Drone Assassinations Are Being Carried Out in Our Name

This is a story about drones. It is not about how companies like Amazon and Alibaba are experimenting with drones to deliver their goods to customers or how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, while still trying to develop overarching regulations for the use of drones, continues to hand out exemptions for their commercial use. It is not about a bill (the Secure Our Borders First Act) that would allow the use of drones “24 hours per day and for 7 days per week,” or about the acquisition of drones by police departments around the country, or how several media companies intend to use them for news-gathering purposes, or how it came to pass that a small drone crashed on White House grounds not too long ago, or the fact that the FAA issued a 30 mile no-fly zone around the Super Bowl.

While torture, rendition, secret prisons, and the hell that is Guantanamo can be placed directly at the doorsteps of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, the accelerated use of drones—originally mapped out by the Bush administrations—is a direct outgrowth of the policies of President Barack Obama.

According to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “At least 2,464 people have now been killed by U.S. drone strikes outside the country’s declared war zones [Afghanistan and Iraq] since President Barack Obama’s inauguration six years ago.” The “number of confirmed drone strikes…stands at 456,” and, the Bureau pointed out, more than 300 civilians have been killed by those strikes. If drone strikes killing civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq were added, the number is closer to 1,000.

In his recent New York Times review of Grégoire Chamayou’s book, A Theory Of The Drone, Martin Van Creveld wrote: “Enter the drones. To put it briefly, drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that carry sensors to identify targets, and are capable of striking those targets very, very precisely. The ones used by the United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan are often operated from bases in Nevada, so far away as to raise the question of whether their use constitutes war or murder. That is because the victims, most of them suspected terrorists and insurgents in various developing countries around the world, have no way to fire back. Quite often they are killed before they even know they have been targeted. In other cases they are hunted like rabbits.”

Crevold, professor emeritus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes, points out that: “The implications of these realities are far-reaching. What do they mean for the ethical basis of war? Does not the fact that there is no mutuality sweep away any idea that war should be moral and just? And what about the law of war itself? Drones cannot take prisoners or look after enemy wounded. Worst of all: May not governments start using their killer drones not just in wars waged against foreigners in faraway countries but also at home, against their own citizens?”

Each month, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts together a report “into covert U.S. drone attacks, which are run in two separate missions—one by the CIA and one for the Pentagon by its special forces outfit, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).” Research by the Bureau “shows there have now been nearly nine times more strikes under Obama in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia than there were under his predecessor, George W Bush.” Focusing on drone strikes “on countries outside the U.S.’s declared war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan,” the report noted that in January 2015, there was “an intensification of the U.S. campaign in both Pakistan and Yemen,” which resulted in the “most strikes in January in Pakistan since July 2014”; the “highest monthly casualty rate in Pakistan for six months”; “A confirmed CIA drone strike in Yemen [that] reportedly kills a child”; and, “Two possible U.S. strikes kill at least 45 in a day in Somalia.”

In an essay published this past November in the New Yorker, titled “The Unblinking Stare: The drone war in Pakistan,” Steve Coll reported that, “Last year, in a speech at the National Defense University, President Obama acknowledged that U.S. drones had killed civilians. He called these incidents ‘heartbreaking tragedies,’ which would haunt him and those in his chain of command for ‘as long as we live.’ But he went on to defend drones as the most discriminating aerial bombers available in modern warfare—preferable to piloted aircraft or cruise missiles. Jets and missiles cannot linger to identify and avoid noncombatants before striking, and, the President said, they are likely to cause ‘more civilian casualties and more local outrage’.”

Although the use of drones has received bipartisan support in Congress, Coll raised three important questions: “[D]o drones actually represent a humanitarian advance in air combat? Or do they create a false impression of exactitude? And do they really serve the best interests of the United States?” To paraphrase President Obama: There are no Democratic Party drones or Republican Party drones, there are no red state drones or blue state drones; there is only the United States of Drones.



Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.