On May 4, 2011, CNN World News asked whether killing Osama bin Laden was legal under international law. Other news commentary has questioned whether it would have been both possible and advantageous to bring Osama bin Laden to trial rather than kill him.
World attention has been focused, however briefly, on questions of legality regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden. But, with the increasing use of Predator drones to kill suspected “high value targets” in Pakistan and Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings by U.S. military forces have become the new norm.
Just three days after Osama bin Laden was killed, an attack employing remote-control aerial drones killed fifteen people in Pakistan and wounded four.CNN reports that their Islamabad bureau has counted four drone strikes over the last month and a half since the March 17 drone attack which killed 44 people in Pakistan’s tribal region. This most recent suspected strike was the 21st this year. There were 111 strikes in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 957 innocent civilians were killed in 2010.
I’m reminded of an encounter I had, in May, 2010 ,when a journalist and a social worker from North Waziristan met with a small Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation in Pakistan and described, in gory and graphic detail, the scenes of drone attacks which they had personally witnessed: the carbonized bodies, burned so fully they could be identified by legs and hands alone, the bystanders sent flying like dolls through the air to break, with shattered bones and sometimes-fatal brain injuries, upon walls and stone.
Libby and Jerica are in the front seat of the Prius, and Mary and I are in back. We just left Oklahoma, we’re heading into Shamrock, Texas, and tomorrow we’ll be Indian Springs, Nevada, home of Creech Air Force Base. We’ve been discussing our legal defense.
The state of Nevada has charged Libby and me, along with twelve others, with criminal trespass onto the base. On April 9, 2009, after a ten-day vigil outside the air force base, we entered it with a letter we wanted to circulate among the base personnel, describing our opposition to a massive targeted assassination program. Our trial date is set for September 14.
Creech is one of several homes of the U.S. military’s aerial drone program. U.S. Air Force personnel there pilot surveillance and combat drones, unmanned aerial vehicles with which they are instructed to carry out extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan and Iraq. The different kinds of drone include the “Predator” and the “Reaper.” The Obama administration favors a combination of drone attacks and Joint Special Operations raids to pursue its stated goal of eliminating whatever Al Qaeda presence exists in these countries. As the U.S. accelerates this campaign, we hear from UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, who suggests that U.S. citizens may be asleep at the wheel, oblivious to clear violations of international law which we have real obligations to prevent (or at the very least discuss). Many citizens are now focused on the anniversary of September 11th and the controversy over whether an Islamic Center should be built near Ground Zero. Corporate media does little to help ordinary U.S. people understand that the drones which hover over potential targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen create small “ground zeroes” in multiple locales on an everyday basis.