U.S. drone policy: Counterterrorism, or just plain terrorism?

By Elizabeth Lefebvre| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog War and Peace

Drone strikes, a major part of U.S. policy in the War on Terror, are often justified as a “safe” alternative to armed battlefield engagement because they supposedly limit the amount of damage done and lives lost. A new report from the law schools of NYU and Stanford titled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan” provides evidence that our drone policies might actually be counterproductive to countering terrorism.

According to the UK's The Guardian, some of the report’s notable findings include that not only has America been painting a false picture about our use of drone warfare in Pakistan, but that our policies (ones committed in the name of national security) could actually be making us less safe. Compiled after nine months of research and interviews with victims, residents, aid workers, and more, the report details a disturbing reality of life under the drones in Pakistan:

Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.

I think the moral reprehensibility speaks for itself here, of attacking powerless civilians, killings aid workers, and creating an environment of fear so powerful that families do not feel safe attending funerals of the loved ones that have died at our hands. (So to speak. Technically a U.S. hand is piloting that drone, somewhere.) Does this sound like a solid national security policy? Because it sounds an awful lot like terrorism, the very thing that our drone policy supposedly helps to protect us from.

What good is to be had by fighting terrorism with terrorism? Not a whole lot, the report continues, noting that our national safety is probably in an increasing amount of peril from the way our policies are affecting people:

Evidence suggests that U.S. strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.

The futility of fighting violence with violence becomes apparent, as one can envision a never-ending cycle of justifying strikes as retaliation for strikes against yourself. This reflex is nothing new—it’s pretty much what humans have done for as long as we’ve been around—but all this does is perpetuate violence and lead to more loss of life, what we believe to be the most precious of all gifts and deserving of the highest defense.

We already know that our current commander-in-chief has the final say on who gets targeted by our drones. So why aren’t we hearing more about this on the campaign trail? Sure, voters are understandably concerned with our economic crisis and how they are likely to be affected by the next president’s domestic policies. But if our drone policy continues as is, it doesn’t seem too far from the realm of possibility that we’ll have to deal with the threats of terrorism that we’re supposedly protecting ourselves from. At the very least, voters going to the polls deserve to know exactly what each candidate will do regarding this aspect of our foreign policy.