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October 22, 2013

Human Rights Groups Demand Drone Program Transparency


Two human rights groups claim U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed more civilians that the government has reported.

“We have researched as much as we can nine cases out of the 45 that we identified between January 2012 and August 2013,” said Mustafa Qadri of Amnesty International. “The most challenging situation we had to face was the complete and utter secrecy of the U.S. authorities.”

Amnesty International says the Pakistani government and nongovernmental organizations on the ground estimate there have been nearly 350 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Critics argue President Barack Obama has failed to make good on his promise to limit strikes that result in unintentional casualties.

In one case, Amnesty International says 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was killed by two Hellfire missiles fired by an invisible drone while harvesting vegetables in the small village of Ghundi Kala in Northwest Pakistan.

“In the villages where people are hit, every man, woman and child has seen images of charred bodies, of body parts, of vehicles that are turned into twisted masses,” said Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch.

The administration disagrees with these assessments, saying that the data does not take into account the actions of terrorists who use civilians as human shields and that the drone attacks are necessary to prevent greater losses of life.

“To the extent these reports claim the U.S. has acted contrary to international law, we would strongly disagree,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “The administration has repeatedly emphasized the extraordinary care that we take to make sure counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable law.”

Warm up questions
  1. What do you know about the U.S. drone program?
    • Who is the main target of its strikes?
    • What parts of the world have the drone strikes take place?
    • How does the drone plane work? Who controls it?
  2. Is it ethical to kill civilians during wartime or is it inevitable cost of war?
  3. If drone planes are not to be used, how else might the U.S. achieve the same results?
Discussion questions
  1. Is it morally just to use unmanned planes to attack and kill terrorists?
  2. What are the risks and benefits of using unmanned drones to engage in military attacks?
  3. Is it ever moral to kill civilians during war? Does it happen anyways? The international community acknowledges that civilians may be killed during wars, but Amnesty International has suggested that the U.S. has gone too far. Do you think that the U.S. has gone too far? Defend your answer.
  4. Although the report condemns the U.S. for their current use of drones they have not condemned the program and have suggested that it continue but that more stringent criteria for the use of drones should be implemented. Do you agree or disagree and why?
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