The Obama Administration continues to use unmanned drones as a tool of war a tool that according The New York Times, the Administration claims has killed 600 militants in Pakistan and no civilians since May 2010. But the math doesn't add up.
A recent report released by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that at least 2,292 people have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. The Bureau estimates that of that number, over 350 are civilians. A July 2009 Brookings Institution report stated ten civilians die for every one suspected militant from U.S. drone strikes. Yet another study by the New American Foundation concluded that out of 114 drone attacks in Pakistan, at least 32% of those killed by the strikes were civilians.
President Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones over the past several years, authorizing more drone strikes during his first fifteen months in office than President Bush did during the entirety of his eight years in office. In addition to the use of drones in Pakistan, the Administration has authorized strikes in Yemen and Somalia. The increasing reliance on drones and the lack of recourse for the families of innocent civilians that are killed by such strikes demonstrate the impunity with which the U.S. uses this technology.
Challenging the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan and calling to light their indiscriminate nature is vital to prevent a dangerous precedent from being set that would allow international law and the laws of war to be stretched to justify strikes elsewhere. The legal justification for their use in Pakistan can and will be used to justify their use in other countries. Under this legal framework, the battlefield could be stretched to include anywhere in the world.
Drone attacks can only serve to undermine our moral standing in the world, and foment anger and resentment toward the United States. We have spent years in Afghanistan and Iraq under the guise of nurturing democracy and the rule of law while at the same time, our use of unmanned drones severely undermines the rule of law.