SPEAKING FREELY America's truth-seeking drone program
By Elliot Saunders
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
The events of September 11, 2001, serve as a painful reminder that the use unlawful use of force, as designated by the World Court for acts of terrorism, resulted in the costly loss of innocent life. Since Western leaders condemned such acts as wrong and unlawful, it is only logical that Western nations follow by example by avoiding (engaging in) aggressive attacks on foreign lands that our enemies would rightfully condemn.
Ironically, America's retaliatory response to al-Qaeda militants (who orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Center) has
been to engage in morally and legally questionable air bombing missions through its aerial assault, drone strike program that kills innocent people.
This short paper will argue that such attacks on foreign lands represents a high level of hypocrisy. Would the attack on the World Trade Center be justifiable because the terrorist's grievances (as a motivator) were severe - an act of retaliation that sits outside international law?
The international community of industrialized, Western countries gathered to condemn the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The al-Qaeda enemy who orchestrated the attacks claimed that they were carried out in revenge for the highly militarized presence of American troops in Arab lands that threatens its sovereignty - as America could launch military actions of neighboring states.
America's military actions in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries began long before 2001 and newly populated bases in the Middle East greatly increased America's ability to strike quicker and more frequently, if needed. In 2003, the US quietly removed its troops from bases in Saudi Arabia while starting ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a military response.
President Barrack Obama took office in 2008 and he made an unprecedented decision to unfreeze an unmanned, aerial assault plane, drone program to attack al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan, a tactical decision not exercised by his predecessor George W Bush. In short, the program aims to secretly send unmanned bombers (planes) to bomb targets - people thought to be al-Qaeda militants.
To do this, the CIA would first collect information from Afghan locals or captured prisoners who provided tips as to the whereabouts of people the US might wish to kill. Secondly, the US military would target those suspects with aerial surveillance mission.
Lastly, the drones would be launched to bomb the building or car where the suspects were thought to be located. In many cases, bombing missions have resulted in failure and tragedy as innocent people have been falsely targeted due to misinformation collected beforehand.
In one example outlined in Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, a journalistic writing about America's drone strike program, the 15-year-old son of a suspected terrorist, Anwar Al-Awlaki, was killed by a drone missile while having a picnic with his teenager friends near his family house.
The intelligence about the son was incorrect as it assumed he was an adult who followed in his father's (suspected) terrorist footsteps. In reality, the 16-year-old rarely saw his father who was estranged, for years, from the family household.
The White House response to this killing was to further engage in the misinformation that the teen was an adult with bad intentions. The reality is that their information about the teen was circumstantial based on qualitative information that was false. Furthermore, the information gathered could not be substantiated to the point that this teen could be convicted in a court of law.
Many logistical and legal questions arise. First, it's illegal to secretly enter the airspace of a foreign, sovereign country to engage in bombing missions. Second, the bombing missions target people who are thought to be terrorists based on qualitative testimonials from people under stress, pressure and torture from CIA and US military agents.
As an underlying framework of understanding, these testimonials from local civilians and tortured prisoners would not be enough evidence to convict a suspect in an American court of law. As a point of reference, George W Bush refused to allow the drone strike program to be used because of the illegal nature associated with secretly dropping bombs over countries.
These international laws are the same laws that would forbid a bomb attack over American soil if enemies from foreign nations sought to eliminate American citizens it suspected as criminals living in the US.
Since American politicians and citizens alike condemned the attack of the World Trade Center, we should observe the same law that recognizes al-Qaeda's attacks as illegal, and our drone strike attacks that are illegal under international law. If we wish to engage in illegal attacks then we must expect that attacks on American soil are also justifiable, if the grievances are real and even if the pretext is misguided and misinformed.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Elliot Saunders is an Environmental Justice student at Harvard University. He spent seven years as an English instructor at universities in South Korea and served as an official spokesman for the former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.