Back in February 2013, while speaking at a Rotary Club meeting, Senator Lindsey Graham stated that the number of people killed by our current drone program was 4,700. The most recent data added another approximately 271 persons to this total. Although from a historical casualty perspective, 4,971 is not a large number when a country is at war, the number of deaths of innocent people relative to deaths of “high-value targets” is deeply skewed. This makes the existing drone policy nothing more than an Al Qaeda recruiting tool.
The U.S. has incinerated innocent women and children as well as low-level minions who pose no risk to our country in the process of fighting our endless War on Terror. The irony of this war is that through our own actions, we are creating a new crop of jihadists who might have otherwise lived their lives out in peace.
In the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, Presidential candidate Ron Paul brought up the concept of “blowback” to the American public. People like Rudy Giuliani showed their ignorance by laughing in response. This term, familiar within government circles, is not something the average man on the street spends any time contemplating. In essence, by waging a covert war from the skies, the very thing we are trying to stop – terrorism – might blowback in our faces further down the road when the families of innocent victims set out to avenge their loved ones’ murders.
The reaction of some Americans, if this were to happen to their friends or family, would be nothing short of an all-out bloodbath exacted on the perpetrators. For example, if Mexico, in its efforts to stop their drug cartels from operating within our borders, were to employ drones to do their dirty work, and this resulted in the deaths of innocent citizens, it would not be surprising to see within hours the great state of Texas mobilizing and loading for bear.
What will we say to Russia or China in the future if they begin deploying drones in foreign lands? We have set a terrible precedent.
The problem we have with evaluating this program is that the public has been intentionally kept in the dark about what our country is doing. This administration, which ran on being “the most transparent ever,” has been exposed as even more secretive and devious than its predecessor. It’s no wonder the American public has grown to fear its own government more than terrorists; we are being told lies all the time!
How can the public have confidence that the numbers we have been given are, in fact, true? Before Lindsey Graham’s slip, most estimates around that time had pegged the number of drone deaths at around 3,430 – a number 27% lower than the Senator’s figure. The number of actual “high-level” targets killed as a percentage represents just 2% of the total. For example, according to data maintained by the New America Foundation, “Under Bush, about a third of all drone strikes killed a militant leader, compared to less than 13% since President Obama took office.”
We are not killing the movers and shakers; instead, we are targeting “low-level” suspected militants who are not active in international terrorist plots. Translation: no risk to any American citizen. We could very well be dropping bombs on just about anyone appearing to be walking around with a gun, or looking in the least bit suspicious, without there being firm confirmation of such. This all seems very much like a bizarre extension of NYC’s “stop and frisk policy,” except we’re actually killing people.
Patrolling high above the clouds on the other side of the world, drones have mistaken things like wedding parties and tribal gatherings for Al Qaeda. Heather Linebaugh, former Air Force Geo-spatial analyst who has firsthand knowledge of a drone’s limitations, reported to The Guardian that what “the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited clouds and perfect light.” Our signature strikes have in fact killed people who just happened to look like a terrorist.
In light of being kept in the dark, I call on the administration, in particular the President, to “man up” and live by its transparency pledge. Prove these allegations wrong by opening up this program to the public and allowing the American people to learn exactly what atrocities have been committed in our name. We, as a nation, know that war is nasty and that mistakes are often made – this is the very nature of war. But you can no longer cower behind your Nobel Peace Prize and continue to lie to us.
This is not to say that the use of drones in specific instances is not warranted and necessary; however, the current oversight and methods are seriously in question. After the cover-up and lies of the Jessica Lynch rescue, the death of Pat Tillman, the Psy-op staged toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue, and the consistent under-reporting of actual civilian casualties in this longest war in American history, the only hope the public has in maintaining an honest and accountable government begins and ends with hyper-transparency.