Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Drone Strikes Back

Drones. You can't live with em', you can't live without em', or so goes the narrative many Americans have chosen to believe. I remain unconvinced, and a well-read 2013 Washington Post article is yet another reason why. Whitlock's article presents the findings of two established human rights organizations on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly their numbers contradict even the ever-ambiguous claims of the administration.

Perhaps most strikingly, by examination of local reports and personal interviews, Human Rights Watch found that 57 of 82 people killed by six drone strikes in Yemen since 2009 were civilians. Similarly, Amnesty International found that 30 civilians were killed in four of nine suspected U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Whitlock suggests these findings match a report put together by a U.N. human rights investigator who listed 2,200 confirmed drone strike deaths in Pakistan. He listed 400 of that total as civilians and an additional 200 as “probable noncombatants.”

The Washington Post article admits that these numbers come from a variety of sources and that their exact quantities often vary greatly. In this admission, Whitlock addresses an important issue concerning drone-related estimates: The people responsible for the strikes will not yield specific information. The American people is left to assume why the administration refuses to publish who, where, and by what legal grounds they are targeting individuals. The United States' targeted killing of American citizens, refusal to address legal grounds, and general incompetence leave us with a host of possible reasons.

In 2011 the United States targeted and killed three American citizens: Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi at a restaurant in Yemen. The ACLU sued the government of the United States claiming the targeted killing deprived the American citizens of their lives without due process of law. Their accusation is, of course, incontrovertible, and it sheds some light on why the United States government is so unwilling to talk specifically about drone strikes.

In Whitlock's article, he reminds us of several quotes from the administration which display its commitment to nebulous language. Supposedly the only people who are targeted by the administration are those who pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the U.S., and only the strikes in which zero civilian casualties would be “a near-certainty” would be carried out. Again, a White House spokeswoman, in reference to an Obama speech, said “As the President emphasized, the use of lethal force, including from remotely piloted aircraft, commands the highest level of attention and care.” Of course the only appropriate response to a comment as transparently embarrassing as that could be “no duh.”

Whitlock's article also includes a report from Amnesty International that displays the United States' incompetence regarding drone strikes. On July 6, 2012, two errant strikes killed 18 civilians, some of whom were medics, in a single location. Human Rights Watch released a report of a September 2, 2012 strike in which a bus carrying a number of civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children, was targeted and destroyed.

And so despite the administration’s best efforts, the less than savory details regarding drone strikes have been made public to the world. Their unintended consequences include civilian deaths, violations of state sovereignty, violations of American citizens' basic rights, and perhaps worst of all stupid comments by obnoxious White House spokespeople. Drones. You just might be able to live with em', but your freedoms certainly won't.



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