By Erik Squire
There are multiple ethical issues that arise with the United States’ use of drone warfare in the Middle East; two such issues which readily come to mind are extrajudicial killings and a lack of accountability. A study was conducted by Stanford University and New York University on America’s use of drone warfare, and the results show that drone strikes could be far more ambiguous than we might think. The report states that the U.S. conducts “personality strikes” which target supposedly high-ranking terror suspects, but that there are also “signature strikes” which target individuals who merely have the appearance of being terrorists — without even knowing their identities.
It is unclear what, if any, process is in place for decisions regarding the so-called “signature strikes,” which are particularly problematic and open to abuse and mistake. According to the report, these strikes target individuals or groups “who bear characteristics associated with terrorism but whose identities aren’t known.”
As part of these “signature strikes,” U.S. drones also target wedding parties, funerals, entire buildings, and first responders — something known as “double-tapping,” where people responding to the first strike are then also targeted.
As the researchers further note, these strikes are not even as precise as the U.S. government would have most believe. They state, “The blast radius from a Hellfire missile can extend anywhere from 15-20 meters; shrapnel may also be projected significant distances from the blast.” It is “precision” such as this, that leads to the deaths of innocent victims of all ages.
Furthermore, it is a known fact that countless innocent civilians have been mistakenly targeted as terrorists by the U.S. military or the CIA. In an intriguing GQ article about an American drone operator, Senior Airman Brandon Bryant, Bryant states that during his very first strike, he wasn’t certain that his targets were armed with weapons or shepherd’s staffs, but that he didn’t question the chain of command when they told him to strike.
Strikes such as these are unethical, even if they do hope to eliminate deadly targets, because these strikes are extrajudicial — the person calling the shots neglects universal human rights, and acts as judge, jury and executioner.
Lastly, with high-tech lethal drones being such a modern innovation, there has not been a universal set of rules of engagement established to set the standard for ethical practices when using them — and this gives the U.S. too much power, without serious global repercussions for abusing such power.
There has to be transparency in the U.S.’s decisions when using drones, and accountability for when there is misuse. Moreover, if other nations do eventually develop high-quality drone technology, universal guidelines might also protect the U.S. from other governments misemploying them.