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.