by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre
If any American group should be appalled at U.S. drone policy, it is Blacks, who “have seen the unspeakable become acceptable. We should know better.” Those who send the drones deny the fundamental humanity of their targets. “There is something deeply wrong about killing someone accused of a crime before giving that person a right to prove her or his innocence.”
No, Drones are Never OK!
by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre
“No trial, no way for the intended target to surrender, and no need to prove it was the right target.”
Barack Obama recently acknowledged a very open secret: The US has been using drones to strike suspected “terrorists” inside Pakistan (and presumably elsewhere). Obama defended his use of these attacks, saying that they are “targeted focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.”
It’s important to know what drones are and how they work. Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), a drone is a small plane without a pilot that is guided by remote control. While they potentially have many uses, drones have been primarily used for military purposes, for combat operations. For such operations, drones are fitted with missiles and laser-guided bombs that are fired at suspected targets from afar, with the controls in the hands of a US operator half the world away. The use of drones has increased dramatically in the past eight years because of technological advances that allow these machines to travel long distances, and because the US government claims to have better intelligence on the ground to better pick its target. Under the Obama administration, drones have become the primary weapon in the undefined and open-ended global “war on terror.”
“It argued that it can unilaterally pursue its targets wherever they are—sovereignty and rule of law be damned!“
What stands out in the use of these death machines is the fact that they are used for targeted assassinations of “suspected” terrorists. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, targeted killings are “pre-meditated acts of lethal force employed by states in times of peace or during armed conflict to eliminate specific individuals outside of their custody.” Thus, certain states can label one an enemy (or “terrorist”) and target and kill that enemy without proof or due process. In other words, targeted killings are arbitrary executions with no legal basis—nationally or internationally. The state of state of Israel was the first to publicly admit its policy of killing alleged “terrorist” Palestinians. The US government has boldly used this tactic since 2001. In fact, in 2010, the Obama administration brazenly defended these extrajudicial killings by stating that the US is in “armed conflict with al-Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right of self-defense under international law.” It argued that it can unilaterally pursue its targets wherever they are—sovereignty and rule of law be damned!
Thus the Obama administration, using the same 9/11 pretext as George Bush for its unending “war on terror,” has turned targeted assassinations into an art—sending pilotless drones to kill, from afar, anyone it deems a “terrorist.” And according to most reports, drone attacks are set to further escalate in the near future.
Let’s think about what this means for a moment: the US government can decide that someone (be it its own citizen or a foreigner) is an enemy without having to provide any proof, can find that person anywhere in the world, and can dispatch a drone to incinerate that person—no questions asked. No trial, no way for the intended target to surrender, and no need to prove it was the right target. As Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama uses “kill lists” drawn up by the CIA and military officials to give the final orders in each of these attacks.
“The Obama administration has turned targeted assassinations into an art.”
But let’s also think about what this has meant for communities where such “terrorists” are targeted. Under Obama, most of the drone attacks take place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. In its report last year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showed a conservative estimate of 2383 – 3019 people killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan alone from 2004 to 2011, with 464-815 of these being civilians; 175 were children. 175 were children. And the Obama administration, in three years, is responsible for 85% of these drone strikes.
While the concern with civilian deaths—what’s often called “collateral damage”—is important, we have to step back and realize that there is something deeply wrong about killing someone accused of a crime before giving that person a right to prove her or his innocence. This should not just be about collateral civilian damage. More importantly, we also have to question the entire premise of the tactic of targeted assassinations. They are arbitrary, extrajudicial, illegal, immoral, and absolutely indefensible.
A commentator on The Atlantic Monthly blog recently responded to discussions of the Obama administration’s deadly drone attacks by stating that drones are “a perfect weapon for people who don’t want to pay the consequences of waging war with their own blood…. Like all weapons, they inflict collateral damage…without the risk of someone looking an innocent in the eye first. Without the least responsibility for anther soul.” But I would also add that the way drones work is by first denying intended targets their humanity—these victims can’t respond, nor can they surrender.
And this is why it is so troubling that some Black people will remain silent in the face of such immoral and unthinkable dehumanization, and unending and indiscriminate killing. Our history shows how quickly degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts can become normalized. We have seen rationalizations for slavery, apartheid, and racial terror; we have seen the unspeakable become acceptable. We should know better.
No, drones should never be OK. But unfortunately at this point, there is no surer sign that many of us have lost our moral compass than allowing our president, Barack Obama, to spearhead the normalization of barbarism while trying to defend the indefensible.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at [email protected].