Even if U.S. drone attacks were legal, history is showing that drone attacks are killing many more people than those said to be targeted because of: (1) faulty identification of “suspects”; and (2) the use of Hellfire missiles that kill and wound those near the targeted suspects.
1. Faulty Identification - Those under U.S. drone attack are targeted based on intelligence reports that are often highly questionable and other evidence that would never hold water in a court of law. U.S. drones have killed people targeted by personal enemies in their own communities; based on their associations; because of where they are congregated; because of their apparent ages; or simply because of suspicions of drone operators watching them on screens that often shows only indistinct outlines of people and objects.
The most thorough examination of the failings and inner workings of the U.S. drone program to date appears in “The Drone Papers”, published in October 2015 by The Intercept, based on leaked documents. This is a “must-read”. https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/the-assassination-complex/ See also this commentary from The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/16/drone-documents-whistleblower-edward-snowden-daniel-ellsberg
“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study...
“Some 24 men specifically targeted (by U.S. drones) in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.
“In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.”
Possibly the most notorious case of misidentification was the drone attack in October 2012 that killed Momina Bibi, a 67-year-old grandmother who was out tending her garden in Northern Waziristan when a U.S. drone’s Hellfire missile exterminated her and brutally wounded two of her grandchildren. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/27/drones-attack-pakistan-family-rehman-congress
Misidentification may also occur because of technical shortcomings in video camera technology, as the resolution and detail of the image may not be sufficient to identify the intended target. A stark example is the drone killing in Afghanistan in April 2011of Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith and Navy Hospitalman Benjamin Rast who were caught with a Marine contingent in a fire-fight with Taliban troops. A Pentagon investigation of the deaths discusses mistakes that were made by those on the ground that led to a drone attack to be called in. But it appears that a greater problem was that the operators of the Predator drone that undertook the attack were not able to see definitely whom they were targeting, relying solely on heat sensing of the bodies of the “enemy”, which turned out to be those of “friendly” troops. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Confusion-blamed-in-drone-strike-that-killed-2219732.php
2. Hellfire Missiles - The killing and wounding of people other than suspects is also likely to result from the use of Hellfire missiles as the primary weapon used in U.S. drone attacks.
The Hellfire is designed for use against such “hard” targets as trucks, tanks, armored personnel carriers and buildings, not unprotected human beings.
The blast of the Hellfire missile is so powerful that the Marine Corps and other branches of the military, have determined that the safe distance from the point of impact of a Hellfire missile is no closer than 120 yards, the length of a football field, including the end zones.
U.S. Army firing range safety standards appear to decree a safe distance for practice firing of Hellfire missiles to be a minimum of two miles from point of impact with the “large size of the Hellfire weapons danger zone” due in part to the possibility of “random missile failure”.
So although the Air Force and government officials may describe the Hellfire as a “precise” weapon, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-16804247 it is anything but that given the extremely high probability that it will kill or wound others in a very wide radius, in addition to the suspect.
Hellfire missiles routinely pulverize those caught in a direct blast, often making it impossible to tell how many people have been killed in an attack, and others nearby will be killed or wounded in the missile’s fragmentation zone. (Of course the same is true of the use of 500 pound bombs that are also carried by the Reaper drone.)
For example, the New York Times reported February 6, 2013:
“After the drone strike (in Yemen), villagers were left to identify two dead relatives from identity cards, scraps of clothing and the license plate of Mr. Jamal’s Toyota; the seven bodies were shredded beyond recognition, as cellphone photos taken at the scene attest. ‘We found eyes, but there were no faces left,’ said Abdullah Faqih, a student who knew both of the dead cousins.”
Living Under Drones, http://chrgj.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Living-Under-Drones.pdf, the most complete complete documentation of the human impact of U.S. drone attacks yet produced, reports:
“The most immediate consequence of drone strikes is, of course, death and injury to those targeted or near a strike. The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration, shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs. Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss.”
This is why KnowDrones calls for a complete ban to the use of weaponized drones" (and link to "Why A Ban") https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/02/19/wedding-became-funeral/us-drone-attack-marriage-procession-yemen