Rights Institute in New York, said that she was surprised by the language used in the memo about the use of drones.

“The definition of potential targets is extremely vague. Essentially, the White House and the CIA are saying: ‘Leave it to us.’ Coming from Obama, who painted himself as the candidate opposed to war, it is worrying.”

Mrs. Shah notes that the Obama administration seems to have been tempted by the simplicity and flexibility of drones.

“It’s an attractive method; you don't have to send soldiers in on the ground, and it is low-cost. The problem is that we know that drone strikes kill innocent civilians and children. Instead of calling for inquiries, the Obama administration is choosing to keep any information to itself. It gives the impression that they are afraid of transparency.”

How Drones Go on the Attack in Five Steps

1. Pilots from a U.S. Air Force base, usually Creech in the Nevada desert, spend weeks observing targets in villages in Afghanistan or Pakistan, using a Reaper drone.

2. Pilots sometimes even get to know their targets well. “I see them with their wife, their kids, going to work, etc.,” one pilot told the New York Times last year.*

3. Pilots eventually receive the order to kill the target (often at a time when their loved-ones are not present).

4. Drones take off and land at local bases, often in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

5. The U.S. Air Force has 1,300 drone pilots, posted at 13 bases in the United States. The CIA also has a drone program, which remains shrouded in mystery.

Sources: The New York Times, the BBC

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



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