Will a UN investigation prompt our candidates to discuss drone policy?

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

The most familiar sound bites from Monday night’s foreign policy presidential debate were about horses and bayonets, but as some sources have pointed out, there were a glaring lack of clips to replay about each candidate's beliefs about drone policy. Will that change with the recent news that the U.S. will face a United Nations investigation into the legality of our drone program?

Ben Emmerson, who monitors counterterrorism for the UN, announced that the UN will coordinate an investigation out of Geneva to examine the deaths of civilians in U.S. counter-terrorism operations carried out via drone strikes. “[It is] alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners,” Emmerson said in a speech at the Harvard law school. “Christof Heyns [Emmerson’s colleague and the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings] … has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.”

With at least one UN official describing our policy as war crimes, we still haven't heard much from either President Obama or Mitt Romney on the campaign trail regarding drones. At Monday's debate, Romney answered a brief question about drone policy by basically saying he agrees with Obama's practices and that we should keep doing whatever it takes to eliminate our enemies around the world. (Obama was not asked the question.)

Greg Miller reports in the Washington Post that the “kill list” used to determine targets of drone strikes will likely continue, developing into the somehow creepier-sounding “disposition matrix.” One problem with this, according to Miller, is:  “Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus. The rosters expand and contract with the pace of drone strikes but never go to zero.”

In other words, the deaths will continue to pile up. Miller’s article continues with this sobering reminder: “Meanwhile, a significant milestone looms: The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by certain estimates, surpassing the number of people al-Qaeda killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.”

So we've kept ourself safe as a nation by killing nearly as many people as were killed in a terrorist strike against us. Are we winning the war on terror, or just assuring the loss of even more lives?

In every election cycle, we hear from many Catholic leaders the importance of choosing life when choosing a candidate to lead our country. It would be great to hear from our candidates how they consider themselves able to support life while also supporting a foreign policy being investigated as criminal.

Related:

Will either candidate give peace a chance?

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