Living, and Dying, Under Drones

[Content Note: War; violence.]

Remember how I said there are things I like and don't like about President Obama, his administration, his policies, his presidency...? I'm fixing to talk about one of the things I don't like, which is a tremendous understatement.

Yesterday, the Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic, a group comprised of human rights advocates from Stanford and New York Universities, released a report entitled "Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan." I want to quote just a piece of the executive summary of the report:
In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling "targeted killing" of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.

This narrative is false.

Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.

Real threats to US security and to Pakistani civilians exist in the Pakistani border areas now targeted by drones. It is crucial that the US be able to protect itself from terrorist threats, and that the great harm caused by terrorists to Pakistani civilians be addressed. However, in light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to US interests, current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated.

It is essential that public debate about US policies take the negative effects of current policies into account.
Those negative effects, as painstakingly documented in the report, include: Extensive (though unacknowledged) civilian casualties; extensive (though unacknowledged) harm "to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury"; evidence that drone strikes are not, as routinely argued by the Obama administration, making the US safer—to the contrary, the New York Times has reported that "drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants"; continued contempt for and subversion of the rule of law and international legal protections; setting disturbing new domestic and international precedents about when and how war is waged.
In light of these concerns, this report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits. A significant rethinking of current US targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counter-productive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan.
There is more, so much more, at the link. It is difficult to read. But I cannot recommend enough that you take some time to engage with this report, and the reality of what is being done by this administration in the names of US citizens, whose consent has never been given for waging this secret war, for which there is no oversight or accountability.

In a piece for Truthout about this report, John Knefel notes that drones "are a bipartisan issue. You can't cast a vote for a viable candidate in 2012 who won't continue to — in the words of the report — 'terrorize' the people of Pakistan, of Yemen, of Somalia, with flying robots. The ACLU has called the drone program the 'centerpiece of the Obama administration's counterterrorism policies.' Mitt Romney has promised to continue the program on the off-chance he's elected, and has even gone so far as to say Pakistanis are 'comfortable' with drones."

There is no meaningful choice in the upcoming election, on the issue of whether the US should be using drones in a secretive war, irrespective of how many civilians are being killed, and in contempt of the rule of law, and without seemingly the merest regard for the actual efficacy of such campaigns.

Later in his piece, Knefel observes that a Pew survey done earlier this year found 62% approval for drones. He images that's attributable to media coverage that relies almost exclusively on leaked information that is favorable to the Obama administration.

I am certain he's right—but I also believe quite fervently that the approval for drones is reflective of that aforementioned lack of a meaningful choice. When our choice is between a Democratic candidate who will wage war with "targeted" drone attacks, or a Republican candidate who will wage war with troops and tanks and treasure and mercenaries and false promises and no exit strategy, I "approve" of drones, too—but only by default.

I authentically, enthusiastically, desperately choose diplomacy over drones. But that is not the choice I'm given.

I live in a war-mongering empire, and the only choice I'm given is in which way I want to wage war. That I don't want to wage war at all doesn't really matter, not to this president, nor any other.

I don't have any idea, at all, about how to begin to change that. Except to plead with you to read that report, and let it matter to you.

Also see: Charlie Pierce.

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