When You Play the Game of Drones…

Carl Hess, a man who has written many, many letters to local papers in my area, gave a speech to my opinion writing class last week. It was interesting to finally see and hear him after I’d seen so many of his letters.

I enjoyed much of Hess’ speech, but was taken aback when I discovered how dismissive he was of critics of drone assassinations.

In 2007 I went through a phase of writing letters to the editor, and several were published. I recall my then girlfriend’s quite Republican father calling me Carl Hess. At the time I was a bit of a libertarian, so I took slight offense to this comparison, but even at that time I could recognize Hess as a voice of reason compared to most other local opinion writers.

Since then, many of my views have shifted, but my foreign policy stances have mostly solidified. Then, I found  trial-free detention, and torture of terror suspects unfitting of a civilized nation, even one waging such a tricky, new brand of war.

Today, I naturally believe trial-free death sentences by drones are worse.

The methods that led to detainment of accused militants was the basis of my opposition. In Guantanamo only a small percent of the prisoners were captured directly by US forces, while 95 percent were captured by warring tribes motivated by bounties.  The justifications for detainment were as shallow as “finding that prisoners carried Kalashnikov rifles, wore olive drab clothing, had Casio watches, or had stayed in ‘guesthouses’—all of which were commonplace in Afghanistan”

According to Jennifer Gibson, a researchers for “Living Under Drones,” a major study released by Stanford University and New York University, drone targets are subject to similarly flawed justifications. Bounties are offered to informants for providing new targets.

But potential to murder innocents is not the only pitfall of the drone strategy. In an interview with On The Media, Stanford Law professor James Cavallaro, author of the Living Under Drones, said there were profound consequences for the communities. 

“We’ve found psychological disorders; post-traumatic stress disorders. We’ve found a break down in the communities. Parents told us they don’t send their kids to school. People don’t go to religious services; they don’t go to group meetings. They are very suspicious of each other.

In effect, an entire area of Pakistan has been turned into a war zone, even though, in theory, the United States is not at war with Pakistan.”

Cavallaro went on to say American media is failing in it’s obligation to question the legitimacy of drone policy.

“Suppose a police officer in New York or Chicago shot and killed a young man and the only media inquiry was whether or not the young man might have participated in a gang. That wouldn’t be adequate by any stretch of the imagination.

The question is: was that person presenting a threat at the time he was shot by the police officer. did he have a weapon? was there an imminence to the danger presented or not? Because if there wasn’t, at most you can arrest that person,

And the same principles apply in areas outside of war zones. And if there is no imminent threat the United States cannot kill a person and then legitimate it by saying ‘this person was a militant.’

Reporting what an anonymous officials says without challenging it, I think, borders on irresponsible. I don’t think the media would apply the same standards in the U.S.”

Cavarallo also points out that the vast majority of drone strike victims, 98 percent, are either signature strikes or casualties, and not personality strikes. Personality strikes are known targets and high level operatives which are subject to review by the president. Signature strikes are suspected militants who are executed on the basis of suspicious behavior.

To minimize the likelihood of casualties, the administration has taken the brilliant safety measure of redefining what is a militant. That new definition includes all military age males within a strike zone, unless there is evidence  posthumously proving innocence.

I’m confident there is a division of the CIA dedicated to reviewing the guilt and innocence of drone victims. Please note my sarcasm on that last sentence.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal cautioned that the use of drones are “hated on a visceral level” and the resentment created  “is much greater than the average American appreciates.”

To illustrate McChrystals point a newly released Gallup poll reveals a staggering 92 percent disapproval of US leadership within Pakistan, which is up from 49 percent when the poll was conducted not even two years ago.

If anti-American sentiment is surging due to the use of drones, and thus, presumably, incentive to do harm to Americans, then how can it possibly be said that the current drone policy is more of a solution than it is a problem?

EDIT #1: I wrote this blog and titled it the night before I published it. This means I did not see this report from Al Jazeera titled “Game of drones.”

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