America and its drone strikes

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Last week US President Barack Obama publicly confirmed what we have known all along: that the US' Predator drones have been targeting Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Pakistan and Yemen.

We also know that this has been happening under a secret understanding whereby our government supports the attacks in private and condemns them in public.

After Obama's acknowledgement of his covert drones programme, our government felt compelled to respond, albeit with a baloneous statement.

Said the Foreign Office spokesman, "notwithstanding the tactical advantages of drone strikes we are of the firm view that these are unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable."The remarks suggest that the strikes are useful and hence a good idea but for the backlash that makes them counterproductive.

As for the 'unlawful' bit, considering that the attacks have the backing, in fact, full co-operation of our government, it would be a stretch to term them unlawful within the context of international law.

But it is illegal and unethical on the part of the government to allow such murderous assaults on its own people.

Hundreds of innocent lives have been lost in drone attacks as "collateral damage." Not long ago, our own president was quoted in Bob Woodward's book "Obama's Wars" as having told an American official "you Americans worry about collateral damage, I don't." The Americans have had carte blanche to target the militants and in the process innocent civilians as well.Contrast this with the US' attitude when it comes to dealing with one of its own.

Anwar Awlaqi, an American-born al Qaeda leader, linked to two '09 attacks against America- one a shooting incident at any army barracks that left 13 people dead, and another involving a failed bid by a Nigerian student to blow up a US airliner - was killed in a targeted drone attack in Yemen last September.

Obama had hailed the killing as a "major blow" to al Qaeda and "another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates" but stopped short of claiming credit for the drone operations.

His administration has since been straining hard to find a legal justification for the targeted killing of a US citizen (and at least two other Americans), although he was openly waging war against his country.Awlaqi's assassination has triggered a heated discussion in the US.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is leading the debate, saying that the US government's "deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate." A few days ago, the ACLU filed a case in a New York court to demand "basic - and accurate - information about the government's targeted killing programme" and "also information about the process by which the administration adds Americans to secret government kill lists" as well as the evidentiary basis for strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen last fall.

The New York Times too has filed a suit seeking the legal memo on which the targeted killing programme is based.At issue is not that Awlaqi was an innocent man, but that whether or not the government has the right to bypass due process and make an arbitrary decision to assassinate a citizen.

The administration is reported to be building its legal defence on two grounds: one that while Awlaqi represented a real threat to the American people it was not feasible to capture him alive; and second, that he was covered under the congressional grant of authority to wage war against al Qaeda, therefore, the killing was not unlawful.

The debate shows the high value American society attaches to the rule of law and respect for the lives of fellow Americans.

Even those missing in action in long-ended wars are not forgotten.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975, yet an ongoing issue of discussion between the US and the Vietnam government is that of the MIA, and search for the bodies of dead American soldiers.

Also, after the recent warming of its relations with Burma, the US solicited an agreement to look for the bodies of its soldiers who had died on that battlefront during World War II so as to take them home as part of its 'No One Left Behind' policy.The debate in this country, unfortunately, revolves around crude pragmatism rather than legal and human rights.

A section of our self-styled liberal intelligentsia uses the extremists' violence (ignoring the cause and effect aspect of the issue) and their purported political agenda to support drone attacks in the tribal areas.

The government, as well as the military authorities, secretly condone the strikes apparently because they have rid them of some of the hardcore Pakistani Taliban militants.

It does not matter to them that America's drones have caused a huge number of civilian casualties.

The numbers differ depending on who is discussing them.

According to a relatively independent Washington-based think tank, Brookings Institution, ten civilians die for every militant killed.

After an extensive recent research, Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism discovered that out of an estimated 1,658 and 2,597 casualties between 391 and 780 were civilians, 160 of them children.

These are staggering statistics for any decent democracy to digest.

What these figures also say is that there is no way of knowing the exact casualty count.

No information is available on the number of those injured, many of whom suffer from lifelong disabilities.The US, of course, follows double standards to the extreme.

The Bush administration waged an illegal immoral war against a small country, Iraq, massacring hundreds of thousands of civilians and rendering millions of others refugees in their own land and in neighbouring countries.

Obama has pursued his "war of choice" in Afghanistan, and drone operations in our tribal areas with a vengeance, killing thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis.

Yet when it comes to employing the same weapon to take out an American-born al Qaeda leader, it is a big legal and moral issue.

If only our pro-US ruling elites and members of the commentariat could learn a lesson or two from the American example, life would be much safer for the hapless ordinary citizens of this country.

Courtesy: Business Recorder

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