The problem with drones
By Nat Hentoff
Published: Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
During the tumultuous months of the presidential campaign, most Americans heard nothing of this report in the (Minneapolis-St. Paul) Star Tribune: "To live under drones is to live in terror." Based on a study by Stanford University and New York University, it was written by Jennifer Gibson, who was one of the on-site researchers of this startling account of the CIA pilotless drones' killings in Pakistan under the enthusiastic authority of President Barack Obama.
Gibson is on the staff of the London-based international human rights organization Reprieve.
"Drones," she wrote, after spending weeks in North Waziristan, "are a constant presence ... with as many as six hovering over villages at any one time. People hear them day and night. They are an inescapable presence, the looming specter of death from above. And that presence is steadily destroying a community twice the size of Rhode Island."
"What makes this situation even worse is that no one can tell people in these communities what they can do to make themselves safe. No one knows who is on the American kill list, no one knows how they got there and no one knows what they can do to get themselves off."
So how does the United States define "militants" to get them on our kill lists? They are, Gibson wrote, nothing more than "military-age males, typically those between 18 and 65. In addition, because the U.S. generally does not release the names of people who have been killed, we cannot know whether the victims were actually militants or were deemed militants because Washington says they were."
For further explanation, here comes Ben Emmerson, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. As a recent commondreams.org story explained, "Emmerson's role at the U.N. is that of an independent researcher and adviser, but he does not necessarily represent the views or speak on behalf of the world body."
During his Oct. 25 appearance at Harvard University, Emmerson made this vital point: that "even though a state's primary human rights obligation is protecting the lives of its citizens ... this does not ‘mean infringing the rights of those suspected of terrorism.'"
Emmerson told the students at Harvard Law School that he would "be launching an investigation unit within the special procedures of the (U.N.) Human Rights Council to inquire into individual drone attacks, and other forms of targeted killings conducted in counterterrorism operations, in which it has been alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted."
He added, as others have, that Obama's government doesn't answer some of the most basic explanations on how it validates these programs, nor has it shown that it has inserted safeguards to prevent false charges against those who it claims are terrorists.
Regarding Obama's and Romney's opinions on drones, Emmerson said, "It is perhaps surprising that the position of the two candidates on this issue was not even featured during their presidential elections campaigns. ... We now know that the two candidates are in agreement on the use of drones."
Worse yet, the candidates weren't questioned about drones by the media or by the vast majority of us.
We, too, are responsible for these targeted killings.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Cato Institute.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Enough of these Steelers already
- Penguins’ Orpik out; Neal to have phone hearing
- Steelers WR Brown says ‘I thought I had it clean’ after wild, near-miss finish
- Penguins players are not out looking for fights
- Cranberry woman wins Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant
- Likely loss of Steelers draft pick looms because of Tomlin misstep
- Multi-vehicle crash closes Route 22 in Murrysville
- Steelers’ NFL playoff hopes are all but gone in loss to Dolphins
- Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington, Westmoreland counties weigh shale gas drilling on public land
- Pitt to face MAC champ Bowling Green in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
- Defensive lapses against Dolphins outweigh positives for Steelers