I have been railing at the use of drone attacks that have killed so many innocent people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and possibly other countries that we have not heard about. But since there is bipartisan consensus on this issue in the US, there has been hardly any serious discussion here, as can be seen from the fact that it has not been a factor at all in the election.
It now appears that the United Nations is going to at least investigate the civilian deaths of the drone strikes.
The United Nations is to set up a dedicated investigations unit in Geneva early next year to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed in so-called “targeted” counter-terrorism operations.
The announcement was made by Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur, in a speech to Harvard law school in which he condemned secret rendition and waterboarding as crimes under international law. His forthright comments, directed at both US presidential candidates, will be seen as an explicit challenge to the prevailing US ideology of the global war on terror.
The investigation unit will also look at “other forms of targeted killing conducted in counter-terrorism operations, in which it is alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted”. Emmerson maintained that the US stance that it can conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaida or other groups anywhere in the world because it is deemed to be an international conflict was indefensible.
“The global war paradigm has done immense damage to a previously shared international consensus on the legal framework underlying both international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” he said. “It has also given a spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations.
“The [global] war paradigm was always based on the flimsiest of reasoning, and was not supported even by close allies of the US. The first-term Obama administration initially retreated from this approach, but over the past 18 months it has begun to rear its head once again, in briefings by administration officials seeking to provide a legal justification for the drone programme of targeted killing in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia …
It’s about time. Of course, the US has a long history of using the UN when it wants legal cover for its imperialist ambitions and ignoring it when the UN goes against it, so I don’t expect any action, let alone prosecution for war crimes.
But to completely ignore these drone killings, or treat them as if they were acceptable, is even worse.