Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) first made their appearance in 1919 when Elmer Sperry, who also invented the gyroscope and autopilot, attacked a captured German ship with the first UAV loaded down to with explosives(("U.s. army unmanned," 2010). At the time this was a revolutionary weapon, but if we fast forward 80 years from the time of that experiment, UAVs became a common and prolific part of the modern battlefield. Although there is little debate as to the legality of their use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, in recent years there are been much debate as to the role they should play in the larger American declared Global War on Terror or GWOT. While the government believes that it is acting in the best interest of the American people, more and more scholars and foreign governments are questioning the legality and ethical implications of the current UAV polices governing strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.
UAVs first saw action in the opening days of the GWOT in Afghanistan and during its first year of action UAVs attacked approximately 115 targets. This took place just shortly after Hellfire air-to-surface missiles were test fired and approved for use on Predator UAVs. When the war began in Iraq in 2003 UAVs were there helping to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government and destroy military targets. Drones were utilized in either a direct support role of ground troops in an overwatch capacity with the ability to assist in command and control and the second in a hunter-killer capacity where the UAVs searched for targets (Callam, 2010). The role of UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan in these roles was seen no differently than the use of traditional aircraft, but their use was quickly expanded beyond what has traditional been seen as the battlefield. The program and its policies drew criticism and questions related to international law.
It was not long after UAVs were weaponized that the CIA saw the potential of their use internationally. On November 3, 2002, after the Air Force rejected the mission over legal concerns, the CIA attacked a vehicle in Yemen with a UAV killing all six passengers (O’Connell, 2010). The difference between theses strikes and the ones conducted by the military lies in the fact that the military was striking targets in a recognized warzone while the CIA was operating over the sovereign territory of another nation. The UN Commission on Human Rights noted that this was done with the consent of Yemen and they had the, “responsibility to protect their citizens against the excesses of non-Sate actors… actions must be taken in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.” Further, in the opinion of the Special Rapporteur, “the attack in Yemen constitutes a clear case of extrajudicial killing.” (Jahangir, 2003).
Another stark example of the drone program involves the hunt for Baitullah Mehsud who was the leader of a militant group in Pakistan that attacked a police academy in that country. Five months later he was targeted and killed in an UAV attack in northwest Pakistan, but it was not the only strike carried out in an attempt to kill him. In fact, sixteen other strikes were used in a failed attempt to kill one man and in the process between 207 and 321 other people were killed (Callam, 2010). The large difference in the number of people reportedly killed is due in large part to the methodology used in determining how many people were killed (Beswick, 2010).
Currently it is known that the United States has carried out UAV attacks in at least six countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. In addition to their expanded area of use their numbers have grown exponentially from 167 in 2002 to approximately 7,000 in 2010 (Deri,2012). The number of attacks has grown as well. According to the New American Foundation, between 2004 and...