By Walter Simpson
Let’s call it what it is: a government assassination program that contradicts American values and damages our international interests. I refer to the “secret” U.S. drone program now under scrutiny because of President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as the next CIA director.
Proponents view drones as a way to inflict lethal force in other countries with minimal cost. Cheaper than conventional military attacks, drones serve us well by sparing the lives of American soldiers. But this calculus is misleading. It does not consider non-military alternatives. It also ignores the moral, social and political costs of drones.
While drone attacks may seek to be “surgical,” they unavoidably kill innocent men, women and children. We may feel this “collateral damage” is justified, but those living in Pakistan and Yemen who experience these attacks feel very differently. They live in constant fear of attacks, grieve their dead and come to hate the United States.
Imagine if drone attacks by a foreign power targeted people living in Buffalo. How would we feel toward the attackers? We’d view them as criminals and enemies and try to retaliate. We’d reject any arguments allegedly justifying the attacks.
The drone program insults democracy and lawful behavior. It lacks transparency and public accountability, and it provides no justice to its victims. They hear no charges. They have no day in court. They are not convicted of any crime before they are placed on a secret kill list and executed.
Apart from the drone program, our government has responded badly in many other ways to the 9/11 attacks. The unnecessary Iraq War resulted in thousands of American casualties and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead – at a taxpayer cost of nearly $1 trillion; we carried out programs of torture while establishing a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where many innocent people may spend the rest of their lives behind bars without access to U.S. law; and we are still fighting the longest conventional war in our nation’s history in Afghanistan. Plus we’ve lost important privacy and other rights under the terribly misnamed “Patriot Act.”
Tragically, U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked by the “war on terror” – an ill-defined conflict that by definition may never end. It’s used as a convenient though faulty justification for obscenely high military expenditures as well as for future drone attacks. Congress has also mandated the use of drones in our own skies. What federal, state and local police agencies plan to use drones? How will our privacy be protected?
We have lost a lot since 9/11, mostly through self-inflicted wounds. We should not be counting on drones to save jobs at the Niagara Falls Air Base. We are better than that.
Walter Simpson is a longtime member and former director of the Western New York Peace Center.