[THS] USA: We're making enemies faster than we can kill them
The Harder Stuff in news and commentary
ths at psalience.org
Fri Jan 14 13:23:18 CET 2011
A Nation of Laws? Or Assassins?
Remote control killings by unmanned drones in Pakistan aren't making our country
By Jim Cason
January 13, 2011 "OtherWords" -- The failure of the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan
to contain the anti-government insurgency has led the Obama administration to
expand the undeclared war in Pakistan. According to the Long War Journal, the
number of U.S. attacks in Pakistan, using unmanned Predator drones, has gone from
five in 2007 to 117 in 2010.
Government officials here in Washington say privately that they expect the covert war
to expand even further this year. Yet Congress and the public have undertaken no
significant examination of this new war's consequences.
Members of Congress have almost daily reminders of the cost of the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq in the form of the dead and wounded U.S. soldiers that return
to this country. Lawmakers travel regularly to attend funerals of the fallen.
The U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan produce many casualties, but none of those killed
are citizens of our country. The pilots operating the remote-controlled drones used to
launch missile attacks in Pakistan usually sit behind computer screens far from the
battlefield. For policymakers in Washington, this is a war without cost or hometown
The English language press in Pakistan often relays reports of civilians killed in these
attacks. But those reports rarely make headlines in the United States. The only
ongoing reminder of this war is the occasional headline that suggests the United
States has successfully killed another al-Qaeda militant. For most Americans, that's
justification enough for this new war by assassination.
Having closely followed the Congressional investigations of CIA assassination attempts
in the 1970s, I find the current shift in public attitudes alarming. Back in the 1970s,
when investigations led by Senator Frank Church revealed that the CIA had engaged
in targeted killings of foreign leaders, President Gerald Ford felt obligated to sign an
executive order banning intelligence agencies from engaging in assassinations.
I'm not naïve enough to believe that the United States halted its involvement, but at
one time the public attitude was that such assassinations were wrong. We are a
nation of laws. As recently as 2001, when Israel engaged in targeted assassinations
against Hamas leaders in Gaza, the U.S. ambassador to Israel was forced to go on
record against the killings (although our government didn't cut off assistance to the
Israeli units involved in these murders).
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush authorized U.S.
intelligence agencies to kill al-Qaeda leaders operating anywhere in the world. In my
view, these campaigns were ineffective and violated international law.
President Obama's startling expansion of this drone assassination campaign has gone
by largely unnoticed. Missile attacks from drones often target a single person for
assassination, but end up killing dozens. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in
Pakistan by drones since 2006, yet Congress has held only one public hearing on
these weapons. Instead, Congress inserts even more money than the President
requests for them into the Pentagon's budget--and there's even a special caucus to
promote the drones.
As the Obama administration exponentially expands the use of remote-controlled
drones for assassinations, Congress should take a second look at this new kind of
fighting that's done in our name. You don't have to work for a Quaker lobby to
question whether remote control killings in Pakistan are helping to make our country
more secure. Within Pakistan and Yemen (where the United States has also used
such drones), the strikes have become a rallying cry for anti-government political
groups and a recruiting tools for the same violent, extremist organizations that the
U.S. claims to want to damage.
There's a bumper sticker that sums up this problem. It reads: "We're making
enemies faster than we can kill them." Congress, and the nation as a whole, need to
decide if our goal is simply to kill more people or to make this country safer. If our
goal is the latter, then assassinations by drones or any other means doesn't belong in
our policy tool kit.
Jim Cason is an associate executive secretary at the Friends Committee on National
Legislation, a Quaker lobby in the public interest. www.fcnl.org
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