Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Eugene Robinson: President Obama's Immoral Drone War

Eugene Robinson questions President Obama's expanded drone warfare, characterized by summary executions conducted in countries with which the U.S. is not at war and by "collateral damage," the killing of innocent civilians. Either way, he argues that the rationale for such strikes is morally ambiguous–and predicts that historians will view the drone war as a "great moral failure":

Even if the intelligence agents and military officers who operate the drones have perfect knowledge — meaning they are absolutely certain that the target is a dangerous enemy — and fire the drones’ missiles with perfect accuracy, this amounts to summary execution. Is such killing morally defensible?

...Under what theory...does the president order drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with which we are not at war? It would seem the definition of “enemy” is, basically, “someone the United States decides to target.”

...How many civilians have been killed in drone strikes? The Obama administration refuses to say but insists that the toll, whatever it may be, is declining because of stricter rules on choosing targets.

In Afghanistan, it is hard to attempt a count because there is an actual war going on, with no agreement on who qualifies as a civilian. The Los Angeles Times wrote recently about a Sept. 7 drone strike in Kunar Province. U.S. officials told the paper that 11 people died, most of them Taliban fighters; grieving local residents, however, insisted that 14 civilians had been killed. When does a village cease being a village and become a “Taliban stronghold”? When we say so, apparently.

The nonpartisan New America Foundation, which has attempted to keep a running tally, says drone strikes under both presidents have killed between 258 and 307 civilians in Pakistan, and between 66 and 68 in Yemen. Those numbers may seem small, but each victim was a human being who posed no threat to the United States or its interests — in some cases a child who was here one minute, full of laughter and life’s promise, and gone the next.

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