There's Something INHERENTLY Wrong With U.S. Drone Policy-- And Congress Isn't Doing Anything About It
Saturday we looked at the other nightmare inherent in drone warfare: so-called collateral damage or, less elegantly, technologically indiscriminately slaughtering people's children and other innocent family members. And so, it turns out, did the L.A. Times in an OpEd by Doyle McManus asking if we're creating more enemies than we're killing. He sees the drone policy problem from a perspective more similar-- though not identical-- to my own:
[P]rotecting the rights of U.S. citizens in Al Qaeda is only part of what is at stake; those cases are unusual. In the long run, a more important question may be whether the drone strikes, which have killed more than 3,000 people, are creating more enemies for the United States than they are eliminating.The only bone I have to pick with the OpEd is that it doesn't even bother mentioning the glaring and inherent immorality of murdering thousands of innocent civilians. And to me that's the number one issue. Call me old fashioned. Call Bill Moyers that too:
Scholars who have studied the political effects of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have argued that even well-targeted raids often claim innocent victims, and the result is a backlash against the U.S. Likewise, Hayden and retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, have warned that too many drone attacks-- in Pakistan, for example, where the CIA uses "signature strikes" against suspected militants without identifying them individually-- can be a bad thing.
"What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world," McChrystal told the Reuters news agency last month. "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."
During a hearing that lasted more than three hours, only one senator asked about that critical issue-- a senior Republican, Susan Collins of Maine.
"If you looked at a map back in 2001, you would see that Al Qaeda was mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and if you look at a map today, you would see Al Qaeda in all sorts of countries," Collins said. "If the cancer of Al Qaeda is metastasizing, do we need a new treatment?"
Brennan agreed that the possibility of a backlash against drone strikes was "something we have to be very mindful of," and that counter-terrorism strategy cannot depend solely on missile strikes. But he insisted that the critics are wrong and that populations terrorized by Al Qaeda "have welcomed the work that the U.S. government has done."
Congress hasn't shown much appetite for regulating the U.S. war against terrorism until now. That's partly because there's been little public pressure to do so; an ABC News-Washington Post Poll last year found that a whopping 79% of Americans approved of drone strikes, including against U.S. citizens.
The intelligence committees have monitored the drone war and concluded that it's being conducted with care-- although, as Feinstein notes, the evidence has been shrouded in secrecy.
But Collins shined a light on a question that can be debated in public: Are drone strikes effective in the long run, or are they creating more enemies than they kill? That's a worthy target for Senate and House committees to go after.
This week, the New York Times published a chilling account of how indiscriminate killing remains bad policy even today. This time, it's done not by young G.I.'s in the field but by anonymous puppeteers guiding drones by remote control against targets thousands of miles away, often killing the innocent and driving their enraged families and friends straight into the arms of the very terrorists we’re trying to eradicate.That said, I'm happy to see that Dianne Feinstein wants to do something-- unlike Republican House committee chairs Mike Rogers and, worse, Buck McKeon, who just want to sit around collecting legalistic bribes from drone manufacturers. Feinstein and some of her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee are mulling the idea of establishing new FISA-like courts to oversee the use of armed drone strikes against suspected terror targets. It doesn't solve the most profound problems of U.S. drone policy, but it scratches the surface... a little.
The Times told of a Muslim cleric in Yemen named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, standing in a village mosque denouncing Al Qaeda. It was a brave thing to do-- a respected tribal figure, arguing against terrorism. But two days later, when he and a police officer cousin agreed to meet with three Al Qaeda members to continue the argument, all five men-- friend and foe-- were incinerated by an American drone attack.
The killings infuriated the village and prompted rumors of an upwelling of support in the town for Al Qaeda, because, the Times reported, "such a move is seen as the only way to retaliate against the United States.” Our blind faith in technology combined with a sense of infallible righteousness continues unabated. It brought us to grief in Vietnam and Iraq and may do so again with President Obama's cold-blooded use of drones and his seeming indifference to so-called "collateral damage," otherwise known as innocent bystanders. By the standards of slaughter in Vietnam the deaths by drone are hardly a blip on the consciousness of official Washington.
But we have to wonder if each one-- a young boy gathering wood at dawn, unsuspecting of his imminent annihilation, the student picking up the wrong hitchhikers, that tribal elder standing up against fanatics-- doesn't give rise to second thoughts by those judges who prematurely handed our president the Nobel Prize for Peace. Better they had kept it on the shelf in hopeful waiting, untarnished.
The effort to open the armed drone program to a FISA-like court came after the unexpected release of a previously confidential Department of Justice white paper justifying U.S. drone operations-- even if those strikes target American citizens.A sleazy political operative like Debbie Wasserman Schultz may claim she never heard of Obama's "kill list"-- after all, she intends on being Speaker one day-- but everyone else in America has by now. It's not that anyone can not care about extrajudicial executions of probable terrorists who have U.S. citizenship. We do-- and I suspect we'll care even more once we wind up with a President Rubio, President Ryan or President Huckabee. You think it's a nightmare under Obama-- it is-- just imagine if someone without even a shred of a conscience has that kind of power backed up by the "legal" precedent being set now by a Congress too bloated with Military-Industrial Complex bribes to do their job and prevent this kind of grotesque abuse of authority.
If approved, the FISA-like authority for drone operations would allow lawmakers to directly address some of the perceived problems with the program, without dealing with the issues of classification surrounding the program.
"Right now it is very hard [to oversee] because it is regarded as a covert activity, so when you see something that is wrong and you ask to be able to address it, you are told no," due the program being steeped in secrecy.
"We know it exists and I think this [program] has gone as far as it can go, as a covert activity, and I think we really need to address it," Feinstein said.
...[W]ithin that process, there is an "absence of knowing who is responsible for [those] decisions" inside the White House and intelligence community, she added.
A FISA-like court process could go a long way to clearing up that ambiguity that exists within the administration's system of checks and balances in the drone strike program.
"I think we need to look at this whole process and try to find a way to make it transparent and verifiable," she said.