Associate Director of Law School’s Human Rights Institute Questions Effectiveness of Drone Warfare

Naureen Shah '07 Calls on U.S. Government to Reassess Drone Strikes Policy

New York, May 8, 2013—U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have not proven effective at ensuring the security of people in those countries or of the United States, said Naureen Shah ’07, an associate director of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute in remarks during a recent debate at the Oxford Union.

Shah participated in the debate, hosted by the preeminent debating society at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, with five other counterterrorism experts and scholars. She argued against the proposition that “Drone Warfare is Ethical and Effective.”
“There is no evidence that drone warfare is effective for the people who live in the countries where drone strikes take place,” Shah said at the April 25 event, helping defeat the proposition by a vote of 154 to 86.
Shah, a 2007 Law School graduate, is the associate director of the Human Rights Institute’s Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project. She is also acting director of the Law School’s Human Rights Clinic.
In the debate, she pointed out that terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have not decreased since U.S. drone strikes began. In Pakistan, she said, terrorists have shifted their focus to major cities where drones cannot target them to carry out attacks that cripple the economy and political system. Shah also warned that current use of drone technology “perpetuates a state of war” without democratic accountability and may undermine U.S. credibility on the world stage.
Shah’s appearance at the Oxford Union follows several contributions by the Human Rights Institute and the Human Rights Clinic to the national debate on the effectiveness of drone warfare, including the Clinic’s submission to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on April 23. In that submission, the Clinic called on the U.S. to assess the strategic and humanitarian costs of drone warfare and to consider non-lethal alternative strategies for addressing imminent threats.
Retired Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a witness at the Senate hearing and quoted the Human Rights Clinic’s recent report The Civilian Impact of Drones Strikes extensively in his written testimony, calling the report “thoughtful and useable.” He repeated the Clinic’s recommendations, saying they “provided a menu of review actions that would serve to focus on what in our use, authorities and oversight protocols is working and what may require revision or new measures.”
Shah and Tarek Ismail ’11, a fellow at the Human Rights Institute, also recently led nine other human rights groups in producing a statement of shared concerns submitted to President Obama and Congress. The statement, reported in the New York Times and other outlets, urges the government to ensure that U.S. drone strikes do not violate international law or set a dangerous precedent for other countries fast acquiring drone technology. The White House responded in a statement to McClatchy Newspapers expressing the President's commitment to transparency. In March, on behalf of the Human Rights Institute, Ismail organized a major conference of human rights and civil liberties groups to discuss secrecy and accountability in relation to drone strikes.
In addition, Shah participated in a series of Capitol Hill events on drones this month, including a May 3 congressional briefing organized by the Arab American Institute and a May 8 hearing organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The Institute’s and Clinic’s activities are based on two ground-breaking reports on drone strikes and civilian harm published in the fall 2012.
Note: The opinions of individual faculty members, Centers, Clinics, and Programs, do not reflect the views of the Law School as an institution.