Drones: ‘The best is yet to come’

Anti-drone activists create a dramatic tableau of civilians killed during a strike at a press conference in Syracuse, NY, last year. (Flickr/Syracuse Peace Council)

Thank goodness. It is over. I think the only people mourning the end of what felt like the longest presidential election in history are television ad executives. Between them, the two candidates spent almost a billion dollars on TV ads, concentrated in a few battleground areas. And thank goodness that President Barack Obama was elected to another term. Four years of Mitt and Ann and the Romney boys would have been more than I could stomach. I mean, they named their dog Seamus for crying out loud.

Now what? A lot of good-hearted people who were really excited about Obama the Community Organizer in 2008 are now saying that this is the moment we have all been waiting for; that we elected him for his second term, when — unencumbered by the need to get re-elected — Obama can take off the gloves, pick up the standard of progressives, get the economy back on track, end the wars, close Guantanamo and pretty much rock the Oval Office from its long orbit of politics as usual. He promised as much on Tuesday night — telling the cheering crowds “the best is yet to come.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I would be happy if it was true, but I am not holding my breath.

The best is yet to come? On indiscriminate drone warfare? On Guantanamo? On the global war on terror? On saber rattling at Iran?

Let’s just look at drones.

One thing that Barack and Mitt agreed on was drone warfare — the conscience-less killing from above and afar by unmanned aircraft loaded with missiles, flown and targeted from New Mexico or Upstate New York. In their final debate, Mitt Romney was asked if he supported the President’s use of drones. He responded: “It’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.”

The newly re-elected president is going to continue to use drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and who knows where else, even though no one knows how many innocent civilians have been killed by these indiscriminate weapons.

How is that possible when we can read a license plate from a thousand miles away, splice a gene and chart a storm? Barack Obama’s Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency do not count civilian casualties in the drone war because they don’t want to, don’t think they have to and are counting on the American people to really not care.

Sarah Holewinski is the Executive Director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, which recently worked with Columbia Law School to assess the impact of drone strikes on civilian populations. Holewinski told Danger Room, “nobody knows how many civilians have been killed by covert drone strikes. Nobody — that means the Obama Administration, the Pakistan government, and the media… The Obama administration says civilian casualties are ‘not a huge number.’ If that’s true, evidence could put the debate to rest, but we haven’t seen any.” Their report “The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions,” does not put a number on civilian casualties, but points out the long-term social, political, psychological and economic costs of drone warfare and challenges the Obama administration’s assertions that drone strikes are targeted, surgical, legally justifiable and militarily necessary.

Despite all of this, the Obama administration will continue and expand use of drones in its second term. But don’t worry. There will be changes…at least in language. Yep, the same White House that switched from the dramatic and sweeping “Global War on Terror” to the snooze-inducing term “Overseas Contingency Operations” is no longer talking about “kill lists.” That is too direct. Now we get a “disposition matrix.” I feel better already. Hope and change are here to stay.

Just days before the election, members of Veterans for Peace, the Catholic Worker and other groups went to Hancock Air Field in Upstate New York, where Predator drones are piloted from. They held signs that read,“We will not be complicit in our government’s war crimes.” Nineteen people blocked the entrances. They were arrested. That’s real hope and change and we are going to need a lot of it in the next four years.

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