Posted on May 01, 2013 in Arab American Institute

The Arab American Institute supports the development of specific policies that would impose reasonable limitations on the use of drones by U.S., state, or local officials in the international and domestic arenas. We support the development and implementation of oversight measures that would ensure that any use of drones by U.S. governments, agencies, businesses, or citizens, would comply with international law and would safeguard Americans’ civil liberties.

International Use

The United States has at least 8,000 drones, unmanned planes and helicopters flown by remote control. In the international arena, the Bush and Obama Administrations have relied heavily on drones against known or suspected terrorists in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Since 2004, the U.S. has launched 78 strikes in Yemen, 350 in Pakistan alone, and armed drones fired missiles on Afghanistan 447 times in 2012 alone.

According to the CIA and counter-terrorism officials, drones have killed more than 500 militants, including more than half of the 20 most wanted al-Qaeda terrorist suspects.  And while government sources assert that very few civilians are killed by US drone attacks, some sources estimate that the civilian-to-militant death ratio is actually as high as 50:1. 

The government’s use of drones came under increased scrutiny in 2013, following the February release of a Justice Department White Paper that appeared to grant the Executive Office sweeping powers for the use of drones to target American citizens with little or no oversight. According to the memo, “The condition that an operational  leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

In March 2013, a U.N. team investigating civilian drone casualties in Pakistan claimed that U.S. attacks are a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan calling them of “dubious international legality.”

During the amendment process for the annual defense authorization bill (NDAA), Rep. Conyers proposed an amendment that would address the scope and transparency concerns with the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Resolution (AUMF). The Conyers amendment that was adopted, clarifies that the AUMF assessment requires the President to assess whether a group is an associated force for purposes of interpreting the scope of the 2001 AUMF.

Domestic Use

At the federal level, the Federal Aviation Administration is charged with developing a plan for incorporating surveillance drones into the national airspace by 2015, and authorizing public and private use of drones.

At the same time, 37 pieces of state legislation regarding public and private use of surveillance drones are currently pending around the nation. Two states (Florida and Virginia) have enacted drone legislation. There are wide variances from state to state on a number of key issues, including privacy protections, parameters for use by law enforcement agencies, storage of information collected by drones, and the use of such data by courts and administrative hearings.