President needs to be transparent on drones

by Max Miller – Staff Writer – nmiller@unca.edu

The topic of drone warfare opens up dialogue on the cost of endangering civilian lives versus the benefit of protecting our troops.

Although the United States’ use of unmanned drone warfare in Pakistan has been a subject of much debate and discussion in the past few years, the tactic has a history spanning almost two decades. The first known drone strike in Pakistan occurred in 2004, 10 years after production of the first drone model, the Predator, was complete.

The most grounded approach to this sensitive issue is somewhere in the middle. The complexities of drone warfare invite reactionary stances from both sides, but the novelty of the situation requires cautious, unbiased investigation. As such, the U.N.’s plans to assess the legality and ethics of this growing program should be met with welcome.

The U.N. will form a panel led by Ben Emmerson, a British lawyer representing the United Nations Human Rights Council. The panel intends to investigate a handful of drone strikes conducted throughout the Middle East by the U.S., Britain and Israel.

Emmerson made it clear the panel has no intention of singling out the U.S., but the issue expects to be met with some controversy. One concern is the rise in drone attacks undertaken by the Obama administration. Reports conducted by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows 298 strikes were ordered by the Obama administration as of October 2012, more than quintuple that of the Bush administration.

Tension also rose due to allegations from nations such as Russia, China and Pakistan that the U.S. sends follow-up missile strikes which are more likely to kill civilians who have gathered at the site of the initial strike to conduct funerals and assess damage.

Furthermore, the Obama administration shows a predisposition for secrecy when faced with inquiry about drone strikes. The CIA, when pressed, refused to release any substantial information about the program, though outside officials said drone strikes killed multiple al-Qaeda targets. Statistics show the strikes have been less fatal overall to civilians since 2009, which saw a high point of 11 to 19 percent of casualties being civilians. But the government’s relative silence on the issue has been less than reassuring for some.

The Obama administration needs to be more forthcoming with the U.N. panel because the newness of drone warfare makes it difficult for nations engaging in it to properly evaluate the greater scope of their actions. The decline in the amount of strikes conducted by the U.S. since 2010 shows between the controversy and the murky outcomes, the administration is still unsure of how to proceed.

Having a neutral mediator comparing U.S. tactics with those of Britain and Israel will be beneficial in guiding our understanding of this military revolution the U.N. has acknowledged as likely to become more commonplace.

But perhaps a greater reason for the compliance of the Obama administration is its own forward-thinking image. In the wake of his second inaugural address, the president emphasized his position as a progressive leader. His speech was lauded by many for his acknowledgement of complex social issues ranging from gay rights to gun control to immigration reform. His slogans of “hope” and “change” have become so embedded in the American subconscious that he will inevitably be viewed as radical in history whether or not he makes any sweeping changes.

However, if Obama truly intends to start his second term off on the footing he has established, it is crucial the administration begins to open up about this shady mark on its record.

The longer the issue is kept so tightly under wraps, the more it will appear the administration is uncertain of its own tactics, whether from a standpoint of its effectiveness or from an ethical perspective.

To ignore the U.N.’s mutually beneficial investigations when drone warfare is poised to become a defining factor of how the world views combat would be foolish.

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