Drone attacks kill innocents and create enemies. This is precisely what the American war industry wants: endless supply of enemies for endless war.
Debate within the US about the use of killer drones has obfuscated the real purpose of such attacks. Using fancy expressions like “playbook” for authorizing drone strikes that kill people suspected by the US of being militants has added to the fog of confusion. Amid all the verbal gymnastics, one point that has seldom if ever been raised is the real reason for drone strikes: to stoke anti-American sentiment that creates more militants thereby justifying the never-ending war on terror. After all, it is impossible to continue to wage war without identifiable enemies. Drone attacks are “helpful” from the US point of view because they kill innocent people in remote areas, especially the tribal areas of Pakistan that increase people’s resentment and anti-American feelings. This is precisely what the Washington warlords want. Endless war requires an endless list of enemies. If they do not exist, create them. Enter the killer drones.
Estimates about the number of people killed by drone strikes carried out by the CIA vary. The Washington-based New America Foundation report has said there have been 350 US drone strikes since 2004, most of them during Barack Obama’s presidency. The foundation has put the death toll at between 1,963 and 3,293, with 261 to 305 civilians killed. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates the death toll at between 2,627 and 3,457 in Pakistan since 2004. These include 475 to 900 civilians. The US Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said on February 20, 2013 that 4,700 people had been killed in drone strikes. He was unapologetic about the killings. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaeda,” Graham added, without naming which al-Qaeda members had been eliminated.
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia — claiming that they target “terrorists.” According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to civilian casualties. Jennifer Gibson, a staff lawyer with the British-based charity Reprieve asked: “how do you prove you’re innocent after they have killed you?” The “excellent intelligence” the US cites for carrying out drone strikes is based on dubious information. Often, local informants that are given locator (targeting) chips to put near militants actually put them near the wall of the homes of those with whom they have family feuds. Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Civilians in Conflict, has confirmed this in an interview. American officials as well as the CIA stubbornly deny any civilian casualties.
The Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law’s comprehensive report on Pakistan, “Living Under Drones” has listed scores of family members of civilians killed in drone strikes. The UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, a British barrister, has launched an investigation into 25 cases of drone strikes and targeted killings. Emmerson’s investigtion includes US, Israeli and British drone strikes in Pakistan, Gaza and Afghanistan. In March, Emmerson issued a damning report about extraordinary renditions, waterboarding and other forms of torture by US forces and called for war crimes trial of those officials responsible for authorizing such practices. In the case of drone strikes, Emmerson will examine Washington’s “double tap” policy that attacks a target a second time, while rescuers and paramedics are working to save survivors. Such strikes deliberately target civilians and are categorized as murders.
Whether the US would be deterred by UN censure is debatable. After all, American officials know full well that they are involved in a murderous campaign in which killing civilians is part of a deliberate policy. Civilian casualties are not collateral damage, even though making such claims may mollify some Americans; they are an essential part of keeping the war going endlessly.