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Drone Program a Human Rights Nightmare

Roger McCormack

An untold number of Pakistani citizens currently cower in abject fear, worried habitually that their daily routine may be belligerently interrupted by barbaric violence. Ironically, these fears are not caused by the Taliban. Instead, the appallingly brutal and immoral drone warfare that the United States currently implements, with shocking disregard for the country’s civilians, is rapidly emboldening a new generation of terrorists and allowing moral principles to be superseded by a deceptive expediency, displaying policy that is helplessly inept at curing ills the nation faces abroad.

An estimated 474 to 884 civilians have been killed in the drone strikes, 176 of them children. A drone refers to an unmanned aerial vehicle, controlled by computer, with the capacity to fire missiles at targets, furthering the disparity between the United States and those who suffer the cost of its rabid bellicosity. Drones were an incipient program under the Bush administration, used sparingly against a few Taliban targets in 2001, and subsequently gained a heightened role under the Obama administration.

The administration’s “kill list,” in which Mr. Nobel Peace Prize himself personally selects targets in Middle Eastern hotspots, has come under criticism for its undiscerning eye in killing “terrorists.” The most egregious policy dictating who will be terminated in the strikes is the following malicious diktat, counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence proving them innocent after they have been killed.

This is a gross reversal of the standard of innocent until proven guilty — employing its polar opposite, an already heinous war crime, exacerbated by the countless innocent lives that have been lost due to the administration’s callous concern for innocents. Little thought is given to what the strikes do to the region’s environs, in areas where prudence and diplomacy should be germane principles. Furthermore, the number of innocents condemned to death may be exponentially higher than the statistics the Obama administration disseminates.

This is due to the aforementioned policy of counting all military-age males as combatants, allowing for another case of an immoral vagueness in the administration’s policies, and allowing truth to be invidiously concealed.

The cost of such a morally bankrupt policy has catalyzed recruitment for terrorism in the region, highlighting the shocking cost of expeditious policies. Militant Faisal Shazhad, who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square, was quoted telling the judge in his court case: “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.” This raises fundamental questions about the strikes’ efficacy and probity. Many U.S. statesmen often view the drone strikes as necessary to repress terrorism, equating eliminated leaders with progress.

However, when the apocalyptic situation is viewed in Pakistan, revealing Shazhad’s reaction to be far from atypical, it is obvious that the strikes foment mordant hate, oftentimes among previously reasonable citizens. Ibrahim Mothram, co-founder of the Yemen Enlightenment Debate, weighed in on the effectiveness of the strikes: “There could be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage caused by drones.

The notion of targeting Al Qaeda’s leaders to demolish its organizational structure has been proven ineffective; new leaders spontaneously emerge in furious retaliation to the attacks.” The situation is further exacerbated by living conditions in Pakistan — utterly barbaric, with citizens living in perpetual fear, disputing the United States’ passionate claims of alleviating the terrorism so inherent to the region. And a recent strike in Yemen has allegedly killed four U.S. citizens, at the price of eradicating a single terrorist.

One of the four was a 16-year-old boy. Mainstream Western media have largely given the administration a pass on events like this — not isolated events, but legion in the region. It is incredibly easy to feel disgust when hearing of a Taliban member brutally torturing and killing children.

However, the drone war and its 176 dead children is often treated as a statistic, and not as vile as the acts of our enemies. It would be very interesting to view the nation’s reaction if reporters pointed their cameras at the innocent departed, bringing a piercing light to a situation that has wallowed for too long in relative obscurity.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s old adage, “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one,” rings appallingly true. In the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, drones hover overhead at all hours of the day, striking on a whim, without the communities being informed or having a say in the terms of the administration’s physical and psychological warfare.

Imagine the reaction if an industrialized, Western nation were faced with this policy. Unimaginable terror wrought by the fear that a bomb might explode at any moment, paralyzes the will, destroys whatever hope that country has for a future, or a thinkable, livable present. This unimaginable horror is masked by rhetoric increasingly tribal, with the U.S. government fear-mongering, allowing phrases like “the constant fear of terror at home and abroad” to seep into the zeitgeist, leading to public consent for malignant policies.

An easy analog is the Patriot Act and its curtailment of civil liberties. It is not as if either of these policies produces tangible, fruitful gains, either for domestic or foreign policy. Further, humanitarian workers and citizens often are afraid to help one another, due to the fear that they might be eviscerated by a subsequent strike.

It seems that innocent Pakistanis no longer have a chance of a meaningful existence; only a life that overflows with blood, entrails, and primeval deprivation. If this sounds lawless, you may be more right then you know. The war powers clause of the Constitution allows war to be waged on foreign soil, and delineates the stipulations necessary for a legitimate cause for war.

A president cannot order killings, with or without provocation, if he lacks the approval of Congress. As with his predecessor’s invasion of Iraq, President Obama has waged warfare by drastically expanding the clout of his office, notably in Libya, and with the current strikes. Rather than explicitly providing room for policies of this, Congress prohibits a president form waging war solely on his own, Congress’ approval being absolutely essential to the violence wrought on foreign soil.

The Guardian reports that the administration has circumvented this, ironically enough, by appealing to an edict passed by Congress in 2001, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), to allow attacks on Afghanistan. It has been interpreted to confer unlimited attacks against any location where Al Qaeda may be located. Along with this, the administration has offered some lame platitudes about the nation’s right to defend itself against Al Qaeda under international law, (ironically coupled with the administration’s claims that Al Qaeda has been deracinated).

Compelling rhetoric (without a doubt President Obama’s greatest éclat), but the situation in the Middle East paints a stunningly different picture. Al Qaeda and affiliated groups are growing in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and sundry other Middle Eastern nations. The Wall Street Journal reports that Al Qaeda in Iraq has doubled in size since the U.S. withdrawal. Despite the administration’s deception, it was quickly brought to light that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was committed by a faction of Al Qaeda. This is not progress,s nor is it an indicator that the drone strikes should be heightened, acceleration the administration zealously seeks. The late journalist Hunter S. Thompson, writing immediately after the attacks of 9/11, offered this chilling harbinger: “We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once.

Who knows? Not even the generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for war seem to know who did it or where to look for them.” As I write this, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are engaged in their final verbal sparring, degrading each other into caricature, in service of displaying their “radically” different views to the American body politic. However, for the continued death of children, your vote really doesn’t count. Both candidates support the continuation of the drone strikes.

With Romney calling for policies as banal as “cracking down” on pornographers (as if the Republican Party’s moral worth wasn’t deluded enough), it is obvious that the genuine reformation of certain policies will take a much wiser candidate than either of those proffered, especially for the protection of the inviolate sanctity of human life.

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