In the past four years, 326 reported U.S. drone strikes have occurred within Pakistan with an estimated 1,707 to 3,025 deaths – more than 400 of them reported to be civilian bystanders. All of this within a country that the United States is not at war with.
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, the use of unmanned, combat air vehicles, or drones, armed with missiles and surveillance equipment has become the strategic weapon of choice for the United States in its combat against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in retaliation for their involvement in the 2,997 deaths during the Sept. 11 attacks.
We’re more than a little anxious thinking back to the last presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barak Obama, where questions of drone legality, how the administration decides whom to kill, long-term effects of drone warfare and moral issues were not debated.
With Romney, believing “we should use any and all means necessary” in our efforts against alleged terrorist, it was safe to think no matter who took office, drone strikes and other means of warfare will continue.
While cutting down on troops in its own effort to counterterrorism, the Obama Administration increased usage of drones in 2004, after the unpopular and inefficient concept of sending troops to kill targeted members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, done by the George W. Bush administration.
Legally, the Bush and Obama administrations find domestic justification to commit such actions after the U.S. Congress passed the 2001 authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution after the 9/11 attacks.
While in a grey area in international law, the United States tries to justify its actions internationally under a concept called “targeted killings,” defined as “premeditated acts of lethal force towards specific individuals outside of their custody.”
“Targeted killings” gives the U.S. power to expand its counterterrorism efforts outside of Afghanistan, to Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan or anywhere where terrorist forces are present.
In a speech on April 30, 2012, at the Woodrow Wilson Center, presidential counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan acknowledged publicly for the first time the usage of armed drones by the Obama Administration while also justifying their usage in “targeted killings.”
Becoming a target to kill is perhaps more startling. The Washington Post in an Oct. 23, 2012, article describes the Obama administration slowly starting to convert their kill list, a list that was complied at weekly meetings to arrange their next targets, into a database called the “Disposition Matrix.”
The database is a collection of information from all government resources about active terrorist suspects and then maps out the efforts being placed into the capturing or necessary actions needed towards them.
The process of how the “Disposition Matrix” decides targets or what makes a target has not been disclosed to the public but is headed and decided by Brennan—one man deciding the fate of the”target killers.”
Human Rights Watch called the “targeted killing” policy as a disregard to human rights and the C.I.A. who is in charge of drone operations should become more transparent about their actions, or transfer command of drone operations to the military. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed Freedom of Information Acts to find out more information as well as speaking critically of the “Disposition Matrix.”
With 12 other countries known to have functional drones, where will the precedence the U.S. is creating take other countries?
Outside of drones, Obama has deployed Special task forces such as SEAL team six to handle targeted kills. With a Noble Peace Prize around his neck, Obama has approved more kills than any other modern president.
As Americans celebrate the death Osama Bin Laden, and with the deaths of hundreds of top al-Qaeda officials, Obama has his work cut out for him.
We need transparency from the Obama Administration behind its drone strategy, and exactly what is accounted for in the “Disposition Matrix.” We need more discussions on drone warfare in the public and its effect on modern warfare and human rights. While the end of this war is not in sight, we hope in the next four years, Obama will soon stop this program.