In the latest air strike by a drone in Pakistan's northern Waziristan tribal region US officials claimed four suspected Taliban militants had been killed. How did they know this? Apparently by listening in to a Taliban radio message requesting four coffins. But how did the Americans know the coffins were for terrorists and not civilians killed at the Girls School in Miranshah, a school requisitioned by the Taliban, so an informant told the U.S. military.
There is something sinister and cowardly about an unmanned aircraft - a drone - firing a deadly missile into a target believed to be sheltering 'suspected terrorists'. Israel calls these assassinations of selected Palestinians 'targeted killings' while the United States calls drone victims in Afghanistan and Yemen 'Taliban militants'. Both countries act as if drones are legitimate weapons of war and their targets irrefutable villains. But are they?
The drones are programmed to fire on specific targets. These targets are 'fingered' by informants inside enemy territory. Informants are in general paid for their information. No targets no money. The informant - already a controversial figure when it comes to morality - may well be tempted to invent targets or point the finger at his personal enemies or rivals.
(The Palestinians have often complained Israeli drones frequently kill innocent people. The Taliban have made the same claims and when the U.S, military in Afghanistan was desperate to find Taliban terrorists to send to the Guatanamo Bay military prison in Cuba many ordinary people were sold to the U.S. as 'terrorists' by local bounty hunters reputedly earning fifty thousand dollars per captured terrorist. After years of brutal interrogations and abuses many of these innocents had to be released.)
The chilling part of war by drones is the detachment of the killer. Someone somewhere thousands of miles from the target sits on a desk and is passed the coordinates of a house, a motor car or a building. Similar to a video game he or she then programs the unmanned craft to fly on its deadly mission and follows its progress and its missile strike on a screen via satellite. This new technology is scary because it offers a few people in countries like the United States and Israel the awesome power to 'take out' anyone considered hostile to their interests. From there it is just one short step to ordering the killing of anyone you don't like.
Pakistan with its tribal frontier region next to Afghanistan has been a favorite target for strikes by drones. On March 30 a drone strike killed another four suspected militants and injured four others. Pakistani parliament complained such strikes are a blatant violation of the country's sovereignty and demanded the program be stopped. The U.S has simply ignored the outcry and sent a drone to strike again inside Pakistani territory. Israel too, America's closest ally, ignores Palestinian and international indignation over such remote controlled assassinations. Humanity has made little progress since its cave days: Those with might still have right. Ends
A former foreign correspondent Uli Schmetzer periodically covered the Middle East between 1988 and 2004. He is the author of the novel 'Gaza'� and an autobiography ˜Times of Terror' available on www.amazon.com.