September 11th, 2001 reminds all Americans of a sinister day in the United States. Almost 3,000 citizens were killed by an international terror organization attempting to gain influence and power on the world stage, Al-Qaeda. Congress met the disaster with a decisive call to decimate this new force.
Following many years of additional attacks, and with the progression of modern technology, a contemporary approach to fighting foreign threats such as Al-Qaeda had to be developed. The idea of American troops in ground combat was counter to many’s wishes, as it placed the lives of loved ones in perilous situations, and, in some cases, was actually what the terrorists themselves wanted: a man to man war with Americans on their home turf. Enter drones, the new groundbreaking, yet controversial technology that allowed Americans to engage with these terrorists while sitting behind a computer in the safety of their home land. Over recent
months, this practice has drawn increased attention and controversy from Americans and the international community alike debating the legality, morality, efficiency, and necessity of these strikes over seas.
In accordance with United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.” This is a fundamental ideal defended by the United States for centuries: all individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Recently, however, with this profound advancement of modern technology, drones have presented themselves as a new, extrajudicial process that denies humans worldwide this basic right. When the US military or CIA makes the decision to eliminate a target by drone strike, they are seemingly violating that individual’s guaranteed right of a free trial by both the United Nations and the United States. While Obama has suggested that this approach is used only when capture and extraction of these terrorists is impossible, many would still argue that this approach allows a breach of the separation of powers, giving the executive branch the ability to be “judge, jury and executioner” (Hudson 1). Furthermore, the drone strikes are in clear violation of international law, specifically Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. This article states that the use of force may only be used by a nation in response to an active armed conflict, a characteristic many of America’s targets do not exhibit. As a result, several international organizations such as Amnesty International have deemed drone strikes as “war crimes” (Cabral 1).
Opponents of the use of drone strikes also cite the inefficiency of the practice. Under President Obama’s administration, numerous documents leaked indicating that as many as 90% of deaths in these drone attacks were unintended, or in other words, not terrorists. This negligent and reckless use of drone strikes has actually had an inverse effect on the people of these regions. Instead of decreasing the number of terrorists, the killing of civilians has actually provoked heightened motivation to harbor feelings of enmity or resentment towards the United States (Raghavan 4). The “Underwear Bomber” of 2009 and “Times Square Bomber” of 2010 exemplify this truth, as both mentioned recent drone strikes in the Middle East as chief motivators for their failed attacks (Raghavan 5).
Proponents on both sides of the aisle make up a majority of the American population and offer numerous legitimate arguments in favor of these drone strikes (“Global Attitudes Project” 6). First and foremost, drone strikes kill terrorists without requiring boots on the ground, a safer, cheaper, and more effective approach to eliminating some of America’s greatest enemies. These targeted killings or assassinations are nothing new in American foreign policy. In fact, though some presidents have issued executive orders banning assassinations, there has never been a passed law stating that they are prohibited. There is also extensive evidence that while drone strikes may result in inadvertent deaths of civilians, the percentage of this occurrence is diminished in drone strikes compared to other military operations as illustrated in the horrendous results of the Vietnam and Korean wars. Also, while some may claim that these strikes contravene international law, others state that they are protected and avowed under international rulings as express permission has been granted to the United States to carry out these operations by the countries where they occur (Obama 24).
With all of this said, it is clear use of drone strikes by the United States is of great benefit when carried out with discretion and measure. On the other hand, when used recklessly and without order, they can be incredibly detrimental to the global war on terror and the safety of citizens in these Middle Eastern nations. A general consensus must be reached by the United Nations, clearly defining the boundaries of these attacks on foreign lands. In this consensus, nations must acknowledge the detriment caused by these attacks as well as the positive outcomes, creating a position valuing both sides of the argument on balance. A clear law must be passed, regulating the practice while allowing it to be utilized in a controlled manner. With this, the guessing game of international law and moral responsibility will come to a close with a definite resolution in the approval of these strikes with applications to all countries across the world.
Cabral, Heather. "Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch Release Dual Reports on Drone Strikes." Amnesty International USA. N.p., 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.
"Charter of the United Nations | United Nations." UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
"Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing." Homeland Security Digital Library. N.p., 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
"Global Attitudes Project." Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project 2013 Spring Survey Topline Results July 18, 2013 Release (n.d.): 100-01. PewGlobal.org. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
Hudson, Adam. "Beyond the Drone Debate: Should US Military and CIA Be Judge, Jury and Executioner?" Truthout. N.p., 2 June 2015. Web. 02 May 2016.
"Obama’s Speech on Drone Policy." The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 May 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
Raghavan, Sudarsan. "In Yemen, U.S. Airstrikes Breed Anger, and Sympathy for Al-Qaeda." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 29 May 2012. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
”The Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations." UN. UN, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.