The drone warrior
There is a lot of angst about President Obama’s selection of former Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., for Secretary of Defense. There are several complaints about Hagel, some of them legitimate, but the biggest seems to be that he learned the same lesson about the Iraq war that most of the country did — that it was a colossal mistake.
But, there should be more concern about the simultaneous nomination of John O. Brennan for CIA Director.
Although he has voiced opposition to waterboarding, Brennan was one of the proponents of so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods during the Bush administration. Elsewhere in the world, this is simply known as torture. He was also among those supporting the extraordinary rendition program, in which suspects were sent to other countries where the rules about torture are more lax than our own.
Brennan was forced to withdraw his name from consideration for the CIA job in President Obama’s first term due to his participation in the Bush team’s torture program. Now, he’s back for a second try.
Perhaps most concerning about Brennan though is his background in the drone wars. Brennan was the first to publicly admit the use of drones, the unmanned combat vehicles that are now a major part of our nation’s wars. He argues for their effectiveness, legality and even morality in the face of a great deal of evidence and basic common sense.
These drones, operated by the CIA from bases often thousands of miles away from their targets, have killed numerous people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, though with little public record keeping, it’s difficult to know with any precision how many. What evidence we have suggests that a large proportion of drone victims are women and children and a majority are non-combatants.
Drones certainly save money given that there is no pilot and equipment for the pilot is rendered unnecessary, but there are a number of legal and moral questions that have thus far gone unanswered.
Drones represent the next step in increasing the distance between soldiers and their targets. This increased distance allows those in combat to do their jobs more effectively, but there is a related consequence. Because drones are operated by civilian CIA personnel rather than members of the military with training and accountability in the rules of war, such accountability is murky. In the cases of wrongful targeting and killing of civilians, assigning responsibility is next to impossible.
There are already an alarming number of reported civilian casualties of the drone wars. An exact count is difficult to come by, not only because of the secrecy of the program, but also because of the way the administration goes about accounting for casualties. According to reporting in the New York Times, any military age male in the vicinity of the strike zone of a drone is considered a combatant unless there is specific evidence to the contrary. You can probably guess how much effort is put into examining that evidence.
While President Obama has certainly been more judicious in choosing national targets than his predecessor, the level of aggression he has demonstrated abroad is extraordinary. The administration maintains a legally questionable secret “kill list” of people who are targeted for capture or death by drones anywhere they can be found in the world. Some of these are American citizens and they receive no charge, no trial and the evidence against them is never made public. The administration asserts that they don’t even have to share the legal justification for using drones with the public.
Although the president made a concerted effort to engage the Muslim world early in his first term, the drone wars are undermining those overtures. Terrorists find it easier to recruit among a populace that sees itself terrorized by drones with many of the casualties women and children.
We’re not likely to win the hearts and minds of our enemies with such tactics. If we’re going to call ourselves the good guys, we have to live by better principles.
Michael Carley is a resident of Porterville. He can be reached at email@example.com.