October 22, 2013.
There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.Read the rest here.
Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.
Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.” However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.
The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.
*****Comment: I am hesitant - and for good reason - to get excited about the noise that Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) are making about the US, drones and war crimes.
And the more I read the coverage and reports by both organizations I can see that the argument offered above by David Swanson is not only persuasive but on the mark.
What we are witnessing at this early stage is not a movement to hold Obama and his henchmen/women responsible for killing innocents with drones. At least not a meaningful anti-imperial movement being spearheaded by AI and HRW.
Rather the implied line is about establishing fair use guidelines - a kind of self regulation of drone use. This is to say the perpetrator (the US) is being asked to set guideline or laws for using drones. The perpetrator is not being held accountable for acts of war or human rights violations that have sanction in international law - whether by treaty or convention.
So, the position being taken is careful - perhaps deceitfully mindful not to tick off the empire.
What emerges is the suggestion that international law may have been violated and prosecution may be an option. How vague and without teeth.
A stronger position - rather a more vibrant human rights based position - would be to condemn all acts of undeclared drone warfare particularly those that target undefined combatants and lead to civilian casualties.
Or, just condemn drone killings period and call for a movement to hold Obama and company responsible for crimes against humanity - and move towards declaring drones illegal when used to kill.
Instead we have a limp stand - a posturing in the face of murder and gross human rights violations.
We should not be fooled by this cosmetic parade by AI and HRW.
Obama and company deserve to be prosecuted for war crimes - Bush and company too.