No laws for drones

November 22, 2009 at 12:00 am (Pakistan, Politics) ()

By Brian Cloughley

from Daily Times

Obama’s policy is clear: drone-launched missile attacks will continue inside the territory of any nation because he considers that international custom and law do not apply to America. He is endorsing a dreadful precedent, and may well come to regret his decision to permit these illegal forays

During the Bush regime, we became accustomed to the United States dealing contemptuously with the world. Patronising insults and brutal military assaults were the norm, and no attention was paid to those who protested against destruction of people and property if these were in some manner deemed a threat in the absurd ‘war on terror’. Bush’s Washington thought it had a heaven-sent right to declare that countries were “with us or against us”, and Israel, which was especially “with us”, had total support for its vicious treatment of the Palestinian people.

When Barack Obama was elected president, it was expected that the era of the kill-crazy cowboys would end. The CIA would be reined in and illegal killings within the territory of foreign nations would cease. There would be an end to torture as state policy, and international law and custom would apply — and respect for America would at least be partially restored.


As if to underline a new approach, it was announced that in Iraq, an unarmed Iranian surveillance drone was shot down by US aircraft on February 25. Quite right, too: it had no right to fly over a foreign country. That was a gross violation of national sovereignty.

Alas for even-handedness, in an equally blatant violation of another nation’s autonomy, armed US drones continue their unlawful intrusions into Pakistan’s airspace, killing at will. As reported in the Guardian, “Sources in the US administration confirmed that the White House has received recommendations from the military about an escalation in the use of the CIA’s unmanned drones to launch missile attacks [in Pakistan].”

So much for international decency. Protests from Islamabad are ignored — although these may not be genuine. Perhaps they are a matter of form, covering up an agreement that the CIA drones can continue to kill people on Pakistan’s soil. We don’t know about this — but if American fighters can shoot down a foreign drone over Iraq, why can’t Pakistan’s fighters shoot down foreign drones over Pakistan?

The Pakistan Air Force is capable of shooting down any intruder in a heartbeat. So why doesn’t it do so? After all, the then Chief of Air Staff said last year that “First this nation, you [media] people, our parliament, our government, has to debate how we have to engage the foreign UAVs, whether we have to engage them diplomatically and politically to resolve it, or engage them militarily.” That is concise. But US drones continue their missile attacks in Pakistan.

The people killed illegally by the US within Pakistan could well have been evil. The world may be a better place for their being blasted to unidentifiable blood-streaked gobbets of flesh by CIA missiles. But we don’t know, because no evidence is ever provided by the killers. They say they know who is guilty (in their terms); so act as judge, jury and executioner.

But that is not the whole point: the problem is that if one country, no matter how righteous (or self-righteous), is allowed by the rest of the world to act in this manner, without reference or deference to the elected government of the nation it targets, the slide to global anarchy is made easier. You can’t have different laws and standards for different countries.

The UN Charter is precise. Article 2(4) states that “All Members shall refrain…from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

It couldn’t be made more clear, as it was during a TV talk show last week, when Ahmer Bilal Soofi, an expert in international law, said much the same, and pointed out that US domestic legislation authorising military action against 9/11 terrorists has no relevance internationally.

In the Bush years, the UN Organisation was weakened immensely by Washington’s dismissive treatment of its ideals and purposes. And certainly the UN is a markedly imperfect organisation. Many General Assembly performances are more Disney than dialogue. But this does not mean that the world’s most powerful country should demonstrate immature frustration by flouting international conventions. UN member nations are accountable to the world at large; and the more powerful they are, the deeper their responsibilities. This should be the basis of civilised international relations.

So what next in international terms concerning drone killings in Pakistan by American agencies?

Following the raid into Sudan in January by armed Israeli drones and the killing of an unknown number of people allegedly conveying weapons towards Palestine, Israel’s corrupt and shortly to be ex-prime minister said that “We operate in every area where terrorist infrastructures can be struck… Everyone can use their imagination… Those who need to know are aware that there is no place that Israel can’t reach.” So Israel, too, believes it has the right to kill people within the territory of sovereign nations. And nobody dare criticise this evil state for its actions.

India operates Israeli drones and is receiving more. It is possible it could obtain missile-firing Hermes 450s, like the ones that blitzed Sudan and Gaza. And if India believes that there is an installation in Pakistan whose occupants it considers to be terrorists, will it then follow the American example and launch drone-borne missiles to kill people on Pakistan’s soil? What would Mr Obama say about that? Would he condemn the action?

President Obama declared last week that “we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.” His policy is clear: drone-launched missile attacks will continue inside the territory of any nation because he considers that international custom and law do not apply to America. He is endorsing a dreadful precedent, and may well come to regret his decision to permit these illegal forays.


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