US Administration to Reveal Death Toll of Drone Strikes for First Time Ever
Peter KORZUN | 11.03.2016 | WORLD

US Administration to Reveal Death Toll of Drone Strikes for First Time Ever

The US and its allies have blamed Russia for indiscriminate bombing in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. These accusations have been rejected many times with no evidence provided to support them.

No matter that, the issue has been regularly raised, especially in view of the success achieved by Syrian and Russian forces in the province of Aleppo. Now the US government has to face responsibility for the acts of indiscriminate bombing committed by its own military and the CIA.

America has regularly used armed drones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere for a decade and a half. The Obama administration will soon tell the world how many casualties of US air and drone strikes there have been over recent 6 years (the expansion of drone attacks was authorized by the US President in December 2009).

Lisa Monaco, US presidential adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security, has promised to reveal the number of terrorism suspects and civilians that the drone strikes have killed since 2009.

The assessment of combatant and noncombatant casualties «will account for all counterterrorism actions outside the area of active hostilities, across the board», she said in a speech in Washington, D.C.

The official declined to list exactly which countries and areas will be included, but did say the report will be issued annually and updated regularly.

It would be the first time for the Obama administration to release information regarding the most controversial lethal missions carried out by the United States in an attempt to gain public support for drone strikes and other military operations abroad.

The report will include the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operations carried out in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere starting from 2009. However, information on drone strikes from the active war locales of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will not be included. The pledge of Monaco came in the wake of the announcement that the US military had conducted an operation in Somalia to eliminate suspected combatants using drones and manned aircraft.

The casualty report marks the latest attempt by Obama to shore up credibility for the drone program, which has attracted fierce criticism from civil rights advocates but plays a key role in Obama's strategy of targeting extremists without encumbering the US in massive on-the-ground military operations. In 2013, Obama tightened rules for drone attacks, requiring that a target to pose a continuing and imminent threat and that the American military is near-certain that no civilians will be hit. US lawmakers and human rights groups have long pressed for more transparency about civilians killed by US drones, but those calls have traditionally faced opposition from the intelligence community. US officials say, few civilians have died from drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere over the last decade, though unofficial tallies by human rights groups run into the hundreds. In 2014, lawmakers from both parties demanded an annual report as part of the main intelligence bill, but later dropped the demand amid assurances that the Obama administration was seeking ways to disclosure more about the covert activities.

The furtive nature of the program has continued to fuel concerns about unintended consequences and lack of thorough oversight. Civilian deaths from drone strikes have fueled anti-American sentiment to hinder US security cooperation with foreign governments. It also fomented anger among local populations in the countries like Pakistan to create problems for keeping supply routes open to Afghanistan.

Rights groups welcomed Monaco's announcement but said the administration should go further.

Human Rights First noted that the pledge of Monaco came just hours following the announcement of the Pentagon that it killed over 150 suspected terrorists in Somalia. «For data on the number of casualties to be meaningful, the administration must provide more than numbers», the group said.

It added that the government should define how it determines individuals as either a combatant or a civilian, the terrorist group in which the killed combatants belong to and the location of the drone strikes.

«This is an important step, but it should be part of a broader reconsideration of the secrecy surrounding the drone campaign», said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. «The authority to use lethal force should be subject to more stringent oversight by the public, by Congress, and, at least in some contexts, by the courts».

The ACLU said that in response to a freedom-of-information suit filed by the union, the government had said it would release a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guidance, also known as «the Playbook», a secret document that sets out the law and rules the government must follow when it carries out targeted killings.

A lawyer for the human rights group Reprieve told the Guardian the move by the Obama administration doesn't go far enough.

«In every region where we have pursued an aggressive, secret drone policy, militancy has gotten stronger», said Cori Crider. «It's not enough to tally up the drones' body count – we need a thorough reassessment of the program itself».

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called for legislation making the new report mandatory. «I do believe, however, there is still value in considering a statutory requirement to make this executive action permanent, ensuring that our commitment to transparency extends beyond the term of the current administration», stated Schiff, who previously introduced legislation to require such a report.

In October 2015, leaked military documents revealed that the controversial drone strikes launched by the United States in Afghanistan have killed a huge number of people that were not the intended target of the attacks.

The report claimed that for drone strikes launched from January 2012 to February 2013, there were 35 «jackpots», a term used to indicate the neutralization of a target, and over 200 people declared as EKIA, or enemy killed in action.

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True, there is little precedent for the classified US UAV program. International law doesn’t speak directly to how it might operate. Still, the US war-model rationale is on shaky legal ground. International law permits the use of lethal force in very restricted circumstances. US drone strike policy appears to allow extrajudicial executions in violation of the right to life, virtually anywhere in the world.

Going to brass tacks, the following facts are undeniable.

Obviously, the drone warfare violates Article 51 of the UN Charter that defines the rules of self-defense because the United States is not attacked. Self-defense against prospective threats are limited to ones which are «imminent» to make US operations in the Middle East run afoul of international norms. The signature tactics used are inherently in violation of the principle of distinction because it fails to identify civilian or militant. Drone attacks don’t conform to the principle of proportionality concerning unintentional civilian casualties in war. The use of UAVs violates Article 2 of the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War by disregarding the human rights of the innocent civilians killed in the strikes. Furthermore, the US drone tactics conflict with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits «arbitrary» killing even during an armed conflict. The executions of innocent human beings without trials constitute war crimes. The USA is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or many other international legal forums where legal action might be started. It is, however, part of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another. Conducting drone strikes in a country against its will could be construed as an act of war.

On the home front the legality of drone activities is also questioned. A Congress joint resolution, called Authorization for Use of Military Force, adopted right after the Sept. 11, 2001, says the President is authorized to use force against the planners of the attacks and those who harbor them. The above mentioned resolution authorized attacks on those who carried out the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them. But the act did not cover mere «supporters» of such groups and associated forces. Under this ruling «signature strikes» and «secondary strikes» would be illegal under US law. UAV attacks in non-war theatres are not covered by international legislation, consequently, not only the killing of innocent civilians, but also of terror suspects without trial is illegal.

The incumbent administration has violated the sovereignty of other states more times than any other. A Nobel Peace laureate, President Obama has dramatically expanded the intensiveness of intrusions into the territory of non-belligerent states. It makes spring to mind other hostile acts committed during Mr Obama’s tenure like the Stuxnet computer virus, the first cyber-attack against another nation (Iran) the US was not at war with.

A flurry of challenges is calling into question the legal and ethical aspect of UAV policy. The US executive branch actually claims it has a right to arbitrarily kill anybody it wants relying on classified data discussed in a secret process by the people out of public sight. Known for its penchant for lecturing others about democracy and the necessity to comply with the international law, the US government has been shying away from public discussion of the most important foreign policy issue that constitutes a flagrant violation of international and domestic law.