If U.S. Drone Strikes In Pakistan And Yemen Are Legal Under International Law As Obama Claims, Does That Mean Other Nations Recognizing Terror Threats In U.S. Territory Can Legally Order A Drone Strike Here?


On the heels of the release of two reports by human rights groups addressing the United States’ ongoing drone war in the Mideast, a former high-ranking official at the Department of State has penned a column claiming that each drone strike the United States carries out in Yemen produces dozens of new militant extremists due to the massive loss of civilian life.

In an opinion piece published this week in The Cairo Review, Nabeel Khoury, who served as deputy chief of mission in Yemen for the State Department from 2004 to 2007, opined that the use of drone strikes in Yemen is major contributor to growing anti-American sentiment in the region.

“Despite the renewed focus on aid, U.S. Policy in Yemen still reflects ambivalence, uncertainty and conflicting goals,” Khoury wrote. “The global war on terror sill trumps the prioritization needed for assisting the democratic transition underway. Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians.”

Khoury estimated that each drone strike breeds 40 to 60 new enemies of the United States in the region. The estimate is not based on any scientific evidence, but on the former State Department official’s intimate knowledge of the region.

“Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the US generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every AQAP operative killed by drones. Open source reporting records 45 drone strikes in Yemen in 2012, and 22 so far in 2013. Reported casualties are 491 for 2012,” Khoury wrote, referring to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

“In war, unmanned aircraft may be a necessary part of a comprehensive military strategy. In a country where we are not at war, however, drones become part of our foreign policy, dominating it altogether, to the detriment of both our security and political goals,” he added.

Earlier in the week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued reports about the toll of the United States’ use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, both of which are nations where the U.S. is not at war.

Amnesty International concluded that no fewer than 29 civilians were killed in 45 U.S. drone strikes in Yemen occurring between January 2012 and August 2013. Human Rights Watch’s examination of six drone strikes concluded that 57 out of 82 people killed in the strikes were non-militant civilians.

“The U.S. must explain why these people have been killed — people who are clearly civilians. It must provide justice to these people, compensation and it must investigate those responsible for those killings,” Mustafa Qadri, the researcher who wrote the Amnesty International report, said of the findings.

While the recent reports detail outrageous loss of civilian life in the regions where the U.S. drone program is active, previous accountings have painted an even more damning picture. A September 2012 joint investigation produced by Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law concluded that just 2 percent of people killed in drone strikes could be classified as “terrorists.” Many of the victims, according to that investigation, perished as a result of secondary strikes known as “double tap” which routinely follow a drone strike and routinely claim the lives of civilian onlookers and rescue workers.

Foreign Times columnist David Pilling, on Wednesday, imagined a world in which American citizens were subjected to the same horrors that people in Pakistan and Yemen endure because of rolling drone strikes, writing:

It is a beautiful morning in Seattle when, over Puget Sound, a glinting object is spotted in the sky. Within minutes an unmanned drone, painted in the emerald green of the Pakistani flag, is raining down missiles on Pike Place Market where suspected al-Qaeda operatives are meeting to plan an attack on Karachi. The next day Islamabad admits that although the mission successfully took out the suspected terrorists, there has been some collateral damage. Among the American civilians killed is a 68-year-old grandmother who had come to the market with her grandchildren to buy vegetables. Her eight-year-old granddaughter, though unharmed in the attack, asks: “Will I be next?”

Just imagine the hell that would break loose if such an event were to occur. Defenders of US drone strikes will object that it is unfair to compare this fictional event with the deployment of US drones in Pakistan — or for that matter in Yemen or Somalia.

Pilling goes on to suggest that, due to President Barack Obama’s insistence that the drone strikes occurring in the Mideast are legal under both domestic and international law, it is not — even if implausible — impossible that Americans could face a similar reality in the future.

Pilling wrote:  “Then there is precedent. If it is legal for the U.S. to deploy drones, what about other countries? Like computers, with each passing year drones are getting cheaper and more sophisticated. Would Washington object, for example, if Beijing started taking out perceived threats to the Chinese state in third states? One suspects it would.”

The U.S. government has disregarded the reports issued this week by the two human rights groups, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying Tuesday that the Federal government “would strongly disagree” with any claims that the government has acted inappropriately. Carney said that American actions follow all applicable law.

“U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful and they are effective,” Carney said.

Let’s just hope that no other nation with “precise, lawful and effective” means of causing mass civilian death feel that terroristic threats to their way of life are residing somewhere in an American city or suburb.

Personal Liberty

Sam Rolley

Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After covering community news and politics, Rolley took a position at Personal Liberty Media Group where could better hone his focus on his true passions: national politics and liberty issues. In his daily columns and reports, Rolley works to help readers understand which lies are perpetuated by the mainstream media and to stay on top of issues ignored by more conventional media outlets.

