Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Unmanned Drones: Our Lives at Risk

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013, Big Bear Lake, California. The charred remains of suspected cop murderer and ex-Los Angeles police officer Christopher Jordan Dorner lie on the floor of a burning cabin. How did the fire start? Police say it was an accident involving a flash-bang setting the place ablaze. Perhaps it wasn't the flash-bang, but the result of the first drone attack on U.S. soil? Drones had been launched to search the area for Dorner. Without due process, Dorner was executed and burned by the newest threat to the American people: The Unmanned Drone.

An unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Its flight is controlled either autonomously by computers in the vehicle, or under the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. Drones were simple remotely piloted aircraft, but autonomous control is increasingly being employed. They are deployed predominantly for military applications, preferred for missions that are too "dull, dirty, or dangerous" for manned aircraft.

You may ask, 'What's wrong with Drones? Couldn't they prevent the next Sept. 11?' Perhaps, but at what cost?

Between 2006 and 2009, drone-launched missiles killed 750-1,000 people in Pakistan. Of those, about 20 people were said to be leaders of al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated groups. Overall, 66% to 68% of the people killed were militants, 31% to 33% were civilians. U.S. officials disputed the percentage for civilians. Why the discrepancy? The Obama administration refuses to release the documents detailing Drone usage. However, the administration has made one thing clear, Drones would be only used if the target was "an imminent threat" to the U.S. That means people can be killed off and ON U.S. soil, without due process using these Drones. You, me, anyone can be killed if we are deemed 'an imminent threat.' It's time to be afraid.

Questions have been raised about the accuracy of the targeting of Drones. The following are some scary facts:
  • April 2002: Four Canadian soldiers were killed and eight were injured by a U.S. Drone when it dropped a bomb on them during a night training. 
  • March 2009: The Guardian reported Israeli Drones killed 48 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, including two small children in a field and a group of women and girls in an otherwise empty street. 
  • June: Human Rights Watch investigated six attacks which was reported to have resulted in civilian casualties, and alleged that Israeli forces either failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that the targets were combatants, or failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians. 
  • July 2009: Brookings Institution reported that United States-led drone attacks in Pakistan, ten civilians died for every militant killed. 
  • July 2009: S. Azmat Hassan, a former ambassador of Pakistan, said that 35 or 40 Drone attacks only killed 8 or 9 top al-Qaeda operatives. 
  • October 2009: The CIA claimed to have killed more than half of the 20 most wanted al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in targeted killings using drones. 
  • January 1, 2009 - December 31, 2009: Pakistani authorities released statistics indicating U.S. drone strikes have killed over 700 innocent civilians. 
  • January 2010: 123 innocent civilians killed in Pakistan. 
  • May 2010: counter-terrorism officials said that drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas had killed more than 500 militants since 2008, and no more than 30 (5%) nearby civilians. A Pakistani intelligence officer gave a higher estimate of civilian casualties, saying 20% of total deaths were civilians or non-combatants. 
  • February 24, 2010: New America Foundation says the civilian fatality rate since 2004 is approximately 32%. The study reports that 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to present killed between 830 to 1210 individuals, around 550 to 850 of whom were militants. 
  • 2012: the USAF trained more drone pilots than ordinary jet fighter pilots for the first time. 
  • February 2013: U.S. senator Lindsey Graham stated that 4,756 people have been killed by U.S. Drones. 

Although it may never be known how many civilians have died as a result of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, there are estimates of hundreds or thousands of innocent bystanders who have perished in such attacks. The website PakistanBodyCount.Org (by Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, a Fulbright Scholar at the Florida Institute of Technology) shows 1065 civilian deaths between June 2004 to January 30, 2010 and tallying 103 drone strikes carried out by the United States and over 1000 civilians have been injured. This evidence runs counter to the Obama administration's claim that "nearly for the past year there hasn't been a single collateral death" due to drone attacks.

After more than 30 drone strikes hit civilian homes in Afghanistan in 2012, President Hamid Karzai demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia that are not in war zones. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has criticized such use of drones, "We don't know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks...This would have been unthinkable in previous times."

While Congress rapidly moves ahead to authorize further use of domestic drones, many remain skeptical regarding concerns of rights violations and safety. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on January 10, 2012 against the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result of the lawsuit, the FAA released for the first time a list of the names of all public and private entities that have applied for authorizations to fly drones domestically. Some of these government licenses belong to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a component of the Department of Homeland Security. Drones have been used by CBP to patrol of United States borders since 2005, and the Agency currently owns 10 drones.

In Florida v. Riley, the United States Supreme Court held that individuals on their own private property do not have right to privacy from police observation from public airspace.

On February 24, 2012, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, joined by over 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public, submitted a petition to the FAA requesting a public rule-making on the privacy impact of drone use in US airspace. In June 2012, Senator Rand Paul and Representative Austin Scott both introduced legislation that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using a drone to conduct criminal surveillance. EPIC has stated that transparency and accountability must be built into the FAA's system of drone regulation in order to provide basic protections to the public.

Who will be the next victim of the Drones? When will we stand up against these attacks?

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