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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Drones destroy life, terrorize survivors, are unethical, unlawful; should be banned ─ Medact report

U.S. drone launch

UAVs must be unambiguously written into international treaties; their makers, agents, governments and their leaders must adhere, without exception, to international arms and related treaties, international conventions, humanitarian and human rights laws
Excerpt from Medact report
Editing, minor comment by Carolyn Bennett

“Drones invade personal space and physically and chronically restrict people’s normal life,” says this latest medical professionals’ report on unmanned aerial vehicles. Evidence has shown that the presence of drones contributes to the disruption of vital public health programs. A Taliban leader in Waziristan reported that “polio vaccinations of children in that region will be prevented as long as the as the United States continues to use drones to kill targets there.”
Children and kin suffer

The United States regularly bombs the tribal region where the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan join.

Civilians suffer most

he deaths and injuries suffered by innocent civilians who happen to be in the vicinity of a drone’s target go largely unreported. These men, women and children remain statistics: anonymous and nameless.

The psychological impact on civilians – including many children – who live under the constant threat of drones, is unacceptable, and is not taken into account by those who use them.

Women protest
Evidence is also emerging of damage to the mental health of those who operate UAVs. Watching a target on a computer screen for days, tracking the target’s every move, then pressing a button that will kill [people] and possibly [their] family or friends, can create ‘physical exhaustion,’ ‘high operational stress’ and ‘clinical distress.’

omen are disproportionately affected by drones. What little control they have over their lives is further eroded by a weapon they know could strike at any time. Under constant threat, women try to protect their lives and those of the children. “While men can sublimate their grief and anger to some degree by becoming fighters – one of the terrible consequences of drone warfare – women have no such outlet,” the report says. “And if their [male partners] are killed in a drone strike, women may have to endure the continuing presence of the drone just overhead.”

The degree to which drones contribute to the loss of human dignity is made clear by a description of life in the Gaza Strip (Israel together with the U.S. and UK are leading users of UAVs):

‘The constant surveillance from the sky, collective punishment through blockade and isolation, the intrusion into homes and communications, and restrictions on those trying to travel, or marry, or work make it difficult to live a dignified life in Gaza.’
Somalis under drone attack

RONES: the physical and psychological implications of a global theatre of war” is a report by Medact that describes the journey that led to the proliferation of these weapons and the physical and psychological damage they cause to civilians and to the military personnel who operate them. The report also explores the moral and legal issues raised by the use of drones in ‘legalized’ assassinations or ‘targeted killings.’”

Formed in 1992 by a merger of two older organizations (the 1951 Medical Association for the Prevention of War and the 1980 Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons), Medact is a global health charity that takes on issues at the center of international policy debates.

Led by its health professional membership, Medact undertakes education, research and advocacy on the health implications of conflict, development and environmental change. It focuses on war and weapons … complemented by action on the health impacts of poverty and environmental change. http://www.medact.org/medact_information.php

Drone destruction
Civilian trauma
These are some of the critical issues discussed in Medact’s October 13, 2012, report on drones.

The health professionals who author this report say the reasons for their concern about the increasing use of drones ─ in addition to the number of deaths and injuries of innocent civilians ─ have to do with “the psychological damage to people living under the constant threat of drone attack and to service personnel who carry out the assassinations”; and growing evidence that medical personnel and others who arrive at the scene of drone attacks to assist the injured are also being targeted. “This is a war crime.”

The numbers of civilians killed by drones are only estimates, the report says, the most accurate for Pakistan where estimates range from “light casualties to estimates from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) of large numbers of civilian deaths, including children, family members attending funerals, people on rescue missions and medical personnel.” The number of deaths resulting from drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia as reported by BIJ is between 201 and 213 children killed since 2001; and the total estimated deaths between 2,985 and 4,533.

Drone destruction
Questions of judgment, ethics and morality

“The use of unmanned weaponry necessarily has a corrupting effect on those directing it because it implies that war is being waged only against a few sinister individuals,” the authors write. Viewed in the context of human behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups, the use of this weaponry violates any principle of morality defined as a construct of interrelated other comprising the ability to understand or empathize with your opponent.  “All aerial warfare raises moral and ethical issues,” they write, and the bombing of civilians raises moral issues for those who direct the operations as well as for those who execute the attacks [the authors do not include but should, in my view: the moral and ethical breach of those who decide and who order these operations and executions].

“Drones,” they conclude, “could lead to a world of globalised warfare, in which people may find themselves within a theatre of war literally anywhere on the planet.”

Surely this can be characterized as enslavement, endless torture: the ultimate inhumanity of human beings to other human beings.

