The Primate Diaries

Obama May Have Death Panels After All

What happens when a Nobel Peace Prize winner breaks international law in the rules of war? The world may find out as increased attention is being focused on the use of unmanned military drones that are carrying out assassinations of suspected militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, stated today that the Predator drone operations approved by Obama and currently being carried out by the CIA may be a violation of international humanitarian law.

As reported by the BBC, Alston stated in a press conference that:

My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons.

Mr. Alston’s comments come on the heels of Obama administration suggestions that additional troops will be sent to the region. Senior US military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has asked for at least 40,000 more troops to be sent there, though Obama has yet to make a final decision.

The use of unmanned Predator drones has increased significantly under the Obama administration. According to journalist Jane Mayer in the current issue of The New Yorker, since taking office President Obama has approved 41 CIA drone strikes, as many as George W. Bush authorized in the last three years of his administration. This increased focus on aerial drones has been of great benefit to defense contractors:

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the defense contractor that manufactures the Predator and its more heavily armed sibling, the Reaper, can barely keep up with the government’s demand.

These attacks have been widely criticized for the high number of civilians that have been killed as the result of Obama’s assassination policy. According to the New American Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute:

Since 2006, our analysis indicates, 82 U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have killed between 750 and 1,000 people. Among them were about 20 leaders of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied groups, all of whom have been killed since January 2008. . . Based on our count of the estimated number of militants killed, the real total of civilian deaths since 2006 appears to be in the range of 250 to 320, or between 31 and 33 percent.

In one such strike, the unmanned drone targeted a funeral procession killing at least 43 people, only five of whom were connected with the Taliban. It is this targeting of suspected militants where it is known that there will be a high level of civilian casualties that may put the Obama administration at odds with international humanitarian law. As Philip Alston concluded this afternoon:

We need the United States to be more up front and say, ‘OK, we’re willing to discuss some aspects of this program,’ otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws.


  1. #1 Katharine
    October 28, 2009

    See? Can’t trust a politician whether they’re Democrat or Republican.

  2. #2 orion
    October 28, 2009

    I can tell you without doubt that the use of these weapons by the CIA is a violation of the international laws of armed conflict (LOAC). I have been a senior military planner and adviser to a theatre commander for a number of years, and I expressed my concerns in a symposium at the Air War College in 2001 – they were being used then.
    However, its not their use per se which is illegal – its their use by the CIA. If they are operated by uniformed military personnel they are legitimate weapons.
    This is the very reason the previous administration locked people up in Guantanamo Bay – because they were committing illegal acts by acting as combatants whilst not wearing a uniform. Hence the name, illegal or unlawful combatants. The problem is, we are doing it as well, and it is being authorised at the highest level of government; which makes both the former and current administration guilty of war crimes.

  3. #3 Van Rijn
    October 29, 2009

    See? Can’t trust a politician whether they’re Democrat or Republican.

    I’ve been saying that for decades. No one will listen. Our system is wired so that only certain types of dysfunctional personalities can make it to political office.

    Even highly educated folks will “rah rah rah” for one side or another. I really don’t consider someone to be a fellow skeptic until they can break away from their ideological biases.

  4. #4 IanW
    October 29, 2009

    There really aren’t any “rules” to war. You know that, don’t you?

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