Why has the U.N. been so silent about the U.S. drone program?

Colum Lynch writes: Of the 60 people who have died in 14 reported drone attacks in Pakistan tribal areas since September, the names of all but one of the victims, an alleged leader of the Haqqani terror network named Janbaz Zadran, remain classified.

Since 9/11, the United States has dramatically expanded its covert drone program, killing between several hundred to more than 2,000 people, mostly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, according to human rights groups. Carried out it in near total secrecy (even the existence of the drone program is classified), it’s impossible for outsiders to assess whether U.S. kill operations meet the standards of international law.

The drone program has proven highly controversial in Yemen — where a U.S. strike, prompted by bad intelligence, in May, resulted in the killing of a Yemeni official — and in Pakistan, where it has strained U.S. relations with a key ally in the war on terror. Last month, the Central Intelligence Agency temporarily suspended drone operations in Pakistan in an effort to repair the two countries’ relationship. But the U.N. leadership has shown little interest in registering concern about a practice considered highly controversial — even before the United States launched its war on terrorism after 9/11. While some of Washington allies’ are reportedly troubled by the scope of the U.S. killing campaign they have registered little public concern about it at the United Nations, leaving Iran as a relatively lone voice of protest against the program following their capture of an American surveillance drone in December.

Last month, Turtle Bay asked U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at his year-end press conference about his views on the use of drones, and whether he worries about countries like Iran or Russia taking up the practice. “I don’t have much to say about all this, what kind of means the member states use,” Ban answered. “This is something which national governments, military authorities, they may decide.”

Ban said that while he hoped these nations act within the bounds of “international regulations and understandings” he realizes that “with the rapid development of technology, many countries develop their own military means of getting, collecting information. Other than that, I do not have comments on this matter.”

Ban’s reluctance to address the drone policy stands in contrast to his predecessor Kofi Annan’s criticism of other controversial aspects of the U.S. led war on terror, particularly its detention and rendition policies.

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