New reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch suggest that some civilian deaths in secret drone strikes by the CIA amount to crimes.
Attacks by U.S. drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — have occurred in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. It isn’t clear how many strikes have taken place, how the targets are selected, and how many deaths have resulted, because of the secrecy that surrounds these issues.
U.S. officials say they conduct the foreign assaults without a declaration of war because America must strike at suspected terrorists to prevent 9/11-style attacks. This argument is generally accepted.
But the human rights groups have documented that dozens of civilians have died in drone attacks, contrary to statements by the Obama Administration that such deaths are rare. After the groups were denied official U.S. data, they gathered their own information.
Human Rights Watch reports that in six drone strikes in Yemen since 2009, 57 of the 82 deaths were of civilians. Amnesty International says that in Pakistan between May, 2012, and July, 2013, more than 30 civilians died in four assaults, including a 68-year-old grandmother.
Amnesty International asserts that one of the Pakistan attacks “violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life, and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions.” It argues that those responsible should stand trial.
President Obama has defended the drone program, saying no attacks take place without his approval and without careful consideration of possible casualties among noncombatants. His assertions have been an attempt to reassure American critics, but they could expose him to charges of war crimes.
Mr. Obama continues to disappoint supporters on another human rights issue. As a candidate, he promised to close the prison at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Five years into his administration, he still hasn’t.