U.S. drone attacks are imprecise, counterproductive

By Coleen Rowley, Guest Columnist

Camp Ripley Commander Col. Scott A. St. Sauver made some valid points in his opinion piece, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems save lives, money” (Sept. 28). He also put some spin on the lethal and counterproductive aspects.

As worldwide drone attacks escalate, and our nation is further militarized, peace-minded citizens question the ethical and legal nature of the deadly drone program. St. Sauver denied that National Guard members train and use “predator” drones for offensive purposes at Camp Ripley, but he didn’t deny their surveillance drones are used in connection with lethal missions on “the battlefield” — now expanded to encompass at least six countries.

Although the Obama Administration has shrouded the program in secrecy, it’s been revealed that drone strikes are highly collaborative efforts involving teams of people located on various bases across the world. In fact, hundreds of personnel may be involved in a single strike operation (which undercuts the argument that they are cheap).

Researchers at Stanford and New York universities recently produced a report “Living Under Drones” that challenges official accounts of U.S. military drones as precise instruments of high-tech warfare with few adverse consequences.

It reveals, instead, that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed many innocent civilians, including an estimated 176 children, thus fueling widespread public resentment and recruitment of militant fighters. Although Administration officials champion the use of remotely operated drones for assassinating Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, the study concludes that only about 2 percent of drone casualties are such top leaders.

Drone activity around the clock has “terrorized” the civilians in Pakistan’s tribal areas, leaving families too frightened to attend weddings, funerals and other community gatherings or to send their children to school. The strikes also cause property damage, severe economic hardship and emotional trauma for the injured.

Nor do legal scholars agree with Col. St. Sauver’s description of the predator drone attacks as lawful. They are increasingly viewed as a violation of the United Nations charter as well as other international and human rights law.

The Obama Administration’s secret memos justifying drone warfare could even be as shoddily drafted as those written for the Bush Administration when it attempted to condone waterboarding and other torture. When the “torture memos” were finally made public, they had to be withdrawn and the evidence destroyed.

Recently a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, Eric Posner, wrote: “Obama’s Drone Dilemma — the killings probably aren’t legal — not that they’ll stop.” The Pakistan Foreign Ministry reportedly lodged an official protest with the U.S. stating that drone strikes Oct. 10 – 11, that claimed more than 20 lives, were in clear violation of International Law and Pakistan’s sovereignty.

No one objects to the use of drone technology being used domestically to watch for forest fires, signs of flooding or for search and rescue operations. However, the International Association of Chiefs of Police is concerned – and rightly so – about the potential arming of some of the 30,000 domestic drones for which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects to grant licenses by 2020. When (conservative) police chiefs go on record opposing the arming of these domestic drones, we think American citizens should be concerned.

In the deluded pursuit of “war made easy,” the U.S. military and CIA are not only setting illegal precedent, but they have also sparked a new international arms race. Seventy-six foreign countries have developed or are in the process of acquiring drone technology.

It’s not hard to answer a journalist’s question, “Will blowback from drone warfare end up killing Americans?”

American servicemen, as well as allied troops, already have been killed mistakenly.

It’s just a matter of time until foreign countries armed with drones use them against U.S. civilians.

Coleen Rowley is a resident of Apple Valley and joined anti-drone demonstrators outside Camp Ripley Sept. 21, “International Peace Day.”