US defends unmanned drone attacks after harsh UN report
UN special rapporteur Philip Alston on Wednesday called for a halt to US unmanned drone attacks, which he called a path to a 'Playstation' mentality towards killing.
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''Unlike a state's armed forces, its intelligence agents do not generally operate within a framework which places appropriate emphasis upon ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law, rendering violations more likely and causing a higher risk of prosecution both for war crimes and for violations of the laws of the state in which any killing occurs,'' he wrote.Skip to next paragraph
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"Without discussing or confirming any specific action or program, this agency's operations unfold within a framework of law and close government oversight," said CIA spokesman George Little. "The accountability's real, and it would be wrong for anyone to suggest otherwise."
Administration officials have pointed to a carefully worded speech in March by State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, who said that "U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war." The Obama administration, he said, is committed to following the law in its operations against terrorists.
The Associated Press also quoted a former US intelligence official defending the use of drones. "Drone operations are essential," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Saban Center. "The drones are part of a much broader effort to put pressure on al-Qaida through the war in Afghanistan. They're the cutting edge of the pressure, but they're not the only pressure."
It’s easy to understand the appeal of a “push-button” approach to fighting Al Qaeda, but the embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force. And, because of the C.I.A. program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war.
Council on Foreign Relations fellow for conflict prevention Micah Zenko says that insurgents appear to be adapting to drone attacks and their usefulness may be waning. But he also argues that drone attacks remain an "essential tool for killing terrorists" even if their use should be more carefully scrutinized:
Targeted Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents in northwest Pakistan have responded to the increasing efficiency of the drone strikes by developing standard defensive tactics. [They've begun] killing suspected informants who provide intelligence, destroying communication towers that can better intercept satellite and cell phone signals; they've dispersed into smaller cells; they've moved into heavily populated areas where it is very unlikely that the United States will attempt strikes. So they've adapted defensive strategies in response....
Predator strikes are the worst kept covert secret in the history of US foreign policy.... [S]ince they are such a significant part of US national security strategy, they should be debated, not simply applauded.