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Do drone attacks violate international humanitarian law?

December 3, 2010

Cesar Chelala in The Globalist:

Predator drones are equipped with large and powerful cameras that beam real-time images to their operators. Last February, a Predator crew operating out of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, asked for an air strike against three vehicles with males supposed to be insurgents. An OH-58D Kiowa helicopter fired Hellfire missiles and rockets which destroyed the three vehicles, killing 23 innocent men, women and children — and 12 more were seriously injured.

In a scathing report released on May 29, the U.S. military blamed the strikes on the “inaccurate and unprofessional reporting” by a team of Predator drone operators. This episode illustrates the serious risks involved in the use of drones, which many law experts see as violating rules of war. Predator drones are extensively used in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they track and kill suspected insurgents, sometimes with their own missiles.

A report by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, makes a thorough assessment on the effect of drones, whose use has provoked significant controversy. Drones’ proponents argue that since they have significant surveillance capacity and great precision, they are able to avoid collateral civilian casualties and injuries. They also state that since drones may provide the ability to conduct aerial surveillance and to gather “pattern of life” information, they may allow operators to distinguish between peaceful civilians and those engaged in direct hostilities. [More]

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