Amnesty International Says Drone Strikes in Pakistan Could Constitute War Crimes


Credit: United States Air Force/wikimedia

Today it was reported that Amnesty International believes that the U.S. drone program in Pakistan has resulted in unlawful killings, some of which could constitute war crimes.

In a separate report, Human Rights Watch said that two drone attacks in Yemen violated international law because civilians were killed at random.

The American use of drones has been criticized not only by human rights groups but also by Pakistan's government, Pakistani citizens, Yemeni officials, and a former CIA official, who warned that the program could lead to the creation of terrorist havens.

A Pew Research poll released last summer shows that the use of drones to target extremists is unpopular across much of the world:

In 31 nations, at least half disapprove of the U.S. conducting drone missile strikes targeting extremists in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. At least three-in-four hold this view in 15 countries from all corners of the world, including nations from the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and Asia.

The only three countries where majorities support the drone campaign are Israel (64% approve), Kenya (56%), and the U.S. itself (61%). 

Although American drone strikes against targets abroad were carried out during the Bush administration, they exploded in number after Obama was sworn into office in early 2009. A graph from the New America Foundation below illustrates the increase in the number of drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004:

Credit: The New America Foundation

Below is another chart form The New America Foundation illustrating the number of air and drone strikes in Yemen since 2002:

Credit: The New America Foundation

There was some speculation and reporting suggesting that the recent U.S Special Forces missions conducted in Somalia and Libya could indicate a shift in the Obama administration's thinking regarding the War on Terror. Instead of using drones to kill the targets, the Obama administration opted for targeted raids with American boots on the ground.

The operations in Somalia and Libya happened too recently in order to indicate the beginning of a trend or a definite shift in policy. However, it is unlikely that even if the Obama administration decides to increasingly use Special Forces in anti-terrorism missions that this will mean that drones will not continue to be used. As Tom Sanderson of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies has pointed out to The Economist, Obama will want to keep a "full quiver" of options at hand as the War on Terror continues.

Watch Reason TV's video on three reasons why the U.S. drone policy is really freakin' scary below: