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Second guessing the harsh use of drone strikes

Staff Columnist

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

It is hard to imagine a terrorist attack affecting the U.S. more than the ones that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. Our sense of security is forever shaken by the Americans we lost on that fateful day. It only strengthened our resolve to project American power and ideals abroad while ‘preemptively’ eliminating future threats from terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda. However, it is far away from our homes, in the distant Middle East, where our values are being jeopardized by the increased focus on drone strikes in the military’s strategy to eliminate terrorist insurgency.

The Justice Department, in a recently released memo, provides a legal defense for the use of drone strikes on American citizens as long as they are “senior operational leaders in Al-Qaeda or an associated force,” or give high-level military personnel reason to believe they present an imminent threat or have been recently involved in potentially dangerous activities. The memo goes on to conclude that such action would only be warranted if capture of the American is not feasible.

While I agree that an American who is actively attempting to kill other Americans should be treated no differently than Al-Qaeda members in the Middle East, war is an arena where truths are not always evident and information is incomplete. Death is, of course, inherent and necessary in winning the War on Terror. Vague language in the memo, with no definition of which activities imply imminent danger, or even what imminent means, is a scary notion when it comes to the death of Americans at the hand of their own government. In fact, just the idea that the Justice Department is actively seeking legal avenues for justifying American-on-American assassinations should be a gigantic red flag.

If I cannot even understand the government’s wavering definition of imminent, how can I be convinced that everyone targeted, especially if they are Americans, don’t deserve due process or are guilty of organizing Anti-American violence? It is important to note that simply threatening to kill Americans or making empty promises does not warrant these individuals being summarily executed by drones.

The use of drones has been central to counter-insurgency mainly for two reasons: they are unmanned aircraft and therefore do not put our soldiers in harm’s way, and their stealth and intelligence-gathering capabilities are state-of-the-art. They are as detached from the ground war. But perhaps that is my concern with the use of drones and this administration’s rationalization of such tactics: detachment.

Let’s face it – it is too easy for the military to kill people. And in a world where eliminating enemies can be done with extreme precision while posing minimal danger to troops, intense focus must be placed on the merit and moral repercussions of such actions. With drone strikes, the war being played out in the Middle East is much like playing poker without having any chips in the middle of the table. When people become dots on a radar screen or necessary peripheral civilian casualties, it is no longer a war – it becomes a game where the stakes are secondary but the reason you are playing is placed center stage.

Our involvement in the Middle East appears to be two-pronged: defending America and innocent victims of terrorism in the Middle East while defending and implanting democratic ideals in the region. This is exactly why being connected to invisible death machines in the sky can’t be good for the image we project in places like Yemen, where these strikes are so prevalent.

If I was a person from the Middle East looking to commit to a democratic form of government in my region and had drone strikes occur my area, I would not say to myself, “Now that is what my nation should strive to become: one that is willing to sacrifice its principles in the name of victory.” Drone strikes in no way present us as merciful and sparing. Rather, we liken ourselves to Big Brother.

In this modern war, the line between combatants and civilians is sometimes as blurred as the one between terrorist and activist. Perhaps such precision killings never give us a reason or the time to examine this reality. But it’s important that we do not blur a seemingly unblurrable line between just and unjust killing. Rather than looking to justify the deaths of Americans abroad, the Justice Department should be looking for any excuse not to do so.

 

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