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The film “Eye in the Sky” builds drama through excruciating minutes ticking by as politicians debate the legality and morality of sending Hellfire missiles into a house in Nairobi Kenya where tiny surveillance drones show figures strapping on suicide vests, just as a young girl unwittingly sets up shop nearby. She is full of life, and would be likely killed.
The premise that the American, British and Israeli targeted killing programs are operated on absolute certain identification of combatants and observe strict protocols avoiding civilian casualties is Hollywood reality. But the drone operations of the U.S. military and CIA are secret, and there is no generally recognized definition of “civilian.” Our government uses the term “militant” to mean: all military-age males — in some cases as young as 12 — in a strike zone,unless there is “explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
Human rights investigators on the ground have learned that hundreds of children have been killed in U.S. “signature strikes,” where, for instance, sim cards in cell phones were used to locate targets. Wedding parties have been destroyed because faulty intelligence targeted large gatherings. The Obama administration has so far used drones in and bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries, (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Syria).
On March 8, the U.S. killed 150 people in one operation in Somalia with drones and bombs, on the assertion that they were “terrorists” connected to the Somali group al Shabaab, without providing any identification or evidence. The U.S. government has not said it is at war with al Shabaab or with Somalia, giving this attack no legal justification under international law. Such killings are illegal, and not morally legitimate.
The Atlantic reports, “The notion that the Obama Administration has carried out drone strikes only when there is ‘near-certainty of no collateral damage’ is easily disproved propaganda. America hasn’t killed a handful of innocents or a few dozen in the last 8 years. Credible, independent attempts to determine how many civilians the Obama administration has killed arrived at numbers in the hundreds or low thousands.” *
There are characters in Eye in the Sky who agonize about the responsibility they share for targeted killing… in a country neither the U.S. or the U.K. is at war with. We all have to consider: Do we want to live in a country where the U.S. president kills whomever he or she wants, wherever he or she wants, without regard for law, due process, accountability, or evidence?
*Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Learn more from:
Feature films: The Good Kill 2015
Documentary films: Dirty Wars 2013; Wounds of Waziristan 2013; Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars 2014; Drone 2014