Drones Come Under Scrutiny

[Content Note: Drones; war; violence.]

In September of last year, 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," which detailed the many negative effects of the use of drones—the unmanned, remotely controlled combat air vehicles from which missiles are deployed in so-called "precision" attacks, which have become a central feature of the United States' "war on terror."

The report made clear that the targeted attacks were neither as precise as the Obama administration (and the Bush administration before them) claimed, nor was it accurate that the routine use of drone strikes was making the US safer, as the drone program and its extensive (though unacknowledged) civilian casualties had become the a key recruiting tool of anti-American militants. They hate us for our freedom indeed.

When the report was released, it got little notice. But, as the New York Times reports, "the clandestine war will receive a rare moment of public scrutiny on Thursday, when its chief architect, John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, faces a Senate confirmation hearing as President Obama's nominee for CIA director."
From his basement office in the White House, Mr. Brennan has served as the principal coordinator of a "kill list" of Qaeda operatives marked for death, overseeing drone strikes by the military and the C.I.A., and advising Mr. Obama on which strikes he should approve.

"He's probably had more power and influence than anyone in a comparable position in the last 20 years," said Daniel Benjamin, who recently stepped down as the State Department's top counterterrorism official and now teaches at Dartmouth. "He's had enormous sway over the intelligence community. He's had a profound impact on how the military does counterterrorism."

Mr. Brennan, a former C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has taken a particular interest in Yemen, sounding early alarms within the administration about the threat developing there, working closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret C.I.A. drone base there that is used for American strikes, and making the impoverished desert nation a test case for American counterterrorism strategy.
The article further notes that Brennan "has often been a restraining voice," which is terrifying given the scope of the drone program.

The questions Brennan will presumably face will come days after "the leak of a white paper from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that outlines the legal basis for killing Americans overseas who are believed to be a threat. In the memo, Justice outlines a three-part test to determine whether a 'lethal operation' can be carried out against an American who is a senior operational leader of a terrorist group."

White House spokesperson Jay Carney defended the position yesterday, arguing that the guidelines for targeting Americans in drone strikes are "fully consistent” with the US Constitution.

That is a debatable contention.

And, back in the US, the ACLU is raising flags about the potential use of drones to spy on US citizens and residents, "after the Federal Aviation Administration began establishing safety standards for civilian drones."
Lawmakers in at least 11 states are looking at plans to restrict the use of drones over their skies amid concerns the unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited to spy on Americans.

The American Civil Liberties Union says state legislators are proposing various restrictions on local authorities' use of the technology.

Concerns mounted after the Federal Aviation Administration began establishing safety standards for civilian drones, which are becoming increasingly affordable and small in size.

Some police agencies have said the drones could be used for surveillance of suspects, search and rescue operations, and gathering details on damage caused by natural disasters.

..."The use of drones across the country has become a great threat to our personal privacy," said ACLU of Montana policy director Niki Zupanic. "The door is wide open for intrusions into our personal private space."
Being spied on is bad enough. But drones are being deployed to indiscriminately kill people in our names on the other side of the world. Indiscrimination may not be the intent, but it is nonetheless the result. We need to draw a line under drones.

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