US Drone Strikes Not as “Limited” as Obama’s UN Speech Claims

In his address to the UN last night in the 68th Session of the General Assembly, President Barrack Obama claimed much in support of his country’s human rights efforts.

However much of what he claimed was either disingenuous or simply untrue. Putting aside the fact he claims that his administration is “working” to close Guantanamo Bay (05:00) which after 5 years of promises seems quite a stretch, or the bizarre statement that the international coalition had “achieved its mission” in Afghanistan (04:25), though I am not certain what war President Obama has been watching or even how he brought up reviewing how the US gathers intelligence, ie mass surveillance by the NSA, (05:20) as though this was their idea not something they were forced into by the Snowden revelations.

I could even overlook the insane and baseless claim that the world is “more stable” now than it was 5 years ago (05:32) and lump it and all those other claims in with the usual American political rhetoric that we have grown to disdain quietly if he had not attempted to downplay and justify the American use of drone strikes in the middle east.

Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013
Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013

“We have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing imminent threat to the Unite States, where capture is not feasible and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.” – Barrack Obama (04:40 )

This statement concerns me because this is apparently the limited stance. Does that mean that they were used in situations outside of these perimeters before? Even aside from that, how do you define a “threat”? What gives the US the right to kill indiscriminately those they consider a “threat” without any trial in a court of law.

And those legal and ethical concerns are only under the assumption that it is true that the US work not to injure civilians in their drone strikes which is not supported by the evidence, particularly in Yemen and Pakistan which have born the brunt of US drones.

August 1st on the very day that President Obama sat down in talks with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Washington, four Yemeni citizens were killed in Hadhramout providence who appear to have been civilians. One of the victims was 21-year-old Saleh Saed bin Ishaq, who was survived by his wife and a young daughter, on his way home from buying his family new clothes for Eid.

These attacks occur within weeks of the anniversaries of two high profile civilian deaths by US drone strike from August 2012. One of them, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was a prominent anti-al-Qaeda preacher. Just two days before his death he denounced the group publicly. The other was his nephew, a young policemen Waleed Abdullah bin Ali Jaber. They were also killed in Hadhramout province.

Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber

Many commentators, including Baraa Shiban, a writer for al Jazeera from whom I got the dates and names above, argue that these strikes rather than curbing al-Qaeda’s activities simply grow their support base by giving them legitimate grievances to cite against the US.

Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani who founded Tawq, Yemen’s Democratic Awakening Movement two years ago is also a political analyst. He said in a statement to Alternet journalists:

“In the fight against al-Qaeda and the extremism it represents, we can do it the easy way, by killing, and thus have to do it again and again, or the hard way and really solve the problem. To truly fight al-Qaeda and similar groups, we must deal with the root causes of its growth – poverty, injustice, lack of rule of law…and drone strikes.”

Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, a group of diverse political opinions brought together to work on a new Yemeni constitution voted 90% in favour of banning drone strikes. Delegates said that the US were violating Yemeni sovereignty and undermining the rule of law which was completely counter-productive in combating militant groups such as al-Qaeda.

Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)
Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)

Pakistan has seen 110 people killed by US drone strikes in this year alone despite the Pakistani government’s numerous protests to Washington that this was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

It is difficult to really know how many civilians are killed in drone attacks as the US government has proven in the last year that they feel no obligation to disclosed such information. The cover up of the deaths of the Reuters journalists in Iraq uncovered through WikiLeaks begs the question how we can trust the US military to disclose accurate information.

During the election campaign in 2012 PolicyMic reported that the CIA wanted to increase the use of drones despite independent reports stating that: “estimates as high as 98% of drone strike casualties being civilians (50 for every one “suspected terrorist”). The Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report detailing how the CIA is deliberately targeting those who show up after the sight of an attack, rescuers, and mourners at funerals as a part of a “double-tap” strategy eerily reminiscent of methods used by terrorist groups like Hamas.” This tactic of killing those who arrive after the initial attack was also seen in the WikiLeaks video.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism then released a leaked CIA document which estimated that civilians killed in Pakistan since drone strikes began there were much higher than previously realised. The document details 75 drone attacks carried out in Pakistan between 2006 and 2009 by the CIA and a further 5 attacks by Nato or other unspecified forces.

Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.

Which begs the question how and why we should trust the assurance of an administration that has continuously disregarding international law, executes foreign citizens without trial or cooperation from the nation in question and yet use the rhetoric of human right while aping a grotesque pantomime of diplomacy.

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