The Drone Question
By Ella Chatfield-Stiehler ’15
During the Obama Administration, the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency have increased the use of armed drones to kill people abroad. The General Atomic MQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle used for CIA surveillance and for the killing of suspected combatants in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. In the last ten years of the drone program, "[the United States] killed 4,700 people," according to Senator Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina).
One of the first problems of the drone program is the U.S.'s definition of a "combatant." The New York Times reporters Jo Becker and Scott Shane stated, “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
The constitutionality of drones is questionable, particularly when drones are used on American citizens abroad. In 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, two United States citizens, were assassinated by US drones because they were suspected al-Qaeda affiliates. Al-Awlaki's and Khan's rights to due process, the legal rights granted to all United States citizens, were violated. Killing people without due process also violates international human rights law, which forbids “extra-judicial executions.” Obama has claimed the power to order killings without any due process, a power that historically has been claimed by kings and tyrants.
Recently, Senator Rand Paul (R, Kentucky) delivered a twelve-hour filibuster designed to stop John Brennan's CIA director nomination. Brennan has led the U.S.’s drone war during the Obama administration. Paul remarked that the Obama administration was being unconstitutional because it refused to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on United States soil against American citizens.
The US government retaliated saying, "Our goal has been to focus on al-Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America." However, national security reporter Jonathan Landay reported that "at least 265 of up to 482 people, who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011, were not senior al Qaida leaders...Drones killed only six top al-Qaida leaders in those months."
While pro-drone people argue that drones have the potential to be more precise than conventional warfare, drones are not living up to the argument. Landay reports that unidentified individuals described only as "foreign fighters" and "other militants" are killed. Government officials themselves don't even know who they're killing; therefore, everyone from civilians to al-Qaida officials is subject to death by drone strikes.
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