Readings: Drone Deaths, Does Anyone Care?

Perhaps the worst mistake was killing Osama Bin Laden. According to all the accounts I have read on the expedition, the target was alone, except for some nearby women, unarmed and could have been easily overpowered, arrested and brought home to a military prison and eventually tried, convicted and locked up for life — the living symbol of an evil life and the correctness of the American justice system. But killing him was easier, and it had the public relations benefit of making President Obama look tough and decisive.

Now for some years President Obama seems to take satisfaction in droning human beings, blowing up targets described as “suspected terrorists,” also with the “near certainty” that no civilians would be killed or injured. The terminology makes the killing appear “surgical,” medical language applied to a murder, as if something noble is going to take place. Since when does the law grant the killing of people merely “suspected” of having committed a crime? Does a court send even convicted men and women to the electric chair when it is “nearly certain” that they committed a crime?


As a matter of fact, the recently disclosed exercise, which killed six people, two of whom, an American and an Italian, were hostages, violated the principles President Obama laid down in 2013 when he announced that the C.I.A. would no longer conduct what are called “signature strikes”—attacks based merely on the suspicious behavior of the persons targeted without actually knowing who they are—after 2014 when American “combat operations” in Afghanistan were scheduled to end.

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson describes the process well: “This is, put simply, war by assassination. Drone attacks have a chillingly antiseptic nature: One minute, the targeted individuals are going about their business, nefarious or otherwise. Perhaps they notice the sound of an aircraft overhead. The drone’s operator, sitting at a console that may be thousands of miles away, presses a button. Kaboom.”

That kaboom has assassinated more than 2,400 persons across Pakistan, Yemen and Qureshi in five years. At least 273 were civilians. The list includes 38 Westerners, 10 of whom were American. The 2011 individual killing that struck me as the least justifiable was the drone attack on Abdel-Rahman al Awlaki, the teen-aged son of famous target Anwar al Awlaki killed two weeks before. President Obama expressed no regrets. Are the lives of Western civilians somehow worth more than the innocent civilian citizens of the Mideast? This recent killing, for some reason, evoked more sorrow. The president says he takes “full responsibility.” Just what does he mean by that? Will those who ignored his order in 2013 lose their jobs? To “regret” another person’s death to the family of the deceased is soft vocabulary, cheap talk, from one responsible for the death.

Meanwhile it is no surprise to learn that the C.I.A. members who produced the culture of torture are the same ones setting the—and breaking—the guidelines for the drone attacks. Congress apparently couldn’t care less. If President Obama wants what’s left of his reputation for integrity to survive his term in office, he should end drone warfare now.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Beth Cioffoletti
2 years 10 months ago
I am having a hard time figuring out how much leeway President Obama has in determining how the details of national defense are handled. Was it his decision to kill OBL, or was that determined by the CIA. Granted, he has to look tough and decisive, but did he have the ability to tell the experts and advisors how the mission was to be carried out, and that OBL was to be captured, not killed. I am looking forward to the memoirs that both the President and his wife will write. Hopefully they will give more of the inside story to what is going on.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

February has been one of the most violent months in the seven years of conflict.
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 25, 2018
Asia Bibi's husband and her daughter Eisham arrive in the Vatican prior to a private meeting with Pope Francis. (Credit: Vatican News)
The pope said Rebecca Bitrus and Asia Bibi are models for a society that today has ever more fear of suffering.
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 24, 2018
(Nick Ansell/PA via AP, archive)
Recent allegations about one of the United Kingdom’s biggest and best-known charities has driven increased demands from some quarters that overseas aid be reduced, if not abolished completely.
David StewartFebruary 23, 2018
Students who walked out of classes from Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland protest against gun violence in front of the White House on Feb. 21 in Washington. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)
The desire for stronger gun control may not translate into more caution with gun storage among owners of firearms.
Kevin ClarkeFebruary 23, 2018