By: The Economist
This interesting write up I found was posted on The Economist webpage. It has a different perspective as to the drone attacks used in Pakistan. Why can’t our government take claim to what they have consented upon? Or even the Pakistan Army for that matter? I understand public opinion in regards to the drone attacks, but then why haven’t we voiced our opinion to a point where a democratic government listens to us?
The idea that the government ought to issue a declaration of war and submit it to Congress for a vote before it deploys armed force to kill people in foreign countries has come to seem rather quaint in recent decades. Nowadays we don’t declare war; we issue authorisations for the use of military force. (Declaring war on a country is such a hostile way of putting things, really.) Nevertheless, America’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq did have a clear legal basis, having been explicitly authorised by Congress. The ongoing drone-launched missile strikes on al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan take things a step further; no one has ever been asked to vote on them. Yet in the history of the discussion over whether or not the drone strikes in Pakistan are a good idea, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone ask where the CIA or the president get the authority for them. Now, reports Spencer Ackerman, the ACLU is asking:
“The American public has a right to know whether the drone program is consistent with international law, and that all efforts are made to minimize the loss of innocent lives,” said Jonathan Manes, a legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. “The Obama administration has reportedly expanded the drone program, but it has not explained publicly what the legal basis for the program is, what limitations it recognizes on the use of drones outside active theaters of war and what the civilian casualty toll has been thus far.”
Today, the AP reports, a new drone strike killed ten more Taliban militants, and Philip Alston, a UN investigator, is asking the same questions as the ACLU. He contrasts the Pakistan strikes to those in Afghanistan, which operate under clear rules of engagement:
“The whole program is so secretive that we have very little information to evaluate whether the United States is honoring its obligations under the Geneva convention,” he said, citing requirements to target only combatants and avoid civilian casualties and other rules of war.
A Pakistani organisation’s report this week found 667 civilians had been killed in the drone strikes in 2009.
It’s far from unprecedented for America to carry out airstrikes without explicit legal authority, particularly in the context of terrorism. Bill Clinton hit al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Sudan with cruise missiles. Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli in retaliation for an allegedly Libyan-backed explosion in a Berlin nightclub. The longevity of the drone-strike campaign in Pakistan, and the targeting of individual al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, makes this quite different; it’s like a combination of Richard Nixon’s secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia and Laos, and the Mossad’s long war of assassination against Palestinian terrorists.
But what really distinguishes the drone strike campaign in Pakistan is that the strikes are being carried out on the territory of a nominally friendly country. Pakistan’s president and foreign minister complained yesterday about the strikes, while Carl Levin, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, complained about the Pakistani complaining, which he says is a fig leaf to placate their disapproving public. The entire process seems to result from systematic governmental attempts on all sides to evade any kind of responsibility. The Pakistani government doesn’t want to take responsibility for eliminating Taliban insurgents in the unruly bits of its own territory. The American government doesn’t want to take responsibility for invading those unruly bits, so it carries out pseudo-secret drone strikes without describing or explaining them. The Pakistani government doesn’t want to take responsibility for allowing those American drone strikes, so it complains about them. Everyone preserves plausible deniability; everyone evades legal and democratic accountability. It’s perfect.