Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is the more technical name for what we commonly call a drone. The UAV or drone is, simply, an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Its flight is either controlled autonomously by computers in the vehicle, or under the remote control of a navigator or pilot, which the military calls a Combat Systems Officer.
UAVs (drones) are of particular concern to many people (including me) at this time because they are systematically killing people in several different countries. For example, the U.S. government has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004 using drones controlled by the CIA’s Special Activities Division.
There are a number of groups monitoring the use of drones in covert warlike activities. One such group is the British-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. They report that as of this month, some 350 drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed between 2,600 and 3,400 people, including as many as 885 civilians.
The U.S. is not the only country to have drones, of course. The Israelis used drones in their attacks on Gaza earlier this month.
UAVs are sometimes called “killer robots,” and Human Rights Watch, based in Harvard Law School, earlier this month released a 49-page document titled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.” The report “calls for an absolute ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.” (That extensive report can be accessed here.)
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is another organization actively seeking to halt the use of drones. Last week I participated in their webinar on the subject. The first presenter was Medea Benjamin, the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (Kindle, 2012).
My question to Medea was, Aren’t drones preferable to “boots on the ground?” The response was similar to what the FOR has been advocating since it was founded in 1915: surely there is a better way to solve differences than by the use of drones or ground forces.
One page on FOR’s website is “Faith-based communities say no to drones.” (There is a link for signing a petition against the use of drones, which I have done.) Among the aspects of drone warfare that FOR finds particularly disturbing are these:
The Administration insists that because drones do not risk American lives, Congress need not be consulted, leading to a dangerous abuse of executive power. (This is a similar concern that Rachel Maddow writes about in Drift, the subject of my previous posting.)
The President and his aides draw up a Kill List in which they play the role of prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. People on this secret Kill List have never been charged, tried or convicted in a court of law, and are given no opportunity to surrender. (As most of you know, I voted for President Obama’s reelection, but this is an aspect of his administration that I oppose; of course, there would likely have been similar, or even increased, use of military UAVs by a Republican administration.)