Is The Drone War Finally Being Questioned? (Spoiler Alert: Not Really)

Submitted by Pater Tenebrarum of Acting-Man blog,

The ethical problems associated with the US ‘drone war’, as well as the enormous blow-back potential it harbors are seemingly finally rousing Congress into asking questions. It  would surely be a case of ‘better late than never’, but one should actually better not get one’s hopes up:

“Are drone strikes creating more enemies for America than they are killing extremists? That’s the question at the heart of new bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the executive branch to issue an annual report detailing the combatant and civilian death toll from missile strikes by U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles.


Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, a frequent critic of “war on terrorism” policies, introduced the “Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act.” The goal? Find out who is dying in drone strikes.”

(emphasis added)

After hundreds of civilian deaths and the enormous help they have reportedly provided to Al Qaeda’s recruitment drive in the regions concerned, it may indeed be time to wonder ‘who is actually killed’ by US drone strikes. The problem is especially acute in Yemen:

“According to Ibrahim Mothana, a Yemeni youth activist, “Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair .” During the latest escalation of violence, Yemeni bloggers have claimed “there is more hostility now in Yemen against the US because of these attacks”. Even Robert Grenier, a former CIA station head, has said that the US’ policy in Yemen runs the risk of turning the country into a “safe haven” for al-Qaeda.”




“At the moment, the US is the worst and most feared enemy,” a Yemeni-born blogger known as Noon  told  me over email. “The US drones have claimed the lives of many more people than al-Qaeda. While al-Qaeda targets military personnel in Yemen, the US drones kill arbitrarily without differentiating between civilians and so called ‘militants’.”


One of the main attractions drones hold for the US is that they allow them to wage war remotely, thus avoiding the loss of life to military personnel and the domestic ill-feeling back home that comes with it.”

(emphasis added)

Gee, who would have thought that people might actually resent getting killed indiscriminately from afar? The ‘blow-back’ often arrives with a considerable delay, but if ever Yemeni terrorists immolate themselves in a strike on Western civilian targets at some point in the future, it is probably quite certain that ‘hating our freedoms’ won’t be on their list of motives.

As one might imagine, US drone strikes are not exactly winning any popularity contests. Below are the results of a Pew survey showing ‘drone approval rates’:



This was the state of affairs as of July 2013. Those finding themselves on the receiving end of drone strikes not surprisingly like them least. We would bet that if indeed only militants were killed by drones, these survey results would look a lot different – via Pew Research.


Nothing Will Change

Further down in the report on the new legislation, we learn that although it ‘might be useful’ to learn what effects the drone strikes actually have, nothing is going to be done about it anyway. The proposed legislation will almost certainly land in ‘file 13’:

“But while Obama called in a speech in May 2013 for an overhaul of the law at the core of the “war on terrorism,” lawmakers say there is zero appetite ahead of the 2014 midterm elections for any sweeping changes.


“Drone strikes are sort of a resolved issue on Capitol Hill,” said Micah Zenko, a drone warfare expert with the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t see how this (bill) passes,” Zenko said. “These are CIA operations that are covert by definition. You cannot acknowledge or describe them in any way. I don’t see how they could disclose this.”


Asked about this potential obstacle, Schiff said the bill “doesn’t require identification of any agencies that may be involved, it doesn’t require that specific incidents be identified, only the raw counts at the end of each year.” Still, he acknowledged, “it’s going to be a tough legislative pathway.”


The human rights group Amnesty International USA endorsed the bill. “The White House approach to drone killings has been ‘trust us,’ but that’s untenable,” Steven W. Hawkins, its executive director said. “Instead of responding with generalizations to our documentation of potentially unlawful drone killings, the White House needs to provide the data it’s apparently sitting on.

(emphasis added)

Rest assured that they will keep ‘sitting on the data’. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the White House will ever officially admit to how many innocent people have been killed and maimed in the drone war. It is in fact a good bet that its own knowledge of the casualties is far from perfect, similar to the drone strikes themselves.

