By Simeen Shaikh
On Monday May 21, UCSD’s Pakistani Student Association hosted a forum regarding the drone strikes taking place in Pakistan. The forum featured speakers Nancy Mancias and Peter Lumsdaine. Nancy Mancias works for the Global Exchange Peace Campaign and is the coordinator for CODEPINK’s War Criminals and Ground the Drones campaigns and Peter Lumsdaine is an international peace researcher and educator who founded the Alliance to Resist Robotic Warfare & Society in 2009. Both speakers highlighted the immoral and unjust nature of the U.S. military’s use of drone technology, and the unethical consequences of drone warfare on Pakistani civilians. Most commonly known as drones, they are also called UAVs and RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). The U.S. military employs drones in situations where manned flight is considered risky or difficult, and they provide the military with the ability to deliver precision strikes, taking away the need for intrusive military action. These precision vehicles are unmanned, being piloted remotely by a trained crew that steers the craft from the safety of a military base.
President Obama has been keen on maintaining transparency with the use of drones, citing their usage as an appropriate and necessary means of targeting “people who are on a list of active terrorists”(BBC News). The Obama Administration has been pursuing the Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan by engaging in drone warfare. Drone strikes were started under the Bush Administration, but have increased fivefold under President Obama due to an advancement in technology, which now enables drones to hover for days at a time. While U.S. officials say the strikes are crucial in keeping Al Qaeda off balance, the strikes have soured U.S.-Pakistan relation and have fueled anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported a total of 372 U.S. strikes from 2004-12. Of those strikes, 272 have taken place under the Obama administration. Furthermore, an estimated 2,454- 3,133 people have reportedly been killed as a result of these attacks. Of those killed, about 484-828 were civilians and 175 were children. An additional 1,175- 1,288 people were reportedly injured during this period. The most recent strike took place on May 28, 2012 in Hassokhel town, the main town of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border. The attack killed at least five militants, while the number of civilian causalities still remains unknown. John Brennan, President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, has justified the attacks by stating that unmanned drone strikes are “legal, ethical, necessary and proportional, overseen with extraordinary care and thoughtfulness.” Nonetheless, human rights groups in the U.S. and abroad have scrutinized the supposedly ethical nature of drone strikes. In reaction to Brennan’s speech, American Civil Liberties Union director Hina Shamsi stated, “We believe there are few things as dangerous as the proposition that the government should be able to kill people anywhere in the world, including citizens, on the basis of legal standards and evidence that is never submitted to the court either before or after the fact.” Further emphasizing the government’s lack of transparency on this issue, U.S.-based Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict stated that unnamed U.S. officials had put civilian deaths from drone strikes at 20 to 30 since the beginning of last year.
The drone strikes have furthered a sense of anti-American sentiment within Pakistan and have deteriorated the already fragile relationship between the two countries. In protest over drone attacks and a U.S. air strike in November that killed two dozen, Pakistan recently issued a closure of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. This move illustrates the Pakistani government’s dissatisfaction with U.S. intervention in their country. While speaking at Monday’s forum, Nancy Mancias referenced the International Drone Summit that took place in Washington D.C. this April. The summit was hosted by CODEPINK and legal advocacy organizations Reprieve, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. It aimed to educate the American public about the use and manufacturing of drones in the United States. The conference elaborated upon the lack of transparency and accountability with drone usage — a point that was stressed by both Mancias and Lumsdaine.
Over the past ten years, the U.S. military has increased its arsenal of drones from 60 to 6,000. Lumsdaine expressed a feeling of disconcertedness at the rapid increase in drone technology given the fact that drones have resulted in a high number of civilian casualties. Given the destructive nature of drone attacks, the increase in the advancement of drone technology should be re-evaluated. Drone strikes impose a degree of irresponsibility upon the U.S. government and call into question the morality and necessity of intervention in the form of drones in Pakistan, given the mass civilian casualties.
To learn more about the destructive use of drones please visit: CODEPINK
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Image by United States Air Force