A Move to Ban Weaponized Drones

As a result of imprecise data analysis by drone operators, thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine and Russia have been slaughtered, writes Ann Wright.

A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down the runway at an air base in Afghanistan on its way to another wartime mission, 2008. (U.S. Air Force, Brian Ferguson)

By Ann Wright

Changing how brutal wars are conducted is extremely difficult, but not impossible.  Citizens have successfully pushed through the United Nations General Assembly treaties to abolish nuclear weapons and to ban the use of landmines and cluster munitions. 

Of course, countries that want to continue to use these weapons will not follow the lead of the vast majority of nations in the world and sign those treaties.  The United States and the other eight nuclear-armed countries have refused to sign the treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. 

Likewise, the U. S. and 15 other countries, including Russia and China, have refused to sign the ban on the use cluster bombs.  The U.S. and 31 other countries, including Russia and China, have refused to sign the treaty on the ban on land mines.

However, the fact that “rogue,” war mongering countries, such as the United States, refuse to sign treaties that the majority of the countries of the world want, does not deter people of conscience and social responsibility from trying to bring these countries to their senses for the sake of the survival of the human species. 

Activists know they are up against rich weapons manufacturers who buy the favor of politicians in these war nations through their political campaign donations and other largesse.

Initiative in Vienna

Against these odds, the latest citizen initiative for banning a specific weapon of war will be launched on June 10 in Vienna at the International Summit for Peace in Ukraine.

One of the favorite weapons of war of the 21st century has turned out to be weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles.  With these automated aircraft, human operators can be tens of thousands of miles away watching from cameras onboard the plane.  No human must be on the ground to verify what the operators think they see from the plane which may be thousands of feet above.

An MQ-9 Reaper “attack drone pilot” training in a flight simulator at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, 2020. (U.S. Air Force, Lauren Silverthorne)

As a result of imprecise data analysis by drone operators, thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine and Russia have been slaughtered by the Hellfire missiles and other munitions triggered by the drone operators.  Innocent civilians attending wedding parties and funeral gatherings have been massacred by drone pilots.  Even those coming to aid victims of a first drone strike have been killed in what is called “double tap.”

Many militaries around the world are now following the lead of the United States in the use of killer drones.  The U.S. used weaponized drones in Afghanistan and Iraq and killed thousands of innocent citizens of those countries.  

For militaries, drones are a safe and easy way to kill their enemies.  The innocent civilians killed can be chalked up as “collateral damage” with seldom an investigation into how the intelligence that led to the killing of the civilians was created.  If by chance an investigation is done, drone operators and intelligence analysts are given a pass on responsibility for extra-judicially assassinating innocent civilians.  

Drones protest at General Atomics in San Diego, April 2013. (Steve Rhodes, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of the most publicized drone strikes on innocent civilians was in the city of Kabul in August 2021, during the botched U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan.  After following a white car for hours that intelligence analysts reportedly believed to be carrying a possible ISIS-K bomber, a U.S. drone operator launched a Hellfire missile at the car as it pulled into a small residential compound.  At the same moment, seven small children came racing out to the car to ride the remaining distance into the compound.  

Senior U.S. military initially described the deaths of unidentified persons as a “righteous” drone strike. But as media investigated who was killed by the drone strike, it turned out that the driver of the car was Zemari Ahmadi, an employee of Nutrition and Education International, a California-based aid organization who was making his daily routine of deliveries of materials to various locations in Kabul.  

When he arrived home each day, his children would run out of the house to meet their father and ride in the car the remaining few feet to where he would park.  Three adults and seven children were killed in what was later confirmed as an “unfortunate” attack on innocent civilians.  No military personnel were admonished or punished for the mistake that killed ten innocent persons.

[Related: Call for Drone Moratorium After Latest Civilian Killings]

Over the past 15 years, I have made trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Gaza to talk with families who have had innocent loved ones killed by drone pilots who were operating drones from hundreds if not thousands of miles away.  The stories are similar.  The drone pilot and the intelligence analysts, generally young men and women in their 20s, misinterpreted a situation that could have been sorted out easily by “boots on the ground.”

But the military finds it easier and safer to kill innocent civilians than put its own personnel on the ground to make on site evaluations.  Innocent persons will continue to die until this weapons system is stopped. The risks will increase as artificial intelligence takes over more and more of the targeting and launch decisions.

A draft treaty is a first step in the uphill battle to rein in long distance and increasingly automated and weaponized drone warfare. To that end, the International Campaign to Ban Weaponized Drones will present this statement  in Vienna in June and ultimately take to the United Nations.

Ann Wright is a 29-year U.S. Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a colonel. She is also a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia.  In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul. She is co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience. 

This article is from Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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11 comments for “A Move to Ban Weaponized Drones

  1. Vera Gottlieb
    June 7, 2023 at 11:15

    And do the drone builders/users even give a hoot?

  2. Anon
    June 7, 2023 at 10:00

    Julian Assange continues incarceration for ghoulish Wikivid I viewed here on CN.
    Col Wright’s cited example demos far under 10% survival ratio between dead children and boots on ground imagined US soldier / advisor… imagine the murders occurred in similar fashion as Wikivid!
    Wish I could comment “tnx”…

  3. Tony
    June 7, 2023 at 08:38

    We should absolutely seek to ban these weapons.

