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Droning On…

By Charles Corra

884.  This number is an estimate of civilian casualties caused by United States drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia from 2002-2013.  This number is unconfirmed, and is certainly a ballpark estimate.  National security hawks may argue that this is collateral damage and, from a utilitarian’s perspective, serves the greater good.  Peace-mongers on the other hand will be outraged.  One thing is certain: the drone strike program run by the United States has consistently been one of the most controversial and hotly debated topics in the current administration.

884.  This number is an estimate of civilian casualties caused by United States drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia from 2002-2013.

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, The CIA and defense department began reassessing the national security of the country, and with good reason.  In order to combat global terrorism threats, the United States began incorporating Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) technology to combat world terrorism threats.  The most famous, or perhaps infamous, UAS is known as the “Predator.”   The Predator drone, and other unmanned aircraft, uses precision missile-firing technology to launch air strikes on targets deemed a threat to the United States.  The strikes have been conducted primarily in Pakistan since the second George W. Bush administration.  In the current Obama administration, the stated policy is that the drone strikes only target known senior leaders of al-Qaida.  However, “intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes.”  Whatever the case may be, a slew of ethics and morally related questions are certainly present.

The waters of international law are muddy at best, and in the context of drone strikes, its even more of a grey area.

One of the biggest concerns about the drone strikes, outside of the obvious destructive nature of the practice, is the legality of the strikes.  The George W. Bush administration sought to legitimize, from a domestic standpoint, the targeted killings when Congress passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) shortly after the September 11th attacks.  This statute allows the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 . . . .“  Public Law 107-40 § 2(a). This joint resolution grants the president tremendous discretion in exercising force which he deems necessary.  The Obama administration furthers this point by contending that our country “remains in a state of armed conflict with al-Qaida.” This may be true from a domestic standpoint, but international law is a completely different animal.

The waters of international law are muddy at best, and in the context of drone strikes, its even more of a grey area.   As the Council on Foreign Relations points out, the Obama administration relies on the UN Charter in legitimizing the drone strikes as a means of self-defense, claiming that the United States has a right to pursue potential threats in other countries without that country’s consent.  Assuming that the specific targeted killings of top al-Qaida officials is compliant with international law, the question still remains as to what ramifications the civilian casualties really have.  Where does justice lie for the families of the innocent?

But when does this method of defense stop being national security and cross the line to pre-emptive paranoia?

Predator drones are incorporated into the United States defense program in order to prevent American sacrifice while precisely targeting threats to our national security.  However, are 884 innocent civilians considered collateral damage for a program like this?  The unmanned aircraft technology is supposed to bring more precision and accuracy, in order to avoid the “fog of war” atmosphere.  But when does this method of defense stop being national security and cross the line to pre-emptive paranoia?

There is no question that al-Qaida poses a serious threat to our national and global security.  The less power that terrorist networks have translates to a safer international community.  But is this enough justification to risk the lives of the innocent to benefit the international landscape as a whole? Is this the price of feeling safe in this world, and if so, is it worth it? This article asks a lot of questions that will likely remain unanswered, similar to the drone program itself.

Resources:

http://www.cfr.org/counterterrorism/targeted-killings/p9627#p3

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/04/09/188062/obamas-drone-war-kills-others.html

http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/research/ILJ/upload/Orr-final.pdf

http://www.ga-asi.com/products/aircraft/predator.php

http://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/human-rights-institute/files/COLUMBIACountingDronesFinal.pdf


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