Imagine if on April 19 while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lay wounded in a boat, the United States called for a drone strike. Imagine the blast killing Dzhokhar along with numerous individuals nearby. Imagine emergency vehicles and personnel moved into the area to rescue potential survivors and a “double-tap” happened, which means another strike in that same zone. Then imagine after the strikes, officials deemed anybody of military-age killed combatants along with Dzhokhar.
Such a thought experiment may seem fantastical. After all, Dzhokhar was taken alive by the Boston Police Department and other agencies. Yet, such a scenario plays out in countries like Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere routinely, as perpetrated by the United States.
On April 23, Farea Al-Muslimi, a Yemeni activist, spoke in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing on the legality of the drone war.
He said, “What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.”
Another Yemeni activist, Ibrahim Mothana, sent a written testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
He said, “During my visits to Abyan, Shabwa and Radaa, three areas of central and southern Yemen where the US has carried out targeted killings, I was overwhelmed with sadness meeting families of drone victims suffering a miserable combination of personal loss and devastating economic burden.”
The reason I bring these two forth is because it is often difficult for Americans to empathize with foreigners bearing the brunt of our foreign policy overseas; it is difficult to put a face to their stories of tragedy and pain.
Some may say it is insensitive, condescending or not constructive to mention bombings that take place routinely in foreign countries in the same context as the recent bombings in Boston. I disagree since there are commonalities worth pursuing.
Citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere that are routinely at the other end of drone strikes, I can relate to them because they’re human beings. They attend school, weddings, go to work, and have families just like I do. They care about their community, their well-being and the well-being of their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and so forth just as I do.
As such, it’s no wonder, as Mothana mentioned in his written testimony that, “Drone strikes and US military intervention are the rallying cry that al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen use to recruit more fighters.”
Undoubtedly, intent is important, but one must consider this. As mentioned at the onset, the United States classifies all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants. Second, we have done “double-taps,” which is bombing a target, waiting for emergency personnel to show up, and then bombing that same zone again. Third, the United States government says it has the authority to kill anyone, anywhere in the world. Those sorts of things muddle the waters of what’s “terrorism,” what’s “intent,” and it is not as black and white as people would lead you to believe.
Amitai Etzioni with The Atlantic recently published an article, “Everything Libertarians and Liberals Get Wrong about Drones,” and it is worthy of a rebuttal.
With respect to the executive power to utilize drone strikes, Etzioni cited the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists (AUMF) signed in 2001 by Congress three days after 9/11.
Questions aside about whether we should seek a new resolution given that one was signed hastily in the aftermath of a tragedy, the Department of Justice white memo leaked back in Feb. reflects that the language of the AUMF has been greatly expanded under the Obama administration.
For instance, for a lethal drone strike to occur, the target must, “A senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”
Such vague legal language is intentional, as to leave much wiggle room for targeted assassinations. As an example, we have targeted drug lords in Afghanistan thought to be financing al-Qaida, even though a Senate Foreign Relations Committee disclosed in a Joint Integrated Prioritized Target List report that, “There is no evidence that any significant amount of the drug proceeds goes to Al Qaeda.”
I do not have the space to address all the arguments presented by Etzioni, but I will address his last point.
He said, “When we deliberate whether or not to fight, we should assume that once we step on this escalator, it will carry us to places we would rather not go.”
Certainly, war is ugly and when it is waged, we expect that carnage will ensue on both sides, but we wage said war because the means seem necessary to an end at that time.
However, the problem here, which Etzioni does not address, is that since 9/11 we’ve been waging this “War on Terror” and given the framework that has manifested since with the greatly expanded AUMF (under the National Defense Authorization Act) and the drone program, among other things, it has become clear that this war has no intended end and that its battlefield is the world.
As MSNBC political commentator, Chris Hayes, said, “If the existence of people out in the world who are actively working to kill Americans means we are still at war, then it seems to me we will be at war forever.”
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, we, as a country, need to reassess this “War on Terror,” and begin to build bridges with people like Al-Muslimi and Mothana instead of continuing to lose them in our empathetic peripheral.
This article makes quite a few claims for which readers may be interested in the sources. Below I have complied where I gathered the information for this article, as well as the Etzioni article which I refuted in part.
Click to access 020413_DOJ_White_Paper.pdf