by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre
They ought to call it the Nobel Death from the Sky Prize. “Barack Obama is leading a multi-country gangster-style drone war that kills people whose identities aren’t known, and that has left more than 3000 dead, including 176 children.” Yet Black America remains largely silent in “the face of such overwhelming death, despair, and destruction done on our behalf by our Black president.”
Black Ethics and Drone Politics
by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre
“For some Black preachers, gay marriage is obviously more of an abomination than endless war and wanton murder.”
It would be hard to miss the recent media coverage of the ethical and legal problems posed by the Obama administration’s drone warfare program. With a couple of widely circulated academic studies and a CNN security report, the issue of drones has finally seeped into mainstream consciousness. Yet many people in this country seem to be un-phased by the havoc wreaked by these death machines. More telling is how many on the so-called left go out of their way to either ignore the ethical questions and human casualties of drones, or to cravenly defend their indefensible use by the US government.
Two of the more damning critiques of the US drone program come from the joint study by the Stanford Law School International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and New York University Law School’s Global Justice Clinic, and from Columbia University Law School’s Center for Civilians in Conflict. The Stanford/NYU report, “Living Under Drones,” is based on field research in Pakistan, including more than 130 interviews with survivors of drone attacks or family members who were victims of attacks. The report demonstrates how only two percent of attacks reach their intended targets resulting in massive civilian casualties. But it also focused on the psychological repercussion, including anxiety and depression, suffered by Pakistanis who have to live under the constant buzz of drones hovering overhead 24 hours a day, not knowing when – or who – they will kill.
“Many people in this country seem to be un-phased by the havoc wreaked by these death machines.”
The Columbia University Study, “The Civilian Impact of Drone Strikes: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions,” challenged the government’s assumption that drones are “a panacea for counterterrorism efforts.” It pointed to the Obama administration’s unprecedented secrecy around drone attacks, but also how, for the US public, drones have become an acceptable part of contemporary warfare. The authors of the Columbia study also argued that one of the reasons for the lack of a public outcry over the use of drones is because media coverage of such attacks are sanitized: there are no pictures of the victim killed, no photos of the villages destroyed, and no images of damage done to local environments. All we see are images of drones. Add that to the lack of US citizen and military casualties, we get a response that combines indifference with consent to the government’s atrocious actions abroad.
But in an election year, and in the face of mounting criticism of Obama’s deployment of drones, the white liberal left and other party loyalists have been forced to respond. Their responses, though, are often more morally repugnant than any racist rambling by Tea Party members. In a series of conversations in liberal venues there has been a consistent set of responses to some of the even more tepid critiques of drone warfare. Some of the more common are: 1) Obama has to win so that Romney doesn’t get to control drone warfare; 2) the data showing civilian casualties are sketchy; 3) targeted assassinations are not new to US foreign policy; 4) Romney would do the same or worse; 5) at least we’re saving US lives by not having “boots on the ground” or; 6) leftist radicals need to stop whining and vote for the lesser of two evils. One liberal even went so far as to brazenly argue: "It’s not obvious that drone strikes are indefensible and, even if they are morally wrong, they shouldn’t determine your vote alone."
“There are no pictures of the victim killed, no photos of the villages destroyed, and no images of damage done to local environments.”
So now it’s the Democratic Party base defending drone bombing of “suspects” – and innocents – without the courtesy of proof or trial. By comparison, the Bush administration’s “shock and awe” and torture policies were a walk in the park on a lovely spring day.
But at least the white liberals are having a discussion. Aside from a few notable exceptions, it’s been all crickets in the US Black community when it comes to talking about Obama’s criminal actions in office. And for some Black preachers, gay marriage is obviously more of an abomination than endless war and wanton murder. Others in the Black community have even participated in the morbid celebrations over the killing of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi – killings that occurred without so much as evidence of guilt or even the pretense of due process. Barack Obama is leading a multi-country gangster-style drone war that kills people whose identities aren’t known, and that has left more than 3000 dead, including 176 children. Some of the victims have been U.S. citizens. His administration’s actions are immoral, indefensible, and cruel. They are also shortsighted. And they are done in our names, and our children’s names.
“Now it’s the Democratic Party base defending drone bombing of “suspects” – and innocents – without the courtesy of proof or trial.”
As Obama has spearheaded this dangerous new world of drones, we have to believe that this new war will come with the inevitable blowback. CNN reports that more than 70 countries now own some type of drone. And even though only the US, UK, and Israel have used weaponized drones against adversaries, it’s only a matter of time before we see their proliferation (and we can bet that they will be turned on us domestically).
It remains to be seen how many will stand by silently and allow this slide down the steep slope of moral depravity. For Black folk to remain silent – or even ambivalent – in the face of such overwhelming death, despair, and destruction done on our behalf by our Black president is, at best, indefensible. At worse, we’re just as criminally responsible as that drone pilot in Nevada who presses the red button on his joystick extinguishing human life as though he were playing a video game.
No man, no political party, and no amount of racial allegiance should demand of us that we give up our humanity in the name of murder. It’s time we raise our voices against drone killings.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at [email protected].