United Nations
Questions of law

Claims of legality and accuracy of these weapons are simply untrue, this report suggests. In situations of actual armed conflict, the Geneva Conventions and other rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) apply. The Geneva Conventions developed in 1949 as a result of the Second World War codified “general principles with clear implications for aerial bombardment ─ in particular the need for attacks to be proportional to their anticipated military advantage, and to discriminate between combatants and civilians.”

The Obama government’s claim “that killing, using military force outside of armed conflict zones, is lawful under international law,” the authors report, is a “baseless” claim. “Indeed while theatre specific conventions relating to war on land and at sea exist in international law, no such conventions apply to aerial warfare.”

The claim that armed drones can be more accurate than other weapons of aerial warfare at discriminating between combatants and civilians, and are thus more likely to conform to IHL is also untrue. The report states:
Evidence of accuracy is not always borne out in reality, and identifying ‘suspicious behavior’ from aerial observation can lead to mistakes.

Moreover, the fact that the U.S. drones program classifies as possible militants all military aged men within the area of a drone strike greatly increases the risk of civilian deaths, and the likelihood that attacks will be indiscriminate under International Humanitarian Law.

International Human Rights Law (IHRL) also applies in a country experiencing conflict but where conflict had not been officially declared. A government can suspend some (but not all) of these rights if there is a national emergency that could be caused by an ‘unofficial’ conflict. 

A right “that cannot be suspended is the ‘right not arbitrarily to be deprived of one’s life.’

“If attacks by armed drones were shown to be arbitrary, they would then be considered illegal depending on the definition of ‘arbitrary.’ The International Court of Justice has ruled in one case that this should be decided by the law applicable in situations of declared armed conflict (‘lex specialis’),” thus returning to the argument of International Humanitarian Law and its core principles of proportionality and discrimination.

laims that the military benefit justifies the risk of civilian death and injury, that accuracy of drones increases their ability to be more ‘proportional’ (civilians in proportion to “militants” or vice versa) is a flawed argument as is the “imminent” attack argument.

Peoples of the Middle East and Africa who suffer the brunt of U. S. aggression (from the ground, air or sea) never have been and never will be an imminent threat or danger to the people or possessions of the United States of America.

The authors use an example of moral justification claimed in a decision to kill ten innocent civilians who happen to be in the same building as the “target” because it is believed the “target” may be planning to kill 100 people in the future, which serves to encourage the use of assassination drones.  “Given that the majority of these attacks are pre-emptive, that intelligence may be inaccurate, and observation misleading” makes clear “the slippery slope [that] leads to the death of civilians.

International Criminal Court 
One purpose of law,” they point out, “is to determine accountability:

Who is to blame when a mistake is made and civilians are killed due to incorrect intelligence, possibly obtained under duress or provided with alternative motives?

Who is to judge the likelihood – and therefore proportionality – of that action when an attack is carried out in anticipation of an action?

“These issues muddy the waters not only of the legal, but also the moral and ethical situation.”

Background of an accelerating depravity, breakdown

n the past decade, proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) commonly known as ‘drones’ has skyrocketed.

Before the World Trade Center events of September 11, 2001, the United States Air force began experimenting with armed drones. In 2001, a Hellfire missile was successfully fired from a Predator drone at a stationary target in the Nevada Desert and the same year a CIA-operated Predator drone was used in combat for the first time to assassinate an alleged al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, in Afghanistan.

In succeeding years, the United States has used drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Iraq. Israel has reportedly used armed drones in Gaza. The United Kingdom has used them in Afghanistan. Now, more than seventy-five countries are thought to possess some type of drone.

Children suffer most
as does the future
Three countries (the United States, Britain, and Israel) are known to have used armed drones in combat, the report says; but Singapore, India, China and Russia have developed or purchased drones; and, in the coming decade, the annual drone market (U.S. leading next eight years’ spending $32 billion, Asia Pacific nations following) is expected to rise from $5.9 billion to $11.3 billion.

Plans are on the drawing board “for drones to become increasingly automated, with the ability to fly pre-programmed missions and eventually select their own targets,” the report says.

The future may see solar-powered drones and drones that can take off vertically from ships.

Blueprints for the production of nuclear-powered drones, capable of staying airborne for months at a time, were drawn up [but then] shelved in anticipation of negative public opinion] by the U.S. government’s main R and D agency Sandia National Laboratories.

