One day after his re-election President Obama ordered yet another drone strike in Yemen, killing an alleged al-Qaeda operative. In the process, our nation’s moral standing in the world was further downgraded.
Family members of the man killed are outraged and bewildered, wondering why their loved one was sentenced to death from above, rather than arrested and put on trial. They say that while Adnan al-Qadhi may have held an extremist ideology and may have lent some low-level support to al-Qaeda, he was not actively engaged in any terrorist activities. Relatives say the drone strike was a complete shock and that al-Qadhi could have easily been arrested, and, had he known he was being targeted, then he would have cooperated with authorities.
The details of this latest drone strike appear to violate the rules of engagement laid out by the President’s own counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, who in April suggested drone strikes are only used when, “A significant threat might be posed by an individual who is an operational leader of al-Qaeda or one of its associated forces” and “capturing the individual is not feasible.”
As al-Qadhi’s brother told McClatchy news, “We could have made sure he turned himself in. If [he] was guilty of any crime, then arrest him, put him on trial.”
The United States used to stand for the rule of law. We used to pride ourselves as the moral beacon for the rest of the world. We didn’t summarily execute people without a trial. But those days are long gone, replaced by a semi-covert drone warfare program started by former President George W. Bush and ramped up by President Obama who has his own “kill list” and has ordered the drone execution of American citizens without due process, most notably Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son who were blasted away in Yemen in 2011.
Driving this arguably illegal drone warfare program is a poisonous concoction of fear and nationalism.
The post-9/11 epidemic of fear that swept across the nation let Bush and Cheney completely remake America. It happened here at home, with a massive surveillance state and the destruction of civil liberties. And it happened abroad with a drone warfare program that is killing handfuls of terrorists while radicalizing thousands of average citizens. In countries we are not even at war with, people live in constant fear of robots in the sky and watch with horror as these aerial robots create cratered, bloody messes in their communities.
When Pakistan’s Foreign Minister was asked why so many people in Pakistan hate America, she responded simply, “Drones.”
And we’re doing all this in the name of stopping terrorism.
But the reality is Americans really don’t have much to fear when it comes to terrorism. Every year for the past decade, more people have died from slipping in their bathtubs just here in the United States than have been killed by Islamic terrorists worldwide…which has to be making bathtub manufacturers a little nervous.
But the greatest tragedy in this drone war is how we’ve forgotten the most basic moral principle of all: the Golden Rule – “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” It applies not just to preschoolers but also to global superpowers.
Consider this scenario: the Mexican government receives intelligence that a known narco-terrorist is holed up in a house in Arizona. They fly a drone over downtown Phoenix, fire on the building, completely destroying it and killing their target along with a handful of American civilians. How would we react? Fox so-called News would be calling for a return of the Mexican-American War!
What if a known terrorist affiliated with Basque Separatists was riding in a car down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and a Spanish drone flying above the city launched a hell-fire missile – obliterating the car, killing and injuring dozens of nearby civilians, and leaving a giant crater in the middle of a busy Manhattan street. Do you really think Americans would say, “Well, those drone things sure are a nice, tidy way to fight terrorists”?
Drone technology isn’t exclusive to the United States. In the not-too-distant future, any nation with a couple million dollars – which is pretty much every nation on earth – can have weaponized drones. And, tragically, by firing drones into a nation that we’re not even at war with, we’re setting a dangerous moral precedent for the future of drone warfare.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 83% of Americans support the Bush/Obama drone policy. We can’t imagine that one day these same drones might be used against us – by states or by well-funded terrorists simply following our example – or that our policies will probably spark a frenzy of drone wars around the planet. The hysterical fear of terrorists that Bush and Cheney hyped up so badly has caused us to lose touch with the Golden Rule.
America needs to claim the moral high ground and stop – or limit to combat situations – our use of weaponized drones.