Obama drone policy is indefensible

Drones and assassinations are on the national agenda. The White House has, under pressure, released to Congress classified documents on its secretive drone program. And the Senate held confirmation hearings last week for CIA director nominee John Brennan who, as the president’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, was reportedly the architect of the Obama administration’s drone policy.

The administration argues that assassinations – whether of U.S. or foreign suspected terrorists – are the last option, used only when the target cannot be reached any other way.

As of now, some 89 percent of Americans, according to polls, support drone strikes. That is probably because these strikes are seen as “surgical” and “clean,” distinct from the costly, hellish business of war.

But a deeper look tells a different story.

Here’s a description of a “clean” hit: A young Yemeni cleric who had bravely denounced al Qaeda was “incinerated” last year when “a volley of remotely operated American missiles shot down from the night sky.” His crime? He was standing next to al Qaeda operatives, arguing with them, after they visited his mosque.

What exactly was the imminent threat to the United States in that scenario?

The first drone strike in Yemen “killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children.” And one six months later “killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.”
War by any other name is still hellish.

Three U.S. citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan, were killed in drone strikes in 2011 and last year. Civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s “targeted killing” of the three Americans. The groups say the government “violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law.”

Shrouded in secrecy, the administration’s “kill list” effectively makes the president judge, jury and executioner.

This is unacceptable. The United Nations has opened an investigation into the U.S. drone program.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. declared a war on terror, which started in Afghanistan. After 12 years, two wars, trillions of dollars and thousands of lives lost the war rages on.

Military actions, whether in the form of “advisers,” bombing raids or drone killings, are being extended to new places: Pakistan, Libya, Mali, Yemen. Osama bin Laden is dead, yet terrorist networks have sprung up in new places.
According to The Long War Journal, in Pakistan alone there have been 334 airstrikes total since the program began under the Bush administration in 2004; 289 of those strikes have taken place since January 2009 – 86.5 percent of the total. The journal estimates hundreds of civilian casualties.

Will our children’s children still be fighting the terror war 20 years from now? Terrorism cannot be defeated with war. It has to be isolated and defeated politically. Assassination by drones does the exact opposite. Even former top Obama officials have said so.

To his credit, President Obama officially ended the Iraq war and promises to wind down combat in Afghanistan. But the “war on terror” rages on with no end in sight.

Critics of the drone program said it was a small step in the right direction for transparency when President Obama ordered the release of classified documents to congressional committees.

However, to really go in the right direction, not only for transparency, but for the cause of peace and national security, U.S. foreign policy needs a drastic revamp. It can start by winding down the “war on terror” and ending its assassination policy.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.: The drones targeting terrorists are exploding in Mississippi, Montana and Maine, destroying the hope for a decent America, draining investment in education, health care and housing.

They are exploding in Mali, Mogadishu, and Madrid as the world becomes a global village, interdependent and interconnected. This never-ending war destroys development and continues a cycle of deeper poverty and misery for millions.

Unless the American people demand a new foreign policy direction, the prospects of improving lives grow dimmer. An aroused public demanded an end to CIA assassinations abroad during the Cold War and its aftermath. Now the president needs the American people to speak up. Today’s challenges demand no less.

Photo: Antiwar activists and CodePink members protest the use of drones in front of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s home in San Francisco, Nov. 11, 2012. (Steve Rhodes/CC)