“On the one hand, you have the U.S. government saying there are zero civilian deaths by drone strikes in Pakistan, which would be something unheard of in the history of any kind of warfare. For that to be true, you would have to have a level of accuracy for U.S. intelligence greater than has ever existed in human history.“Because the accuracy of these strikes is dependable entirely upon the accuracy of the intelligence that you get beforehand to be able to determine who these people are that you’re striking. Also, if all men of military age can be determined to be combatants, which is what the U.S. government claims, then by definition you’re going to have low numbers.” “On the other hand, there are a long series of independent reports, where there’s been some real rigorous on-the-ground investigative work, all saying that the number of casualties than the government is releasing are far too low. And these reports are very valuable because they really put a face on the victims of done attacks, which I think is very important because of the anonymity of drone strikes.” Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor in the department of politics at The Catholic University of America, presented both sides of the recently revived legal and moral issue — Pakistani noncombatants being killed by U.S. drone strikes — to The Tidings in a wide-ranging phone interview from Washington, D.C. “We talk about these as secret ‘covert’ operations. They’re not covert to the people under the missiles they fire,” she pointed out. “And it’s no secret to those communities. So to ask them what has happened, to go and investigate after the fact what has happened, is really very, very useful.”The scholar has a special interest in the ethics of war on terrorism, security studies and U.S. foreign policy among other subjects. The independent investigations she’s talking about have come from the Long War Journal, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the New American Foundation, Stanford University and even the United Nations. But two new studies released last month by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have currently caught her attention. “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda,” Human Rights Watch’s report, focused on six missile strikes, mostly from drones, in Yemen during 2012 and into 2013. The agency reported that two attacks were “clear violations of international humanitarian law.” And the remaining four had broken laws of armed conflict because the targets were not military targets or the U.S. didn’t make enough effort to minimize harm to civilians.While Human Rights Watch readily acknowledged the number of drone strikes had dropped significantly, it also warned that continuing any strikes that killed civilians “risks further angering many Yemenis and handing another recruiting card to Al-Qaeda.”Amnesty International’s report (as noted in The Tidings’ Nov. 8 issue) studied nearly 50 U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan, Pakistan, where most of the aerial attacks have occurred. Gaining rare access to the rugged tribal areas, attack survivors, eyewitnesses, residents and local officials were interviewed. Still, the organization admitted that its investigation was incomplete because of the Obama administration’s refusal to disclose information or own up to committing particular drone attacks. But Amnesty International did report the cases “raise serious concerns that the USA has unlawfully killed people in drone strikes, and that such killings may amount in some cases to extrajudicial executions or war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.” Outside of war zonesCatholic University’s Love agrees with the two new drone investigations that far more noncombatants have been killed and injured than reported by the U.S. military. She also notes that one of the “real problems” with the attacks is precisely the whole matter of legality — or illegality — under international law. In Iraq and Afghanistan, nations officially at war with the United States, the justification for using the highly lethal weapon is actually sanctioned. “The question is outside of war zones, and that’s what these two reports are talking about,” Love pointed out. “Outside of war zones, you’re not operating under the laws of war and, therefore, you need to be trying to capture these suspected militants rather than targeting them for killing. So that’s where the disputes lie. “And that’s the legal question: Are these strikes lawful? Which is really important because traditionally the United States has been a leader in the laws of war and in trying to have lawful use of the military. Not only because our military is the largest and most professional, but also because U.S. forces are the most exposed to risk. So [targeted drone attacks outside war zones] are really contrary to traditional U.S. military law.”The political scientist stresses that “no one is saying” the U.S.’s intention is to kill civilians, which is the case with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist attacks. The primary target is based on defensible military targets, which meets the “discrimination” component of a just war, according to Catholic tradition going back to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. But the “proportionality” component is a different matter. How important are the Pakistani targets the U.S. continues to pursue?Love says that high-ranking members of both the military as well as the CIA have testified under oath to Congress that Al-Qaeda has been greatly “diminished,” with many of its leaders, in fact, being killed. “If that’s true, then it’s hard to defend even small numbers of civilian casualties,” she maintained. “As you go farther down the list to middle management or even a lower level, the harder it is to justify this so-called ‘collateral damage.’ And this is where Catholic moral discussion becomes most relevant.”Moreover, she points out that some members of the military and diplomatic corps have been some of the strongest critics of drone strikes precisely for this reason. Their argument boils down to: Are these weak military targets really worth the costs of strikes in decreased diplomatic relations and how insurgents use the number of civilian casualties as a huge PR victory? “Their argument is you’re winning the battle and losing the war,” she said. So what is “excessive collateral damage?” Love was asked.“There’s no mathematical formula here,” she said. “But, again, this is where the use of these weapons outside of war zones is particularly problematic. Soldiers are trained and have equipment to protect themselves in war. Civilians do not. They didn’t create the war, and they have no real means of protecting themselves once war ensues. In a war zone, civilians know there’s a war going on, and they can at least try to run away and take shelter. Like the number of refugees that we’re seeing now in Syria. “So in a place like Pakistan, it’s particularly pernicious,” she stressed, “both from the legal point of view and for the moral point of view.”Accident proneLove brings up two other problems of waging war with drones. Drones are extremely prone to accidents, she reports, especially the larger vehicles the U.S. military and CIA favor: Predators and Reapers. Both have triple the accident rate of all other aircrafts in the U.S. arsenal. This is not only a concern about causing civilian casualties but also an economic matter of the cost-benefit ratio. The U.S. Air Force reported last year that the cost of a single MQ-9 Reaper drone was $1,254,871.Another issue is that drones are only useful against militarily weaker adversaries, particularly ones who don’t have any anti-aircraft weapons. Why? Because the slow-flying drones are easily shot down. “So you really run into the problem of proportionality there, too,” she said. “If these are a weapon that can only be used against essentially defenseless populations, then you run into some real questions of justice.”But the Catholic University professor has her own reason against using drones in Pakistan and other nations.“My argument against the use of drones — and it’s a larger argument that includes drones, but it’s really about the way we’ve been approaching these conflicts — is that we’re engaged in a lot of discussions about the tactics of war without any consideration of the strategies of building peace,” Love observed. “So whether or not you use drone strikes, where you use them, how, which are appropriate targets, what’s the acceptable level of civilian casualties, all of those are debates about the tactics of war.“None of those add up to building peace in these areas. Wars end. And at the end of a war, are you left with a more stable country with a sustainable peace and with reconciliation among the former combatants or not? That has to be job one. Drones don’t get us there. Drones may undercut our ability to get there. Killing people with Hellfire missiles does not build peace. Expanding the zone of death of Hellfire missiles outside of war zones does not build peace.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1115/drones/{/gallery}