Obama stares at dangerous drone legacy

By Chen Weihua
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, March 11, 2013
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For most Americans, drones are something that fly in remote foreign skies to kill terrorists who want to harm the United States.

That is probably why their attitude toward drones differs so much with that of the rest of the world. While one Pew Center poll released last month found 56 percent Americans approving drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, another Pew study conducted last year showed a majority of people across the world, including in Spain, Germany, Japan, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, China and almost all Muslim countries strongly opposing them. In fact, a Pew survey conducted in Pakistan last year showed that 74 percent Pakistanis considered the US an enemy.

Public resentment and protests against drone attacks, including those from many close US allies, have rarely been covered by the US media. Yet public opinion in the US is likely to change when Americans realize that drones could also be used to kill US nationals on foreign as well as US soil, and invade their privacy by using thermal technology to spy into their houses and monitor their daily lives.

On Wednesday, Republican Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky used a filibuster in an attempt to prevent John Brennan, a key figure behind US drone programs, from becoming the CIA director. Paul spent more than a dozen hours accusing the Barack Obama administration of lacking clarity in its drone policy.

In fact, by saying that the US administration has "no intention" of using drones to target Americans on US soil, Attorney General Eric Holder did not rule out the possibility altogether.

A day later, on Thursday, Holder wrote a note to Paul before a Senate vote on Brennan saying the US president does not have the authority to use an armed drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on US soil.

Paul's outcry is the latest example of a growing concern among Americans over the drone program, which for long has been kept secret. The American Civil Liberties Union sued several government departments last year over their refusal to disclose information on the killing of American citizens in Yemen, including Anwar Awlaki and his 16-year-old son.

But regardless of the growing concern over drones, it is a pity that most Americans seem to care only about the legality of drones killing Americans and not people in other countries.

US leaders have always claimed that drones save lives, but they save the lives of only American pilots, who now drop bombs on other countries using remote control, say, in Langley, Virginia. Drone attacks killed 2,562 to 3,325 people in Pakistan from June 2004 to mid-September 2012, including 474 to 881 civilians, out of whom 176 were children, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

A field study, "Living under drones", conducted by researchers from Stanford Law School and New York University Law School, concluded that drones terrorize entire populations of the countries under attack and cause a range of mental problems among them. People in such countries didn't know what the US was before the drone attacks but now they know it is drones, death and terror, the researchers said.

What's troubling is that of all the countries under drone attack, the US has declared war only on Afghanistan.

Fortunately, a United Nations team led by Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur for human rights and counter-terrorism, has started looking into Obama's obsession with drones since January. There is no doubt that Obama has failed to win support for his drone policy, a killing tactic which he has used with dramatic frequency in the last few years only to radicalize the populations under attack and help terrorist organizations recruit more people.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is the Golden Rule. But I hope it doesn't take a Predator drone launching a Hellfire missile at a "terrorist suspect" in Dupont Circle in Washington or Central Park in New York to wake up more Americans to force their commander in chief to stop the drone attacks.

And it is not too late for Obama yet to stop making drones the legacy of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president.

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