Nobel Peace Drones
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen have many things in common with each other. They are Muslim states and have majority Muslim populations. They are also considered failed states. Indices analysing a range of measures all show poor results for important indicators such as health and literacy, amongst others. However, what unites the four countries more seriously (and fatally) is their record of being attacked by unmanned aerial vehicles - commonly known as drones.
Now picture this: a drone 'pilot' is sat in a chair at a desk somewhere in the United States. The drone this pilot is operating is flying at 50,000ft in Pakistani airspace - the same altitude as U2 spy plane (though some drones can fly higher to the same altitude Concorde flew - 60,000ft). The pilot can steer the drone left or right. The pilot can choose to hover, climb or descend. The pilot can also strike a target whenever he/she wants. It sounds like a videogame on an Xbox, but it is actually very real - especially when you see the mutilated body of an innocent child after the attack.
Drone attacks have attracted attention after many innocent civilians were killed by them. In one instance, British involvement in a CIA-drone strike killed 53 people, most of them civilians, in a Pakistani village in 2011. In another instance, an attack in Yemen in 2009 killed 21 women and children. Yet drone attacks continue amid deafening silence from British Muslims. The frontline in the fight against drone attacks is yet again lined with non-Muslim organisations. This is not to undermine the fantastic (and necessary) work undertaken by these organisations (for example Amnesty International, Reprieve and Human Rights Watch), but the silence from British Muslims is disheartening. MPACUK, however, has highlighted the injustice of drone attacks before by taking a close look at the legal issues surrounding drone attacks.
The use of drones has increased considerably, in part, towards the aim of 'riskless warfare' by the US and its allies- where no or few US casualties are tolerated. Think back only recently to the NATO Libyan intervention conducted by jet fighters and drones which were the primary means used to oust Colonel Gaddafi. You can also think back to the humanitarian intervention by NATO in Kosovo in 1999 to oppose Slobodan Milošević's ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians - aerial bombardment in favour of boots on the ground - why risk "our boys" in the fight for justice? Drones do this in the West's current 'Global War on Terror' - striking targets from 50,000ft up and with deadly force, with no differentiation between enemy combatant and innocent child.
President Obama has not only continued his predecessor's policy of using drones to attack Al-Qaeda targets in the Global War on Terror, he has actually increased the frequency of attacks. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) compiles a list of drone strikes conducted by the US and its allies (though most strikes are conducted by the US) and more importantly the number of people killed. Figures are usually presented in ranges due to reporting difficulties and definitional uncertainties. For example, the US claim that "all military-age males in a strike zone" are considered combatants means that anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time will be counted as a combatant and not an innocent civilian. This will result in conservative figures for the number of deaths of innocent civilians. Despite this, the BIJ estimates that between 482 and 832 civilians have been killed by drone attacks in Pakistan alone, that range rises to between 551 - 1027 when you add deaths in Yemen and Somalia. An astonishing figure.
These figures exclude drone strikes perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians; this week, two children were severely injured in one drone attack and a 14 year old boy died in a previous attack. The Washington Post reported in December last year that: "The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says 825 people have been killed by drones in Gaza since . Most of those killed, according to the organization, have been civilians mistakenly targeted or caught in the deadly shrapnel shower of a drone strike."
The Global War on terror is used to justify many things- not just the continued drone attacks but also the stripping of civil liberties, the increase in covert and overt surveillance on populations (remember the ID cards Labour wished to introduce but later abandoned?) and the increase in police powers. Drones are even being used to spy on citizens in the US.
The logic behind the claim that drone attacks work because a number of Al-Qaeda operatives are taken out is false. You could apply the same logic to the Muslim community in Britain, for example. A blanket arrest of all British Muslims would indeed result in the few extremists being locked up, but at the price of liberty for the innocent majority that would be locked up. The price for killing a few Al-Qaeda operatives in drone attacks is the death of many innocent civilians, amongst them women and children who have no part in terrorism. There are other means of catching the 'bad guys', but the US doesn't want to get its hands dirty, so these drone attacks seem merely to be a projection of power by the US.
Alongside the issues of human rights and ethics, the issue of state sovereignty is also raised by critics as fatal drone attacks are seen to undermine a state's sovereignty. A drone attack was responsible for the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers last year. Zamir Akram, the permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations office in Geneva, asserted that his country consistently maintained that the use of drones was illegal and violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, not to mention being counter-productive. However, there is evidence to show that members of Pakistan's military and government support drone attacks and Pakistani intelligence is used in drone operations. The result of this would be no undermining of sovereignty as the Pakistani authorities are allowing the drones to operate. Leaked cables from WikiLeaks show the governments of both Yemen and Pakistan complicit in allowing drone attacks to continue, with ex-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh boasting that he would "continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours [the US']".
The out-of-touch elite may think one thing, but the population at large is clearly opposed to the use of deadly force by drone strikes. One authoritative poll highlights overwhelming approval for drone attacks is only found in the US. In all other nations polls show most people disapprove of it.
Unfortunately it seems that Obama is not losing any political capital in the US by continuing with drone attacks or, more importantly, by increasing the frequency of attacks from his predecessor. With every 'success' in taking out someone from Al-Qaeda, no matter how many innocent people die, he does his re-election campaign a lot of good. Human rights come a very distant second. You can bet he'll be reminding American voters of his successes in eliminating both Anwar Al-Awlaki in a drone attack in Yemen and Osama bin Laden and he'll also start talking tough about Iran.
It would not, however, be unreasonable to demand he gives back his Nobel Peace Prize.