Saturday, October 31, 2009

UN Official Challenges US Drone Attacks

Steven Emerson

In a little noticed but critical piece of news, the BBC reports that Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, has warned the United States against striking terrorists from unmanned drones. He has gone so far as to state that such actions "may violate international human rights laws." Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, told the BBC: "My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law." He also stated, "The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons."

Alston, a professor at New York University, also has stated that the US government and the CIA need to explain how such measures are legal in the first place. The previous explanation from the US government clarified that the United States uses a framework to respond to unlawful killings (should they occur), and that it did not believe that the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council had any role in relation to killings carried out during an armed conflict. Alston rejected these arguments, calling them "untenable," and demanded that the US furnish proof of the legality of its actions in wartime circumstances.

The weight of such a decision by a high-ranking UN official is astounding. Rather than evaluate the United States' wartime actions against a terrorist entity, which is oppressing millions of Afghanis and murdering thousands of civilians in indiscriminate bombings, the UN is forcing the United States to justify unmanned strikes against high ranking Al Qaeda leaders.

Some drone attacks have missed the marks and civilians tragically have been killed. However, they've also been among the most effective means of killing Al Qaeda leaders and keeping it off balance. It is difficult to see how this wouldn't give terrorists the upper hand, forcing the United States to pick between running afoul of the UN Human Rights Council, or endangering the lives of tens of thousands of troops and civilians.

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