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  • peter

    Working on the premise that all is fair in love and war, it must be assumed that drone strikes are fair. The fact is that any drone strike must be considered an act of war. Seeing that the drone strikes are fair, albeit acts of war, does that not mean that a declaration of war has been made. If we are not at war with these nations then how can we consider killing their civilians anything other than an act of war? Somewhere along the line we have become confused at the definition of “WAR”. We must therefore conclude that there is a continual war going on all the time, all is fair and anything goes – may the best man win! What exactly awaits us all, other than rebellion, anarchy, retaliation and total destruction? That would not be too far fetched an assumption, given that we are totally incapable of finding peaceful alternatives. The governments of the world, together need to re evaluate
    their thinking or deal with the consequences of the hideous social climate which they have and are continuing to create. Maybe where we are headed is predictable, very concerning and most of all, now unavoidable. We all need to seriously consider what we have done under the guise of being so morally superior and exceptional and ask if we are ready and prepared to deal with the outcome?

    • Vigilant

      “If we are not at war with these nations then how can we consider killing their civilians anything other than an act of war? Somewhere along the line we have become confused at the definition of “WAR”.

      Quite simply, it’s done with the blessings of the nations involved. They are not attacks upon sovereign nations, they are attacks upon individuals.

      • TML

        I’d love to see how far that reasoning holds in a hypothetical event as described in the article. Are we hired mercenaries now that a government can give our President the ok (and him actually have the power without Congressional approval) to conduct missile strikes on its own people, or political opposition? The ‘blessings’ of a given foreign nation involved are meaningless.

        • Robert Messmer

          Assad should give Obama his “blessings” to conduct drone strikes on the Muslim terrorists who are trying to destroy his country.

      • Ignatz Kravitz

        They bless it because we send them billions of dollars!! The whole thing stinks & it’s not even working, it’s creating more hatred, violence, murder & radicals!!! STOP IT, USA!!!

        • Protiva

          Un-freaking-believable! That’s just too officious! And we ALLOW this! Confounded sheep public! You’re gutless! Any valour you may claim is moot when I know you didn’t make a difference when you had the chance!

  • Devasahayam

    The answer came 2005/07/07 when Porkistani trained English-born Porkistan-origin criminals did a multibomb attack on London — which, last time I checked, was prior to the drone-strikes!

  • Crusty CatFish

    Where is MSM on this? If this was GOP prez, they would be screaming from the rooftops for his head on a platter & for ICC to drag him away!!! Drones, like any weapon can be abused & Obummer is seriously doing it….Bush used them like they should be: rare & surgically, acting upon precise intell to limit innocent deaths, he used them only 43 times in 8 years…Obummer has used them over 500 times in less than 5 years, illegally changed definition of enemy combatant to “any adult male in targeted area, whether there is any evidence they are engaged in terrorist activity” , thus allowing strikes in more open places like bazaars, or coffee houses & murdering way more innocents & signed off on repulsive “Double Tap”, a second drone strike shortly after the first, when rescue workers are trying to save lives…THESE ARE WAR CRIMES PLAIN & SIMPLE!!!

  • Viet Nam Vet

    obongo’s way of keeping the terrorists ranks filled.

  • TML

    It is absolutely amazing that Obama, or anyone else, has the nerve to claim that such actions as those engaging our attention in this article are legal under international law. Much like the unilateral threat of military force against Syria under the guise of humanitarianism without a UN Security Council Resolution, the use of drones is equally illegal against other countries under international law.

    Article 2 Section 4 of the UN Charter – “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

    • The Middle East Maven


      • TML

    • Alex

      So, TML—why don’t you explain the term “Purposes of the United Nations”?

      Right. I didn’t think so….

      • TML

        UN Charter Article 1 – The Purposes of the United Nations are:

        1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

        2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

        3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

        4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

        Anything else I could clear up for you?

  • Alex

    Drone strike on the NRA headquarters would be a great start at getting rid of American terrorism….

    • Ringgo1

      …THERE you are little troll Alex. Consistently…wrong.

      • Alan

        He is a true a**hole.

    • JimH

      A drone strike on your house would enhance the gene pool.

    • Protiva

      Fool! You don’t know who the real terrorists are?!

    • jimzimmerman

      it would be a shame if it accidently hit your house alex

  • RightGunner

    It has seemed from the beginning that we were using drone strikes because we could. It was certainly not because we had authority to kill Americans without a chance to defend themselves in court. And it certainly was not because International Law approves of such strikes.

    No from the beginning it was clear we were operating in such a way as to change international law. We were attempting to make it internationally legal for anyone to enter in any way they can achieve it, into a foreign country and kill whom the Commander in chief of their country targets.

    And it is clear that eventually everyone will develop drone technology, but even before that, any country can use the same “authority” with a simpler execution like“sneak across the Mexican border” and take out selective members of our Administration. When this happens we will likely be offended by such “offense”.

    Shame on us for allowing our Commander In Chief to not only operate this illegally, and just as galling, to also boast about it to everyone.

  • Michael Shreve

    Apparently. Obama IS willing to target U.S. citizens IN the U.S. Why shouldn’t others?