"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


October 18, 2012

Increasingly, the United States has been relying on drone warfare—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  This has taken place with little public discussion.  Recently, Apple even banned sale of an app called "Drones +" showing GPS data and alerts when the U.S. uses drones to attack a target.  Apple called it "objectionable and crude" (Y! Tech, Aug. 12, 2012).

While not that much is known about the direct effects of drone strikes, some of their indirect consequences are known.  On December 30, 2009, seven CIA agents were killed in SE Afghanistan by a Jordanian double agent in a suicide attack largely motivated by outrage at the U.S. drone campaign.  It was the first time a suicide bomber managed to strike inside a U.S. facility in Afghanistan.  Faisal Shahzad's failed Times Square bomb attack on May 1, 2010, was motivated by a desire to retaliate for drone attacks that killed Taliban leaders in Pakistan.  More recently, the dozens of "green-on-blue" killings in Afghanistan have also been a form of response to drone attacks.

Let's take a closer look at the Times Square incident.  On May 1, 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a U.S. citizen, a former financial analyst with an MBA and a degree in computer science and engineering, attempted to kill Americans in New York City's Times Square with a car bomb.  Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison.  At his arraignment, he said he wanted to "plead guilty 100 times over, because until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan, and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims, and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking U.S., and I plead guilty to that.”  When the judge asked him about the children he might have killed, Shahzad cited U.S. drones in his response:  "Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children; they don’t see anybody.  They kill women, children.  They kill everybody.  It’s a war."  Terrorism, it appears, is in the eye of the beholder.

In the following year, U.S. officials more than doubled the American fleet of Reapers.  (Reapers are larger and faster and more heavily armed than the older Predators.)

According to an analysis by Max Kantar, the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Conventions clearly apply to the United States and its drone policy specifically, and the U.S. is routinely committing war crimes in prosecuting a drone war from Creech Air Force base in Nevada and other sites.  Specifically, the U.S. appears to have been, again and again, almost certainly guilty of "failure to take proper precautions in the interest of protecting civilian life, failing to discriminate between military and civilian objects, disproportionate attacks, extrajudicial executions, committing acts of hostility and violence against places of worship, direct attacks on the civilian population and individual civilians, willful attacks on civilians seeking to provide assistance to the wounded, and making civilian objects the object of attack and reprisal."  And some attacks appear to be launched "for purely political reasons."  All of this is barred under the Geneva Conventions.

Thus although the U.S. says the strikes are "lawful," the drone war run by the CIA (with assistance from the corporation formerly known as Blackwater) appears to violate the Geneva Conventions.  Under international law there is no justification for the killing of a civilian in a country where the United States is not officially at war.  There is internal dissent inside the U.S. national security establishment, based less on legal grounds than on practical ones.  John Arquilla, for example, believes that the long-term blowback from the strikes will eventually exceed their initial pay-off.

Thus with almost no public discussion or even awareness, the U.S. has embarked on a vast and dangerous social experiment performed upon unwilling subjects.  Populations on the opposite side of the world whose countries are not even at war with us live terrorized beneath skies we invisibly control.  We will never know the number of innocents killed in this, the world's first drone war.  Nor will we know all of its consequences.

As President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2009, he was ramping up the drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Conservatives were thrilled to hear him invoke "evil" in Oslo.  But as applied to Afghanistan, the concept is unconvincing.  Are Americans really a righteous people with a right to use armies, bombers, rockets, drones, and mines against people living in other countries who engage in religious practices of which we disapprove and who are deemed evil because they use insurrection, conspiracy, and terrorism to resist us?

The truth is that the United States has embraced drone warfare without sufficient discussion.  United for Peace of Pierce County believes that our nation's embrace of drone warfare is a grave mistake.

The embrace of this way of waging war undermines the Constitution and destabilizes the international system by undermining the principles of the United Nations Charter.  Drone warfare is incompatible with the ideal of the rule of law, which is the only plausible foundation for lasting international peace.

Drone warfare sends us down a slippery slope to targeted assassination without judicial process.  In the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in Yemen by drone on Sept. 30, 2011, the Obama administration has already engaged an extrajudicial execution of an American citizen.  Two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, also an American citizen, was also killed in a drone strike.  Such attacks are a convenient means of eliminating enemies and are bound to prove irresistible to those in power.  Our embrace of drone warfare brings the day closer when it will be used in domestic situations as well.

Drones kill far too many civilians. By their nature they inevitably inflict enormous "collateral damage."  In her book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (OR Books, 2012), Medea Benjamin writes that "According to statistics kept by the New America Foundation, from 2004-2011, between 1,717 and 2,680 individuals were killed, and of those, between 293 and 471 were civilians" (pp. 103-04).  The U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism gives higher figures higher, saying that between 2,562 and 3,325 were killed in that timeframe.  Of those, between 474 and 881 were civilians, 176 of them children (CNN, Sept. 25, 2012).

This problem cannot be solved by declaring (as the Obama administration has) that all those killed are to be considered enemy combatants unless evidence emerges otherwise.  This is nothing but a grotesque modern version of the medieval concept of trial by ordeal, in which the survival of the accused was regarded as proof of innocence and death proved guilt.

Drones dehumanize war in ways that have subtle ramifications.  Like so many modern technologies, the reality of human relations is obscured and often completely lost.  This is the case both for the drone warrior and for the victim.  As a result, a process of demonization on both sides ensues, prolonging and deepening hostilities and misunderstanding.  There is no end to the evil this can produce, as Jeremy Scahill suggested recently when he observed:  "What is happening to this country?  We have become a nation of assassins.  We have become a nation that is somehow silent in the face of the idea that assassination should be one of the centerpieces of U.S. policy” (quoted in a May 2012 article entitled "Five Reasons Drone Assassinations Are Illegal," by Bill Quigley, Janet Mary Riley Distinguished Professor of Law at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law).

Drones will ultimately prove to be counterproductive.  Because the damage they inflict is relatively limited compared to, say, nuclear weapons, they appeal to short-sighted calculators of costs and benefits.  But precisely because of this, their dehumanizing character is more insidiously immoral, and is all but certain to produce asymmetrical blowback effects that the drone warriors are unable to anticipate or even imagine.  One thinks of Thomas Jefferson's remark:  "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just" (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785).

None of these developments is inevitable. In 2009, a coalition known as the Alliance to Resist Robotic Warfare & Society (ARROWS) formed, followed in 2010 by a U.K.-based coalition called the Drone Campaign Network led by Chris Cole, a former director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  This public campaign against drones can lead to a treaty banning drones, just as the International Campaign Against Landmines led to the Mine Ban Treaty that banned landmines in 1997.  We endorse this international movement opposing drone warfare.


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."