By VISHAL BAILOOR, ’13
“The right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Over two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned those immortal words — the three basic rights every human being has from birth to death. As a champion of democracy, justice, and equality, America should be paving the path forward in protecting these rights and striking out injustice across the world. Yet today, America poses the greatest threat to liberty and the basic right to life that has ever faced the citizens of our Earth. Imagine, for a second, that at any time, a man a million miles away could snatch away your life with the push of a button. Now picture that scenario multiplied a thousandfold, the weapons of choice being an army of silent, often undetectable automatons, with all the armaments of death but none of the human ability to sympathize or feel remorse. That is the new force of drone warfare that Obama has expanded and pioneered across the world, a force that — in order to uphold basic human rights — should not exist.
Drones are more accurately described as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, which are essentially pilotless mini-planes with the capacity to kill. While the technology has existed for years, Obama has recently increased their use in the military, replacing “obsolete” human soldiers, that have the capacity for split-second decision making and precise aim, with robots that are known for collateral damage and accuracy — or lack of — measured in yards, not inches. They’ve been increasingly deployed in already war-torn and politically unstable areas, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where they are often used to kill suspected terrorists, and everyone else in the blast radius. Though the technology America uses for its drone program is quite sophisticated, these machines have an alarming rate of failure in enemy territory: every time one fails but remains salvageable, we are literally hand-delivering advanced technology to the very enemies we are hunting, perhaps the most counterproductive exercise of all.
Americans are guaranteed the right to a fair trial – no American citizen since the Civil War has been deprived of this right without repercussions, for it is the cornerstone of the American legal system. Yet, among the many crimes of drone warfare lies a stark one — the breaking of not only international law (which requires that killing be a military necessity and used against targets directly engaging in hostile activities), but of American law as well. Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric killed by a CIA-led drone strike in November 2011, was suspected of inciting people to terrorist activity and spreading extremism. Drones snuffed out the lives of him and his retinue without legal proceedings, despite the fact that al-Awlaki was an American citizen. Whether he had earned execution is another matter entirely; the real issue here lies in what was done prior to this attack, and that is the real travesty: this man did not receive a trial. If the government has the right to kill American citizens anywhere, at anytime, without free trial, what will happen if mistakes are made? What will happen if the victim is someone you know?
An often ignored consequence of using drones results from their killing of innocents; after all, drones often cause three or four civilian casualties per suspected terrorist caught. Such civilian deaths often result in resentment of the U.S. abroad and can destabilize those governments that assist the United States in conducting these killings within their borders. This was a significant issue in Pakistan back in 2009, when the Taliban was launching propaganda campaigns claiming that all drone victims are innocent. This resulted in people attacking government buildings as a sign of their opposition to the Zardari government. Sometimes, family members of innocent victims of drones decide to join terrorist groups to exact revenge on the United States government for using drones. The purpose of these drones is ostensibly to target and remove threats to the United States in the forms of terrorists and radical militants. Ultimately, though, the misuse of these machines breeds the very enemies America hopes to eliminate.
There is certainly a reason these inventions exist. They save American lives from death, extend America’s reach, and allow us to carry out operations deep in enemy territory where alternatives would otherwise not be possible. Some are actually used for more benign purposes inside the United States, such as carrying out search-and-rescue missions, as one police department in Colorado does. However, the drones being debated currently are not as harmless or refined. To say they are keeping America safe is hypocrisy masked only thinly by truth. By saying drone strikes are needed to maintain safety is to make the egregious crime of saying that the lives of foreigners — whatever their religion, culture, or nationality — are worth less than our false sense of comfort, a viewpoint we should neither accept nor defend. To use our weapons to kill innocent civilians, to take lives without trial, to kill American citizens overseas, whatever their crimes, is to lose what makes us American.