Dropping drones on U.S. soil dangerous option for government

by Caitlin Donovan – Staff Writer – cadonova@unca.edu

If the idea of the U.S. government sending drones to strike down citizens on American soil alarms the people of this country, it should alarm us the U.S. government is enacting drone strikes on foreign soil as well.

Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster on March 6 brought attention to the question of whether the U.S. government has the authority to authorize drone strikes against non-combatants on U.S. soil. It was confirmed by Attorney General Eric Holder soon after the president does not have that authority.

But the question remains: if the American public is concerned about the government’s authority to authorize drone strikes against its own citizens, should it not also be concerned about the drone strikes the government authorizes against Pakistani citizens?

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent news organization, reported that between 2004 and 2012, U.S. drone strikes killed at least 2,562 people of Pakistan, including 474 civilians and 176 children. The BIJ presented detailed accounts of three separate strikes, showing a strike in March 2011 killed 40 individuals attending a meeting of tribal elders.

Even more shocking, the BIJ revealed the U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times means at least 50 civilians were killed by a follow-up drone strike while aiding the victims of a previous drone strike. Drone strikes have deliberately targeted funerals and at least 20 civilians have been killed while mourning.

Despite all this, CNN’s security analyst Peter Bergen reported militant leaders of potential terrorist groups only account for 2 percent of all drone-related fatalities. The United Nations is also currently investigating the legality of the strikes. U.N. envoy Ben Emerson stated it is clear the government of Pakistan considers the strikes a violation of their sovereignty. Emerson considers the strikes to be illegal himself.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rheman, stated all Pakistani politicians agree the drone attacks fuel extremism rather than combat terrorism.

The drone strikes are not stopping. The most recent drone strikes reported by the BIJ took place in February. Nine to 14 individuals were killed, and allegedly up to two of the casualties were civilians.

The government still has issues with transparency about drone strikes. The President’s top counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan claimed the drone strikes had not killed a single civilian since 2010, but the BIJ’s report proved that to be a lie.

In media reports, victims of the drone strikes are often described as militant, but the media rarely defines what “militant” actually is. Does militant simply mean anti-American?  A study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2012 showed 74 percent of Pakistanis consider America an enemy, so that covers a wide range of Pakistani people. Of course, when mourners and civilians are killed by drones, one can hardly blame Pakistani citizens for considering America an aggressive foe.

If citizens of the United States are truly concerned about the unconscionable consequences of drone strikes, we cannot just be concerned about our own people.

We need to demand our government be honest about the effects of the drone strikes and the civilian casualties. We need to demand that information about the legal basis and criteria for these strikes be made public, or at the very least, compensation programs be set up for the victims of the drone strikes.

We also need to demand more specificity and transparency in media reports of the drone strikes. The label of “militant” is just too vague. Independent investigations into the nature of the militant victims of the drone strikes would shed light on if the drone strikes are actually helpful in any way. We need to see these victims as people, not just a nameless monstrous threat.

There is not a legal defense for America causing the death of innocent civilians. It does not matter if these civilians are Pakistani or American. There is also no defense for the government lying to its people. The public demanding the American government is held accountable for its foreign policy ensures the safety of both American citizens and the citizens of the world.

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