Quick Takes: Drone Strikes

Obama recently issued a statement apologizing for the deaths of two Al-Qaeda hostages, an American and an Italian person, which resulted from a drone strike led by the U.S. earlier this year.

Obama’s Belated Apology Does Not Provide Sufficient Transparency Regarding General Use of Drone Strikes

Earlier this month, Obama apologized for the death of one American and one Italian killed in a drone strike. Even more alarmingly, Obama admitted that officials from the Central Intelligence Agency weren’t aware the two men were present in the compound attacked, according to The New York Times. The Obama administration has issued more drones strikes with less awareness of each target. Worse still, it launches these drone wars in secret, keeping as much from the public as possible.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. The deeper one delves into leaked CIA documents and international government reports, the clearer it becomes how little the public knows about Obama’s drone war. The administration is simply not disclosing this information. Even though Obama launched his first drone strike during his third day in office, he did not publicly mention the use of drones until three years into his presidency, according to the Huffington Post. When our government harms lives overseas and keeps it a secret, it is misleading citizens. Transparency must come from our government itself.

Without transparency, there is no accountability. The facts validate this. According to CNN, the Obama administration has become famous for launching “signature strikes.” These drone attacks choose targets merely based on patterns of suspicious behavior by a group of men, rather than identification of a particular militant. That is our government’s current criteria for sending a drone strike, and it is alarmingly flexible.

There is also a discrepancy in reporting who exactly was killed and why. Although the Obama administration regularly claims that civilians’ deaths are low or even nonexistent for certain years, affected countries produce different numbers. According the Huffington Post, Pakistan reported that, over the past decade, 2,200 people have been killed  by drone strikes, with at least 400 reported as citizens. In addition, according to a leaked CIA record, the U.S. often did not know who it was killing, which is reckless. Suddenly the discrepancy makes sense; it is easy to deny a civilian death if you do not know who you killed.

In 2013, Congress tried to pass a bill that would demand a report detailing the total number of combatants killed in drone strikes. Despite representing crucial transparency, the bill failed. It’s disappointing that our government didn’t step up and make a change. Transparency is a necessary change that must come from within.

—  AYAT  AMIN Staff Writer

General Public Often Fails to Properly Confront the Government’s Secrecy Involving Oversea Attacks

The U.S. has been using drones to deal with conflicts abroad since around 1995. This usage has picked up since the September 11 attack and has increased even more dramatically under the Obama administration, particularly circa 2010–11. Since 2004, U.S. military drones have killed approximately 3,213 people in Pakistan alone, only 2 percent of whom were confirmed combatants, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The administration’s described estimates of civilian casualties are “far lower than media reports, eyewitness accounts and [what] the U.S. government’s own anonymous leaks suggest,” Stanford Law School’s “Living Under Drones” campaign reports. Media narratives skeptical of military drone usage have poured in since 2012. The recent deaths of two al-Qaeda hostages have sparked both controversy in the media and a formal apology by the president himself. So why do most Americans still approve of drone use?

According to a recent Associated Press poll, six in 10 Americans favor using drones to target and kill members of terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda overseas, while only 13 percent is opposed. Even more chillingly, nearly three-fourths of Americans thought it acceptable for the U.S. military to kill an American citizen abroad if that person was part of a terrorist organization, in effect stripping said hypothetical citizen of his/her right to trial by jury and issuing the death penalty directly. Deaths, combatant and civilian alike, continue to pile up in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

It isn’t as though Americans don’t have practical reasons to oppose ballooning drone use. The Department of Defense’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal includes a plan to increase “Long Range Strike Inventories & Funding” from $4 billion to $10 billion over the next nine years. A large portion of this budget will go toward the MQ-9 Reaper, an armed aircraft used in executing targets, ringing up at about $30.3 million per craft.

It should bother Americans that their tax dollars are going to high-tech instruments of destruction that they know very little about (rather than, say, education.) Although drone strikes claim to shelter American civilians from foreign conflict, the public should not close its eyes to military drone use simply because it’s happening in distant lands, across oceans and cultural divides.

—  HAILEY SANDEN Staff Writer

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