    But before such a ban becomes a reality, a demand for a ban is likely to have a ‘chilling’ effect and thus make their use less likely. And so well done to everyone who campaigns against them. Without your efforts the problem would probably be even worse.

  4. torture this
    June 7, 2023 at 07:53

    When weaponized UAV’s are outlawed, only outlaws like the US will use weaponized UAV’s. We’d be lucky to stop them from being used in the US.

  5. CaseyG
    June 6, 2023 at 20:49

    I wonder why so many humans feel that bashing other humans, imploding communities, and ruining lives —–why does doing any of this make the world a better place? Why does bombing a city or a forest—why is this thought to be so wonderful?
    Are humans so deluded that WAR seems to be a thing that makes murderous actions heroic? I despair . I am living in a nation that spends more time and money on wars. Care of the Earth, our home, the only planet available for us all——-what insane part of so much of humanity makes power and arrogance a thing to be praised? Earth is running out of water—- and then? Who knows—but I worry that arrogance has replaced sanity in so many nations.

  6. HelenB
    June 5, 2023 at 22:38

    Wellll, all wars kill innocent civilians. Regardless of what weapons they use. But sure, go ahead, if you can ban this weapon, then try to keep banning more.
    The uranium in tank armor and tank artillery isn’t even intended for the enemy! Rather, it is to spoil a land when the attacker loses the war.
    Bombing cities usually has a side effect of killing some civilians, on top of the destruction of civic architecture.

  7. James White
    June 5, 2023 at 17:44

    It is a noble pursuit to propose a ban on lethal UAV’s. But as long as there are people like Victoria Nuland, who can take over governments in foreign countries using the CIA, then provoke wars that kill hundreds of thousands of human beings, there can be no peace. No peace treaty signed by the U.S. will ever be honored whenever circumstances change. Those in power must be worthy of trust. Otherwise, security is not possible for any country in the world that does not develop weapons, including nuclear weapons. Before any country lays down the weapons, the war mongers must go. Starting with the U.S. war mongers.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      June 6, 2023 at 04:48

      Superb and most germane comment to a responsible write-up in the defence of vulnerable humans exposed to irresponsible application of yet another techno-barbarianism. People in power must, ideally, be worthy of the trust of their constituents and ultimately of GOD but unfortunately for humanity and lucratively for the powerful culprits they are in actuality merely worthy of the trust of their exploitative masters and their runaway greed. Believe me laying down arms may be the right thing to do in a just and an equitable civilization but to ban and ultimately eliminate all arms should NEVER be an option. So long as arms are limited to their legitimate purposes they should be left to exist alone !

  8. bardamu
    June 5, 2023 at 17:09

    Sadly, this is a good enough idea that we can know in advance that it will not happen. We have the usual problem that we always have with bans on violence: the enforcing body must be violent, and it will refuse to enforce laws against itself.

    It may be of some advantage to have the ban nonetheless, just because there is some chance that fear of prosecution in old age or after a change of power. And this violence also happens in large part because populations who are not directly guilty are otherwise complicit. Still, a ban with violent penalties also provides motivation towards violence by the wealthy to retain power. And, of course, most violence is mostly that.

    A problem with drones specifically is that they remove the murderer from the victim. Studies since Milgram have shown that humans are more prone to torture and murder under command if they imagine that their atrocities are not witnessed by cohorts. This may be largely to avoid punishment, but it also appears to be because anonymity greatly facilitates denial. Think about kids who are caught shoplifting. They may feel all sorts of things other than guilty right up to the moment in which they are caught, when the most common response becomes sobbing tears and apology. Even drone operators many miles from the dangers of combat suffer PTSD regularly, but the information that has emerged from the practice also suggests strongly that they hunt civilians as a kind of sport.

    Humans have no uncircumstantial need for violence (as we do for food or water or air), but we clearly have strong recourse to it in response to circumstances. To reduce violence requires that we design and implement circumstances that do not drive people to violence. I suppose that sounds utopian; to accomplish it perfectly would be pretty nearly so. But perfection is no prerequisite to action in this direction any more than it is in others.

    Violence in a society increases with increased stress, including particularly with increased disparity in income, wealth, power, and respect (as has been extensively documented by Richard Wilkinson (How Economic Inequality Harms Societies, on TED, 17 minute podcast; further documentation in _The Spirit Level_, in the final chapter).

    Before the forest there stood a first tree. Applause for Ann Wright.

  9. Selina Sweet
    June 5, 2023 at 15:30

    Thank you for your righteous dedication to life. Outlawing
    cluster bombs and weaponized drones is absolutely imperative.

  10. Realist
    June 5, 2023 at 15:19

    Since Madeline Albright has passed on to her eternal reward, I guess we will have to ask America’s foremost Shield Maidens like Victoria Nuland or Hillary Clinton if the unintended consequences are worth the cost to innocent lives in cases like these. Truth be told, I think that such consequences are often quite intended, especially when America deliberately enlists terrorism as a weapon and professional terrorists like Al Qaeda and ISIS as allies. But then, I’m not much of a team player when it comes to genocide, intended or fortuitous.

Comments are closed.