Drones have assumed a growing role in warfare at a time when the original concept has become increasingly blurred and distorted over the past two decades. These unmanned aerial vehicles have been used actively and immorally in so-called counter-terrorism operations, often with devastating effects on civilians. With over 50 countries reporting of their drone technology, it has led to ethical and legal questions surrounding their deployment.
As with extraordinary renditions, it is the US that has led the way over the exploitation of remote warfare. Although the CIA claims that its drone programme operates “under a framework of legal and close government oversight,” it depends on who writes such rules. Even legal challenges and inquiry calls have been blocked, especially concerning targeted assassinations, a misnomer for extra judicial killings, seemingly copied from the Israeli slaughter of the Palestinians.
The first US drone attack took place in Yemen in 2002 but has since spread across regions to Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and in particular to Pakistan. A common feature much like the rest of its declared war against terrorism is that they are all committed in targeted Muslim countries. Unmanned aerial vehicles are now a staple of the American warfare toolkit, where operators can sit safely thousands of miles away from their killing fields.
Any outcry from the international community has gone relatively unheard but as The Muslim News reports, Amnesty International added its voice last month to the indictment that the US drone strikes in Pakistan may amount to “extrajudicial executions or war crimes”. It pronounced that it was “highly unlikely that any US drone strikes in Pakistan satisfy the law enforcement standards that govern intentional use of lethal force outside armed conflict.”
The latest impeachment of the US comes at a time when the definition of war is slowly but drastically being altered. It was only 100 years ago that it was moved from the battlefields of confronting armies to towns and cities, giving sanction for non-military and non-combatant people to be “legitimate”’ targets. At the beginning of the 20th century about 10 percent of those killed in war were civilians and 90 percent were soldiers. Since then the figures have reversed. It has also evolved from essentially being between countries, generally defending or attacking a territory, to being against perceived enemies virtually anywhere in the world but particularly in what has become termed as “failed states”
The bulk of the estimated 5,000 killings in Pakistan in the past five years have been civilians. Though far from being on the same scale, the situations experienced by civilians in Pakistan are just as immoral and could be termed as even worse than those experienced during the London Blitz in World War Two. The sustained period of German aerial bombing was carried out at night time by unmanned planes with more inaccurate weaponry.
The US’s killing of civilians is against international law and is unethical. However, because it is a super power, there is no recourse to justice for the innocent victims. All the victims and countries that the US is using the drones in are Muslim. That being said, the US has lost all the moral authority.