Anwar Al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and Al Qaeda propagandist, was the first United States (US) citizen to be killed in a ‘Targeted Killing’ by US drone strike. He was killed by a Hellfire missile launched from a drone landed in Yemen on 30 September 2011. Then US-president Barack Obama ordered for the attack which violated all the legal sections existing in the US constitution. Noteworthy, Al-Awlaki was never found to be charged with any crimes according to the report published in the Intercept. Subsequently, this incident was dubbed as an ‘extrajudicial killing’ by Human Rights activists across the world.
This planned incident resulted in more bloodshed, just two weeks later, with another drone attack which killed Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, the son of Al-Awlaki. As Abdulrahman was not the main target of the attack, it resulted in the killings of other innocent civilians. The Obama’s administration tried to justify the attack with their own logic and thoughts. Noteworthy, Obama’s press secretary blamed this 16-year-old boy for his death stating that the boy should have had a father who is more responsible, according to The Intercept. Six years later, in 2017, US SEAL Team killed 8-year-old Nawaar- Al-Awlaki, the daughter of Al-Awlaki, alongside 30 other innocent civilians in brutal operation in Yemen. The Reuters reported that she was shot in the neck, injured severely and suffered for almost two hours. Are these incidents be justified by saying that the sin of father visited upon the kids?
This is just a part of a board story that flows in the same direction with same manner over the year with changing targets in different regions. Another US drone strike, on 29 August 2021, killed ten innocent civilians of one family in Afghanistan. It was targeted an aid worker and his family members which included seven children. Though the US described this cruel incident as ‘tragic mistake’ only, there are very few cases where the even acknowledged their mistakes.
The aforementioned planned incidents are some dots of a broader picture of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations by USA internationally. Citing these sorts of incidents, critics accuses the US, the protector of human rights, for consistently violating human rights and international laws and order situations.
No doubt, targeted killing is a clear violation of Human Rights. Making a ‘Kill list’ or ‘Target listing’ is also a violation of fundamental tenants as there are international bindings on this. But the US, the champion of democracy, has been found to breach the international laws on this continuously since 9/11. The killing of Al-Awlaki represent the true face of US targeted killing. Noteworthy, Carpenter argued in an article that even if Al-Awlaki was a Propagandist of Al Qaeda, killing him intentionally was illegal since there was no proof of him participating in armed conflict.
Is this the only prohibition the USA has violated? The drone strike on Qasem Soleimani is another example of violation of international laws on internationally protected people. As a top-tier Irani government official, Soleimani was an internationally protected person. Therefore, killing him is undoubtedly a violation of international laws and order. Apart from international laws, targeted killing is one kind of ‘extrajudicial killings,’ and deprives a person of ‘right to justice’.
Is Al-Awlaki’s son the only child killed by the US drone strike? Tariq Aziz, 16-year-old boy and a soccer player, died in a drone strike in Pakistan in last year. The US drone strike has caused c huge havoc and casualties in different parts of the world including Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia etc. In a report of the Bureau of Investigative journalism stated that around 174-225 civilians have been killed in different drone strike in Yemen with total death of almost 1020 to 1389 people since 2004. According to the same report, almost 424-969 civilians killed with total death of almost 2500-4000 people in Pakistan which is even worse than Yemen.
The drone attack also has a culture of impunity and does not take any responsibility. There are very few examples where the accused persons were identified or punished or even held responsible for the incidents. Besides, the drone attacks also have a culture of punitive actions targeting mainly the ‘Terrorists’ and their families as a part of ‘retribution’.
Turning Blind Eye for Allies
The USA always raise a strong voice for ensuring democracy and protecting human rights in international platforms. But the same country has been found to turn a blind eye when it comes about its friends. Many of the USA’s traditional allies, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have violated human rights in many cases which include depriving of legal rights, forced disappearance, killing of internationally protected persons and extrajudicial killing. But the USA has not been found as vocal as it has been in other cases. This partial attitude of the USA makes it clear that the country is actually more concerned about its interest and less about the human rights protection.
There are many examples where the USA supports the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC). But the country does not seem to pay the same respect the ICC’s decision when it comes about its own. Interestingly, the country has been found to impose sanction on the court. Last year, the US government-imposed sanctions on two ICC prosecutors, who were investigating the US personnel, and restricted visa issuance for them. This is just one of the very few examples where the USA has shown dual and paradoxical position on ICC. Doesn’t such act create obstacles on the fair implementation of legal norms?
At the end, all these incidents of violations of human rights by the USA can be termed as ‘western immorality’. Ayatollah Khamenei once said that “We’re not afraid of sanctions. We’re not afraid of military invasion. What frightens us is the invasion of western immorality.” Slavoj Zizek, a cultural philosopher, also explained this ‘immorality’ in one of his articles on Afghan context. The analysis showed the questionable role of the USA that violates human rights in international sphere and explained the country’s tendency to violates the international laws when it all about its own interests. So, as a violator of human rights, the USA is currently not in a place to advice others on protecting human rights. In order to become the ‘true’ Champion of Human Rights, the USA must avoid its duality and paradoxical position on human rights and abide by international rules and regulations. Ozair Islam is a Bangladeshi NGO worker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org