As the drone silently glides across the horizon, hundreds of civilians and militants alike are stalked. It surveils homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools, and reports its findings to officials safely installed in military compounds hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the dangers of war. A drone is not affected by human emotions, and it will not hesitate to take a life.
During President Barack Obama’s time in office, the United States has conducted over 300 drone strikes in Pakistan — five times as many as under the Bush administration. These strikes have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3,577 people; out of that number, 2,693 were deemed “combatants.”
Unfortunately, there is no real method for determining exactly how many of those 2,693 “combatants” belonged to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or were fighters of any kind, since recent reports indicate that all military-aged males (typically anyone between the ages of 18 and 65) are targeted as combatants even if they may be unarmed civilian bystanders.
The use of drone strikes in general has not garnered much public attention in the U.S. However, the use of drones in the extrajudicial murders of two U.S. citizens — Anwar al-Awlaki, and later, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman — sparked a necessary debate over the legality of using drones for the targeted killing of American citizens without charge or trial.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from “depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Due process is our right as Americans to fair legal proceedings with an opportunity to be heard before the government deprives us of our life, liberty or property. However, Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki were not even charged with a crime, let alone given a trial, before they were killed by their government.
The United States’ use of drones overseas has drawn scrutiny from the United Nations. The UN recently announced that it will have a panel investigate the rise in drone strikes by the U.S. and other nations and the related allegations of unlawful killings.
The International Bill of Human Rights exists as a universal constitution providing all humans with fundamental rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In using drones to assassinate suspected terrorists, the U.S. government clearly disregards Articles 7, 10, 11, 12 and 28 of the International Bill of Human Rights.
More recently, the suspected use of surveillance drones in the search for accused murderer Christopher Dorner raised additional concerns as civilians, reporters and politicians questioned the government’s invasion of our constitutional right to privacy.
Drones may have assisted in finding Dorner, but we should not disregard the breach in privacy of allowing Americans to be watched in their homes and businesses by drones. Normalizing the use of drones enables a path towards increasing government infringement on our civil liberties if left unchecked and unpressured by the public.
Hamza Yammout is an intern with CAIR-LA’s civil rights division.