A recent piece in the Post-Gazette exposed the lack of accountability in President Barack Obama’s drone wars in countries the United States is not officially at war with (“Tell Us More About Drones,” May 8 Perspectives). The use of unmanned drones to attack people, who may or may not threaten the United States, without transparency or due process certainly does represent an affront to the rule of law and morality.
But aside from the question of whether such extrajudicial killings are justified in the name of U.S. security or whether Mr. Obama is correct in his assertions that such supposedly targeted killings of terror suspects are used only as a last resort against al-Qaida members, public opinion has both the right and the responsibility to ask what impact drone wars have on civilians.
In 2012, for instance, a joint study titled “Living Under Drones” (www.livingunderdrones.org), commissioned by Stanford University and New York University highlighted the cost to civilians in Pakistan from drone strikes. The study highlighted drone attacks on medical personnel in the aftermath of the first drone strikes, making it difficult for doctors to attend to dying and injured people after such attacks. The study collected firsthand testimonials from Pakistani survivors and family members of drone victims, the majority of whom claimed to be engaging in activities of living like attending school, farming and holding public meetings at the time of the attacks. The presence of drones hovering above communities was reported by many civilians as creating an atmosphere of near constant terror, making it difficult for people to live any semblance of normal life.
But perhaps more disturbing of all were the cold statistics quoted by the authors of the study showing approximately 50 dead civilians caused by drone attacks for every high-ranking al-Qaida official.
The strategics of geopolitics and the legality of extrajudicial killings aside, public opinion has the right to question whether the civilian cost of fighting terrorism needs to be so unacceptably high.