America has been known for various things throughout the many long years that it’s been a world power, freedom being chief among them. What’s most curious about America’s recent spate of bad publicity, then, is how often it’s the innocent people of the world that end up paying for that freedom.
Barack Obama’s presidency is no stranger to controversy. The health care reform his administration championed remains a divisive issue, as does its complicity in recently discovered NSA spying programs, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Still, the more alarming trend thus far has been the president’s favorable stance toward drone strikes. The Obama administration has put drones to work in armed conflicts across the globe on a scale that they don’t seem comfortable talking about. The Huffington Post reported recently that the CIA refused to divulge even the number of internal documents in their possession related to the drone policy, claiming that doing so would damage national security.
You might say that the White House has a long way to go to gain back not only the trust of Americans, but the citizens of the world. Recent headlines have set them back even further on their uphill battle.
A Question of Human Rights
Criticism against the Obama administration, championed by Amnesty International, recently reached a fever pitch when the death of civilians at the hands of America’s drones became just a little too well publicized.
Between 2012 and 2013, Amnesty International studied 45 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, ultimately declaring that the U.S. had committed war crimes, broken international law, and fundamentally ignored the universal “right to life.”
So began the renewed and now ongoing debate over civilian drone deaths. Amnesty International is quick to agree that there are credible threats in the areas being targeted by drones, but has expressed skepticism that the drone strikes were precisely targeted.
“Effective,” “Lawful,” “Precise”
The White House has been firing back, maintaining that there are systems in place in U.S. counterterrorism efforts to ensure that drone strikes remain “effective,” “lawful,” and above all, “precise.” White House press secretary Jay Carney has led the defense of U.S. drone policy. As reported by NBC, Carney has stated that it is the policy of the U.S. to “target [its] action against those who want to kills us and not the people they hide among.”
Even so, questions persist about the openness of the White House’s drone strategy. Amnesty International maintains that the Obama administration has been less than honest about the civilian casualties in recent drone strikes. In a special report from the UN, Ben Emmerson added his voice to Amnesty’s, reporting that as many as 58 civilians had been killed in Yemen and a staggering 400 had been killed in Pakistan. He went on to agree that the U.S. had been obfuscating the truth when it comes to transparency. A highlight of both reports was a July 6, 2012 drone attack on the village of Zowi Sidgi in Pakistan, in which a 14-year-old boy was killed.
There may well be a sort of moral ambiguity in play here, where drone strikes mean lessening the risk to American soldiers. That’s all well and good, but it’s hard to deny that even one civilian death is too many. The worse crime, according to many, is the fact that American military leadership remains tight-lipped about the extent of these tragedies.