Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Aren’t Drone Killings Human Rights Violations?

A widely published Associated Press article by Sebastian Abbot attempts to make the case that few civilians have been killed by U.S. drones (e.g., “Most killed by US drones are militants, study finds,” Boston Globe, Feb. 26, 2012, p. A3). (Click here to see the article printed elsewhere.) The same article establishes that many civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan. Since about 70% of those killed were “militants,” according to the article, that means about 30% were civilians. According to the article’s numbers, about 56 civilians or other non-militants have been killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan.

Imagine the international outcry if these killings had occurred in England, or Germany, or the U.S. Pakistan is not a war zone. Are Pakistani civilian lives considered to be of less importance that the lives of Europeans or Americans? Why is there no international outcry, or outcry within the U.S., that 56 innocent Pakistanis have been killed by U.S. drones?

The other 138 people killed were “militants.” And who are the “militants”? What is a “militant”? Is a “militant” the same as a “terrorist.” What is the difference between a “militant” and a “terrorist” or a “dissident”? When terms like “militant” and “terrorist” are vaguely defined, if defined at all, they become subject to creeping expansion to include more and more people. When an attack kills many, it is in the interest of the attacker to define “militant” and “terrorist” as broadly as possible to minimize the number of “civilian” deaths. No one has conclusively determined that all of the “militants” who died were proper targets.

These killings reflect complete disregard of the role of the judiciary. The purpose of judicial procedures is to determine guilt or innocence. It is the judiciary that is charged with enforcing the rights of the accused. Without an independent judiciary, human rights is an empty concept that cannot be implemented. When the policing body and the prosecutor can freely kill those suspected of criminal acts, the judiciary becomes irrelevant. These drone killings did not take place in the heat of battle or on a battlefield. They were premeditated. The non-civilian victims may or may not have been armed, but even if armed, they were defenseless against a drone high in the sky. These killings were not shootouts between the police and suspected criminals. No attempt was made to capture the targets alive and bring them to trial.

In these government-sponsored killings, there was no “due process of law” as envisioned by the Fifth Amendment, or a right to trial as a required by the Sixth Amendment. These provisions in the U.S. Constitution—in the Bill of Rights—state very fundamental principles of human rights. As a technical legal matter, they were not applicable. But from an ethical standpoint, these rights apply to all people everywhere in the world. They are recognized internationally as fundamental human rights.

What kind of example is the U.S. providing to the world? Just as nuclear technology spread beyond the U.S. to other nations, so will drone technology spread to other nations, including tyrannical ones. Under the regimes of these tyrannical nations, there is no difference between a terrorist and a militant, between a militant and a dissident, or between a dissident and the opposition. These regimes will use drone technology to kill the opposition. The model for this approach is being provided now by the U.S. It is the wrong model.

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