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Fri Dec 14, 2012, 09:27 AM

The Secret Drone War


The Secret Drone War
Frankfurter Rundschau, Germany
By Barbara Lochbihler
Translated By Ron Argentati
11 December 2012
Edited by Kath­leen Weinberger

Is a drone actually nothing more than an airplane, as international lawyer Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg recently wrote in this newspaper? Does it really make no difference whether a pilot sits in the cockpit himself or sits with a joystick in his hand thousands of kilometers away wiping out his targets, i.e., human lives? It of course makes a great deal of difference, as the use of unmanned drones brings up basic ethical and human rights questions.

There's no disputing the fact that remote-controlled bombers make killing easier. The more distance an attacker has between himself and the target, the more willing he will be to act. If he operates from a support base in Nevada controlling a drone over Somalia, the inhibition level for pulling the trigger is extremely low. One mouse click is enough to take a human life.

Unfortunately, recent studies confirm that the remote drone war is producing more and more victims: Since President Obama made the unmanned aircraft the main weapon in the war on terror, more than 3,000 people have been killed in over 300 attacks, most of these apparently civilians. Studies done at Stanford University as well as at New York University calculate that between 2008 and 2011, attacks in Pakistan alone showed that up to 75 percent of all victims have been civilians. More conservative estimates say the number is closer to 30 percent. In other words, within three years the drone attacks have killed a minimum of 1,000 people.

While it's possible that the current generation of drones can be better controlled than earlier models, the principal beneficiaries of the new technology have been U.S. troops. This brings up another questionable aspect: Does drone use cause the least political damage to the attacker? A war in which the attacker suffers few or no casualties at all is easier to sell to the public back home. Is the use of unmanned drones meant to make military intervention more palatable to a war-weary population? Is Washington hoping to avoid the protests caused whenever coffins arrive at U.S. airports from foreign shores?

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