Let’s just start out by saying: I’m conflicted here.
So don’t expect answers, just a lot of questions.
Under the Obama Administration, drone attacks of a lethal nature have increased from something less than fifty under Bush to something over 350 under President Obama. Some of this undoubtedly has to do with better technology, but more has to do with an increasing willingness to use predator drones as a means of assassinating so-called “enemy combatants.”
My moral sense, informed by my faith, tells me that drones are simply wrong, because war in general is wrong, and killing people deliberately is wrong. I find nothing in the teachings of Christ which can make war appropriate; indeed his life and death suggest that it is never appropriate. That said, my own church, and most Christian denominations support the concept of war in limited circumstances–something called “justified” warfare. That includes, but is not limited to wars of self-defense to repel an invader. The trouble is, the term just is pretty broad, and although there are a series of elements to it, in the end, each is big enough to drive a truck through. It ends up meaning, war is acceptable when we think it is.
Still, I could go much further than the Church and stick to my basic belief that the way to stop wars is to stop warring.
Yet, I live in a real world with real threats. Innocents around the world are dying by the hundreds each day due to the evil of lethal aggression from a variety of sources. There seems to be a duty to intervene to stop it. When and how and for whom tend to be the stumbling blocks. Sadly our intervention seems more determined by how “strategic” the country involved is. Do we want or need something from it? If we do, we are inclined to do what’s necessary to bring it to stability.
That stability, sadly, has little to do with what is morally right or wrong. It is the main reason we find ourselves hated by large numbers of people throughout the globe today. That is true of every continent. We have supported vile dictatorships in the name of that stability and the consequent protection of our “interests”. The people have not forgotten. Some, perhaps most, recognize that the American people at large don’t make these decisions–they hate our government but not necessarily us.
So, if we life in a world where war is going to go on regardless of our moral objections, where do drones fit in?
First, let’s set the record clear. There is nothing wrong with using drones on the actual battlefield. It is no different from a large cannon or a tank. Nobody argues that the use of drones should be prohibited here.
The area of contention is the use of lethal drone strikes in otherwise “neutral” territory. Best estimates suggest that the number of people killed by drones issued by the US, amount to somewhere between 2,000 and 3200, give or take. Somewhere between 18-23% of those killed were non-combatants or as we like to cleanly call them, “collateral damage”. This should give pause by itself.
There seem to be several points of inquiry about their use in general:
- Who decides?
- What are the standards by which decisions are made to identify a target?
- Should Americans be subjects of attack?
Some argue that it is unseemly or somehow wrong that the President signs off apparently on each of these targets. They claim he should be more divorced from the action. Since he is undeniably accountable for the program and what it does or doesn’t do, I find this argument specious. In fact, am slightly comforted that I can trust that a sane head is making the ultimate decision.
By the way, the very fact that President Obama has expanded the drone program so dramatically during his tenure in office, suggests that the Tea Party reactionaries who claim that Obama is in love with Muslims and is secretly working for them, are as we would expect, crazy as loons. Yet of course the Tea Party does not laud the President either for his actions, suggesting that their motives as we always suspect are more racial than rational.
The standards, we understand are largely revealed in documents released. They suggest that the following must be met:
- The target must be an imminent threat to US citizens safety and lives.
- There must be no reasonable way to capture the target alive.
- There must be no other rational alternative.
Since most if not all of those killed by drones have occurred in foreign countries, it is hard to explain how the first standard is ever met. One can only conjure up claims that this target was the one to give the “go” to a plot ready to be employed but for the target’s okay. I suspect that such a situation is rare.
The second standard would seem to be regularly ignored as well, since we know that special ops alternatives can and are used on occasion, and it is unclear when they cannot be used as opposed to when they can.
The third standard seems redundant.
The third issue, regarding Americas being targets seems to be the one that causes all the wringing of hands and hysterics. I find the claim that American citizens are citizens and therefore “different” completely bogus. If we contend that American citizens should not be subject to drone attack because it violates their constitutional rights to life and liberty absent due process efforts to remove them, than I think the same applies to foreign targets.
We claim that our “rights” are nothing less than human rights. We tell the world that they too should give their citizens nothing less, because it is simply morally right. We often attempt to interfere in other countries precisely in an effort to help the people there “obtain” their human rights. We maintain sanctions against countries that we find in violation of “human rights.”
Given all that, how can we treat those we capture and claim to be “enemy combatants” anything less than the right to be charged as such, and to be afforded due process. Guantanamo is a hideous example of the ugliness of American policy toward non-citizens. Before somebody suggests that it is no different from a POW camp, think again. Most all POW’s wore UNIFORMS. Their ACTIVE engagement in warfare against us was not in dispute.
Many at Guantanamo dispute their designation. Some have been released years later because it was determined they were arrested in error. We have held some of these people for nearly 14 years not. It is immoral, period. To suggest that they are not entitled to the basic right of having an impartial judicial determination of their “guilt” is inhumane in its narrowest sense. To suggest that we cannot “safely” conduct trials in this country is ludicrous and makes Timothy McVeigh and other terrorists who were tried here, some kind of “special case” which they were not.
At present, polling in the US suggests that 83% of the country approves of the drone program. Close to 2/3 believe that it is appropriately used against American citizens. There seems to be no real divide between Democrats and Republicans; this is one area where partisanship apparently does not play.
That is what I know. I’m sure there is much I don’t know. If you can assist me in my quandary, please do. I’m still not sure where I come out with all this.
You may way to take a look at the following:
The American People Love Drones
The International Law of Drones
- US Government Says Drone Striking Americans Is Legal (earththreats.com)
- Watch: License to Kill: Government Authorizes Drone Strikes on US Citizens (abcnews.go.com)
- Leaked Memo: How Obama Justifies Drone Killing of Americans (atlantablackstar.com)
- The Debate on Drones: Away from the Politics, the Nameless Dead Remain (world.time.com)
- 10 Questions Congress Should Ask Killer Drone Policy Architect John Brennan (alternet.org)
- Predator Drone Hypocrisy (uscapostasy.wordpress.com)
- Drone strikes legal case revealed (bbc.co.uk)
- Attack of the Drones – USA (aworldchaos.wordpress.com)
- UN inquiry into drone killings (bbc.co.uk)
- Scarborough Rips ‘Double Standard’ On Obama’s Drones: ‘Self-Righteous’ Bush Critics Should Apologize (mediaite.com)