What are drones?
Armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as ‘drones’, have become the weapon of choice in the ‘war on terror’. Flown by pilots sitting in Nevada, these remotely-piloted aircraft can hover over communities for 24 hours a day. With the mere push of a button, individuals on the ground can be targeted and killed.
Why are drones problematic?
As recently recognized by a US Federal Appeals Court, this new technology has allowed and encouraged a radical increase in the use of force abroad, leading to the creation of a global program of assassinations.
The US is currently operating armed drones outside of internationally recognized armed conflicts, where the use of force is only rarely permitted under international law. So far, despite this legal prohibition, the US has executed thousands of people without trial in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
We know that drones frequently injure and kill innocent civilians. It is estimated that as many as 253 of those killed in Pakistan and Yemen were children, and more than 80% of those killed have never been identified by name.
Civilian causalities are often the result of ‘signature strikes’, which target individuals based on apparent patterns of behaviour rather than known identity. A death sentence may be handed down by a drone, simply because of ‘suspicious behaviour’. The US refuses to specify what behaviour earns an individual a place on the ‘Kill List’.
As a result of this uncertainty, communities living under drones live in constant terror. Drones, sometimes in groups of up to five or six, constantly circle overhead. Nobody knows who the next target might be.
Additionally, Reprieve’s investigation into so-called ‘multiple kills’ shows that on average it takes the US three attempts before it successfully kills a high value target. In the process, hundreds of others are killed. For example, in attempting to kill Ayman al Zawahiri, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults, while totally failing to assassinate their target.
Drones ultimately create resentment and anger towards the US, which can be exploited by the very people the US is targeting. The drones program is counter-productive: drones act to radicalize the formerly moderate; swelling numbers of those who pose no threat to the United States.