The Johns Hopkins Human Rights Working Group sponsored a workshop entitled “Legality, Politics and Ethics of Militarized Drones” on Tuesday evening in which members of the Baltimore community and approximately 50 students and faculty were in attendance.
The workshop featured Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Frank Jannuzi, author Medea Benjamin and Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee Shahid Butta.
Jannuzi began the evening by engaging in an open dialogue with the audience to try and gauge their opinion on the United States’ use of unmanned combat air vehicles, drones, as a means of fighting terrorism. Amnesty International is in strong opposition to the lethal weapons used by the United States and other members of the international community. Jannuzi offered suggestions as to how the status quo regarding drones has the potential to change.
“I believe that the first step towards accountability is Americans being able to read reports provided by the government regarding the investigations of terrorist detainees,” Jannuzi said.
He then proceeded to explain Amnesty International USA’s position on human rights laws. Jannuzi believes that the United States is violating international human rights laws by using drones and other lethal weapons as a means to combat terrorists. Additionally, he believes that citizens should have access to the details regarding the CIA’s methods of investigation.
“The picture that is slowly emerging gives us ground to conclude that the United States administration is violating fundamental human rights laws. For example, in Afghanistan, it is possible that many of these so-called targeted killings are violating international human rights, but U.S policy does not admit that many of them are,” Jannuzi said.
Moreover, Jannuzi discussed his concern with the covert nature of the United States government’s lethal weapons programs. He believes that the administration should explain the targeted killings and terrorist attack distribution strikes in greater detail.
“This is all linked to the administration’s continued reliance on a global war theory, which gives the administration a justified way to treat the entire world as a battle field. The administration uses the right of self defense as a way to justify killing,” Jannuzi said.
One of the main concerns Jannuzi professed was the United States’ divergence from the established legal human rights doctrine, which according to Jannuzi, is to be adhered by every country. He believes that the United States should make an effort to reaffirm its commitment to the international norms.
“We are deeply concerned about the use of lethal force. However, I do not want to get completely hung up on just drones because my statements apply to the use of lethal force at large,” Jannuzi said.
Following Jannuzi’s speech, Medea Benjamin, best known for her books Code Pink: Women for Peace and Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, discussed her opinions on the implications of using combat drones.
“Do you think that lethal technology or drones should be used against terrorists?” Benjamin asked.
Benjamin’s main objective is to give the word ‘drone’ a negative connotation. Her way of achieving this is by dubbing the lethal weapon “Killer Drone” at protests or in discussions with policy makers.
“The United States is the leader and has provided a terrible model for lethal weapons around the world. But we are not alone anymore and other countries have followed. There are so many ways in which the ways we are using killer drones are wrong and the signals that the U.S. are spreading to the rest of the world are wrong,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin then continued to explain how the United States continues to build drone bases around the world not just in Africa, but also around the Pacific. She emphasized her growing concern over the expanding international lethal weapons market.
“The Chinese also are beginning to market weapons and are producing armed drones. More and more countries think that they should get on board,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin believes that all “killer” drones should be taken out of the hands of the CIA and she hopes that like chemical weapons, they will no longer be justified as an international norm in warfare.
“If an innocent family in Afghanistan is killed in a drone strike, the CIA won’t give them any compensation. It is essential to get drones out of the hands of the CIA because we know that the CIA has killed many innocent civilians in Afghanistan. The CIA has been able to ignore that they have had a drone program and the time has come to end their use of killer drones,” Benjamin said.
Shahid Buttar supplemented the previous two speakers points by concentrating his speech on the implications of killing without a trail and the treatment of American citizens versus non-American citizens.
“Senator Lindsey Graham has disclosed that 4,000 innocent people have been killed abroad from drone strikes and statistics show that only 5 percent of drone strikes actually hit the direct target. Maybe we should change the name targeted strikes to random strikes,” Buttar said.
He went on to discus the Fourth Amendment and how drones are being given to not only the CIA, but also local police officers and Immigration custom forces. Buttar expressed concerns with the expansion of fusion centers around the country, which are information sharing centers. He believes they infringe on the 4th amendment.
“Immigration custom forces and other government forces are using drones across the southern border. Local police departments are also using drones and it is being normalized turning police into spies. For the state to search you they must have a warrant. Drones are not just a way of searching you, but it is an intelligence collection that goes far beyond just checking what is in your pockets,” Buttar said.