Not surprisingly, the ‘intelligence community’ has ‘little appetite’ for drone war disclosures. And of course they assure us that it’s all good, with the CIA’s Mr. Brennan providing a moment of unintentional hilarity with his apodictic certainty that drones are ‘mitigating the threats to the homeland’.  Since they are helping to create thousands of fresh recruits for the jihadists via ‘collateral damage’, one may be forgiven for doubting this assertion:

The intelligence community has shown little appetite for Schiff’s proposal, which he previewed in a Feb. 4 House Intelligence Committee hearing with CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.




Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat on the committee, asked Brennan whether signature strikes might be motivating people to join extremists groups, effectively increasing the threat of attacks on the United States.


“From an intelligence community perspective, we’re always evaluating and analyzing developments overseas to include any counter-terrorism activity that we might be involved in to see what the impact is,” Brennan replied. “And I think the feeling is that the counterterrorism activities that we have engaged in with our partners — we the U.S. government broadly, both from an intelligence perspective as well as from a military perspective — have greatly mitigated the threat to U.S. persons both overseas as well as in the homeland.”

(emphasis added)

Contrary to Mr Brennan’s statements above, the threat has probably not only not been mitigated, but has been made a great deal worse. 20 or 30 years ago, Westerners could travel to most of the countries in which the drone wars are taking place without having to fear a thing. These days it is at best a coin flip whether one will survive such a trip unmolested or end up abducted or killed. Some ‘threat mitigation’!


It’s Better to Fight them with Coca Cola

In principle there is nothing wrong with taking measures against terrorists. Even though one man’s terrorist is quite often another man’s freedom fighter, the non-aggression principle should always apply. Whatever traumas the medieval throwbacks manning the jihadi groups believe to provide justification for their actions cannot excuse their killing of innocent people.

However, the same principle must apply to those seeking to defend themselves against the jihadists. In what way does killing a supposed ‘Al Qaeda leader’ from afar justify the killing of countless innocent people in the process? Note here that the US is often not even sure whether the intended targets are guilty or not (and hence deserving of being killed, which is debatable even if guilt could actually be established beyond doubt). After all, they are not subject to a trial, but are simply picked at will. Consider for instance this report on a drone strike in Yemen last year:

“The strike, which took place in the southern province of Lahj, targeted a vehicle as it traveled “on a mountain road late on Saturday evening,”  Reuters  reported. The vehicle was “believed to be carrying arms and its occupants were suspected members of al Qaeda.”

No senior al Qaeda operatives or leaders are reported to have been killed at this time. The identities of the two al Qaeda operatives who were killed have not been disclosed.”

(emphasis added)

In another words, not only is no trial required,  but not even anything  remotely resembling definitive evidence. As the above example demonstrates, all it takes for a killing strike is for a vehicle to be ‘believed‘ to be carrying arms, and its occupants to be ‘suspected‘ of being members of Al Qaeda.

Admittedly, there may at times be a fine line between what constitutes justifiable defensive action and aggression. However, the fact that there is plenty of so-called ‘collateral damage’ (the euphemism for ‘killing perfectly innocent people who simply happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time’) by itself clearly makes drone strikes unethical. They are in definitely  conflict with the values allegedly defended and promoted by Western democracies. The people in the countries targeted are no doubt acutely aware of the hypocrisy involved.

Let us remember that the proper weapon to fight Marx was always Coca Cola, not nuclear arms. It is exactly the same with radical Islamists. They can probably never be defeated by force of arms – on the contrary, it appears that fighting them with drones is like adding fertilizer, as it swells rather than diminishes their ranks. What will defeat them is ultimately the economic advancement of the countries harboring them at present. Islamic terrorism is a reactionary phenomenon – a rearguard fight against modernity if you will. In   a way the jihadists are fighting a battle they have lost before it even began. However, it appears as though the US is hell-bent on continually providing the movement with a new lease of life, whether it is by invading Iraq or fighting the ‘video game war’ with drones.


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