The report’s list of countries involved in the export and development of drones (taken from Drone Wars UK) include:  

ISRAEL (Directly exported: Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, India, Mexico, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey; Helped to develop: Finland, France, Switzerland, UK)

U.S. drone
UNITED STATES (Directly exported: Belgium, Egypt, Italy, Morocco, Turkey, UK;
Helped to develop: Germany)

FRANCE (Directly exported: Greece, Netherlands, Sweden)

SOUTH AFRICA (Directly exported: Sri Lanka)

onsidering drones from a public health perspective reveals: the human cost of their use, the moral and ethical issues raised by ‘targeted killings’ and their dubious legal status,” the authors conclude their report with recommendations.

“Drone strikes are frequently based on an ‘imminent threat’ and potentially inaccurate intelligence, in situations of highly asymmetric conflict (violent conflict between a formal military and an informal, poorly-equipped, but resilient opponent).

“Far from defeating terrorism, drone attacks appear to act as a recruiting agent ─ including for suicide missions.”

The Medact report recommends greater parliamentary and public scrutiny of the use of drones, the inclusion of these UAVs in arms reduction treaties, and the end to further automation in their operations. As Medact is a UK organization, the report calls on their government in particular to stop purchasing, developing and deploying armed drones. Others in the United States, including 2012 U.S. presidential candidate and physician Jill Stein (Green Party), have made a similar call as well for a binding international treaty.

 “We believe,” the report concludes, “that it is in the public interest and in the interest of our armed forces that there should be more transparency, parliamentary scrutiny, and public debate on ─

How drone strikes are planned
How targets are chosen
Who is targeted and why

Sources and notes

“Drones: the physical and psychological implications of a global theatre of war,” October 13, 2012, http://www.medact.org/content/wmd_and_conflict/medact_drones_WEB.pdf


1910 U.S. air force experimental bombing
Sandbags over the sides of planes

1911 Ain Zara Libya
Hand dropped bomb

1914-18 World War 1
The aeroplane is the new battlefield weapon

1937 Spanish Civil War
Air raid on Guernica kills over 200 civilians

1944-45 World War II
‘Doddlebugs’ or V1s – a prototype UAV

Mid 1950 United States
V1 developed into surface to surface cruise missile – a ‘pilotless bomber’

1955-75 Vietnam War
Remotely Piloted Vehicles developed

1973 Yom Kippur War
Drones used to draw fire

1990-91 Gulf War
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones used for surveillance

1999 War in Kosovo
UAVs used for surveillance

2001 Conflict in Afghanistan
February: first test of an armed UAV.
November: first assassination using an armed UAV

2007 Conflict in Afghanistan
British forces start to use UAVs

2002-2012 Armed UAVs used for assassinations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen

2012 An estimated 76 countries have some sort of UAV
First British UAV base being set up at RAF Waddington
President Obama supervises a ‘kill list’ to decide which individuals are targeted.

Beyond 2020 Prospect of rapid proliferation
Development of more autonomous UAVs including possible self selection of targets

PRESS RELEASE: On October 13th Medact launched its report “Drones: the physical and psychological implications of a global theatre of war,” http://www.medact.org/article_health.php?articleID=990

Drone report authors: Marion Birch – Director Medact; Gay Lee – Nurse and Medact Board member; Tomasz Pierscionek – Academic Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry and Medact Board member

Advisors: Chris Cole – Coordinator of Drone Wars UK and Convenor, Drone Campaign Network; Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell – Robert and Marion Short Chair in Law and  Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution, Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame; Dominick Jenkins – Independent Consultant; Miri Weingarten– Physicians for Human Rights-Israel

Editor: Alison Whyte – Medact; Design: Sue MacDonald – SMD Design

Published by Medact 2012 : The Grayston Centre, 28 Charles Squre, London N1 6HT, United Kingdom; E info@medact.org; www.medact.org; Registered charity 1081097 Company reg no 2267125; Medact is the UK affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW); © Medact 2012, Medact: http://www.medact.org/medact_information.php

Dr. Jill Stein, 2012 Green Party candidate for U.S. presidency, has called for an international treaty on drones
Jill Stein and Gary Johnson Debate Transcript (by Alex Gauthier) on 10/19/2012, IVN Online Debate, http://ivn.us/editors-blog/2012/10/19/jill-stein-and-gary-johnson-debate-transcript/?replytocom=1572

See also on drones: RootsAction, “an independent online initiative dedicated to galvanizing Americans who are committed to economic fairness, equal rights, civil liberties, environmental protection ─ and defunding endless wars,” http://www.rootsaction.org/about-rootsaction

Asymmetric warfare

Asymmetric warfare describes what is also called ‘guerrilla warfare,’ ‘insurgency,’ ‘terrorism,’ ‘counterinsurgency,’ and ‘counterterrorism,’ essentially violent conflict between a formal military and an informal, poorly-equipped, but resilient opponent:  “war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly”; struggles involving strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the weaker combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asymmetric_warfare


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