A family of three, including a husband and wife, ran from building to build in East Mosul (Iraq) on January 13, 2017. They were fleeing the fighting between ISIS (also known by Daesh), and U.S. backed forces that was swirling around them. The family was trapped in an abandoned school, surrounded by civilians, when a U.S. drone attacked and destroyed the structure. The father and one his sons managed to escape with their lives. His tragic fate and that of his other children would not be confirmed until months later, when he watched as their bodies were pulled from the rubble.
This was only one of many accounts that were recently described in a recent publicationA number of Pentagon reports have been published that detail the many civilian casualties from U.S. drone attacks and air strikes. The U.S. government has largely obscured the significant civilian casualties that armed drones cause. This report makes it clear that weaponized drones are a serious threat in public health.
The use of weaponized drones for targeted killings is not new and neither is the government’s lack of transparency. Since 2008, the U.S. government is increasing its lethal covert drone operation. Nearly everything we know about this program comes from this source. whistleblowers and leakers. It is difficult to determine the exact number of civilians killed or the extent of the program. However, stories such as the one above show the disregard for human life that results in the use of weaponized drones.
As with all violations of human right, the public health community of which I am a member has an obligation to condemn the use weaponized drones and demand an end of targeted killings. If the goal of the public health sector — which includes health care practitioners, researchers, academics and policy makers — is, as the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) website states, “to Prevent people from getting sick or injured,” then surely lending an authoritative voice in opposition to weaponized drones is more than appropriate.
U.S. citizens bear special responsibility. Weaponized drones, unlike other causes for death or disability, are built, maintained, and funded by tax dollars. It is our elected representatives who put them into action. Our complicity in this is unacceptable.
The APHA has presented passionate arguments in support of the prevention of armed conflictFrom a public safety perspective. Drones are a topic that has received very little attention. This omission is important when one considers how our political leaders — even those often seen as advocates for “peace” — view the use of weaponized drones. For example, the Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning former President Barak Obama saw drone strikes as an alternative to the more uncouth, “stupid wars” that he railed against during his campaign. This perspective was a major contributor to the success of the drone strikes. expansion of the programHis administration had over 500 strikes, one of which specifically targeted and executed a 16 year-old-boy. Political leaders like Obama see drones as an acceptable “middle ground” that allows for the implementation of U.S. force without, at least ostensibly, the traditional collateral of American casualties or civilian deaths.
Civilians also feel the consequences of drone strikes. One researcher explains how children living in a region such as northern Pakistan — with heavy U.S. drone activity — “become hysterical when they hear the characteristic buzz of a drone,” which often circle overhead 24/7. It is difficult to imagine the psychological toll this constant threat to violence takes on children.
Despite the common refrain from U.S. government officials that weaponized drones offer an extremely “precise” method of targeting, the truth is that civilian casualties of weaponized drone attacks are a common occurrence. The indiscriminate nature of weaponized drone attacks is reminiscent of a much older though equally brutal weapon — landmines. Human rights activists, academics, and activists have tirelessly shown the world that landmines kill and maim civilian populations over the past decades. banned. The public health community has played a pivotal role in this movement by, for example, conducting research which adds evidentiary support for the movement’s claims. This same strategy should be applied to weaponized drones. Public health researchers and activists should collaborate with human rights scholars and human rights scholars to create a coalition demanding an end to the use weaponized drones.
The APHA and other professional societies could offer guidance, highlighting the importance of public health in ending the use drones for their purposes. This could be in the form of a bold policy declaration similar to the one. APHA released in 2009 regarding public health’s role in the prevention of armed conflict.
Drones are seen by political leaders of both major U.S. parties as a convenient solution to the traditional pitfalls associated with American use of force. It is crucial that the public health community reminds the world of the tragic consequences of these weapons. It is our responsibility, with our research skills and in prominent positions, to stop weaponized drones being used and to end the suffering and pain they cause.