Recently, The Daily Show featured an interview with Missy Cummings, an associate professor at MIT and former fighter pilot who was featured in the PBS documentary “Rise of the Drones.” While the pair talked about some of the militaristic uses of drones, they also touched on some of the potential (and ridiculous) implications of drones in everyday life. However, it was troubling that Jon Stewart dropped the ball on the issue when he did not bring up the well-documented collateral devastation, the moral dilemma of remote warfare and the wider implications of drone use outside of the military.
The documentary in question praises the use of drones, saying that it helps keep our military personnel out of harm’s way, is much cheaper than conventional warfare and still kills the bad guys (it is noteworthy how the documentary was funded by the Koch Foundation and Lockheed Martin as pointed out in the video above). But the documentary fails to address the civilian deaths and injuries as a result of these strikes.
An article in Spiegel Online International chronicles not only the emotional and mental effects of operating remote killing machines, but the moral quandaries and tragedies associated with this type of warfare. One story tells of how a strike was ordered on a target and everything was going according to plan when what the operators spotted what they thought to be a child, just before a Hellfire missile exploded, past the timeframe when they could have stopped it. One of the operators, who logged 6,000 flight hours said he feels guilty for all the men, women and children he’s killed during his “missions.” The article also implicates the use of drones as an invasion of privacy.
When it got dark, Bryant switched to the infrared camera. Many Afghans sleep on the roof in the summer, because of the heat. “I saw them having sex with their wives. It’s two infrared spots becoming one,” he recalls.
However, it’s ultimately the devastation of the weapons on the civilian populations of Pakistan and Afghanistan that should be getting the media attention. Even if a Hellfire missile reaches its intended target, the steel casing sends high velocity shrapnel flying and that causes more damage (and death) than the actual explosion itself. Is it any wonder that before the presidential election, most countries heavily favored President Obama EXCEPT Pakistan? Obama’s military policy is arguably much harsher than his predecessor and is a reason many would not wholeheartedly endorse his reelection. According to the Centre of Research on Globalization, President Obama has “authorised 193 drone strikes in Pakistan, more than four times the number of attacks that President Bush authorised during his two terms.”
To be fair, in the third presidential debate on foreign policy, Romney said the drone initiative was one of the few areas where he stood in agreement with the president so it is safe to assume that, if Romney had been elected, the policy would continue under his presidency.
While there are no clear numbers of how many civilians are killed in drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some news agency and policy watchers estimate the number is in the hundreds. Some sources estimate that as many as 168 children have been killed in drone strikes in the past seven years. Many would argue that the collateral deaths are the cost of keeping our country safe, but at what cost? We distance ourselves from the tragedy of the death and eventually come to see those who suffer as “other.” The military seems more concerned that the drone attacks have been a prime recruiting tool for terrorist groups, using the tragedy of those deaths to recruit young men into their ranks.
It’s ironic that the man who only a few short years ago was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has solidly stood behind policies that bring death and destruction to so many. Many have argued that the drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan should be considered a violation of both the Geneva Convention and basic human rights. This report documents eyewitness and victims’ accounts of drone attacks, and both the physical and mental anguish of those under the constant threat of drones strikes is compelling. One can hope that the more attention given to the policy, the greater the outcry will become to stop these types of attacks.