WASHINGTON: After facing condemnation, and a fresh protest lodged by Pakistan over its controversial drone program, the US finds that the programme is wise, legal and just.
The US drone programme, operated by its spy agency, the Central Investigation Agency (CIA), has reportedly killed 2,200 people in Pakistan (August 2011 tally), including 168 children among at least 385 civilians and non-combatants. It has been a source of public anger and last month, in its US policy review, Pakistan decided to ask US to stop the attacks.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama’s assistant on counterterrorism and homeland security, John Brennan said that they are carried out “in full accordance with the law”.
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, Brennan said, “there is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.”
Earlier this year, President Obama, whose administration like the one before it had never officially acknowledged the programme, admitted in a television interview that the US was was using the remotely piloted armed aircrafts to attack, and even kill targets on the ground.
Brennan’s speech was interrupted in the first half when a woman stood up and protested, raising slogans against the drone strikes and deaths of civilians in Pakistan. She was escorted out by security officials.
Returning to the legal defense of the programme, Brennan cited domestic laws, and said that the Authorisation for Use of Military Force passed by Congress after September 11 attacks “authorises the president ‘to use all necessary and appropriate force’ against those nations, organisations and individuals responsible for 9/11.”
“There is nothing in the AUMF that restricts the use of military force against al Qaeda to Afghanistan.”
On the subject of international law and drone strikes, the WH official said that the US is in an armed conflict with the al Qaeda, Taliban and associated forces after the 9/11 attacks. “We may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense.”
Brennan described drone strikes as wise as they reduced danger to innocent civilians. He said that the US only authorises strikes of which they have a “high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances.” However he acknowledged that civilian casualties have taken place. “When it does, it pains us and we regret it deeply, as we do any time innocents are killed in war.”
The White House official cited legal arguments that justified the drone strikes, and said that they have set a high bar when they make the decision to carry out a drone strike, and that they are committed to greater transparency.
“When considering lethal force we are of course mindful that there are important checks on our ability to act unilaterally in foreign territories. We do not use force whenever we want, wherever we want. International legal principles, including respect for a state’s sovereignty and the laws of war, impose constraints. The United States of America respects national sovereignty and international law,” the WH official maintained.
Brennan also pointed out how the drone campaign had pushed al Qaeda to the brink, with its slain leader, Osama bin Laden claiming it to be “disaster, disaster” in documents seized from the Abbottabad hideout where he was killed by US special forces almost a year ago.
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