Obama’s Drone War: Indiscriminate Killing And Selective Apology
By Taj Hashmi
30 April, 2015
Last week President Obama publicly apologized for the deaths of two Western hostages – one American and one Italian – killed accidentally by a U.S. drone attack on an al Qaeda camp in mid-January, somewhere in Pakistan. The widely publicized apology was heartening and disappointing at the same time. While American drones have so far killed thousands of innocent civilians and a handful of terrorists since 2004, the apology was disappointingly selective.
The White House theatrical on April 23 was all about apologizing for the accidental deaths of two Western hostages, American Warren Weinstein, and Italian Giovanni Le Porto. Obama mourned the tragic deaths as a “father and husband”, and empathized with the relatives and friends of the victims. He didn’t even bother to mention U.S. drones had killed several thousand Non-Western civilians (more than a thousand children in Pakistan alone) since 2004, let alone apologize for the deaths of innocent Pakistanis, Afghans, Somalis and Yemenis.
I wish Obama regretted, apologized, and mourned the deaths of thousands of non-Western victims of U.S. drone attacks, duly compensated the family members of the dead, and the severely maimed victims in Pakistan and elsewhere. Distressingly, Obama’s only regret was U.S. drone attackers didn’t know the presence of Weinstein and Le Porto at the al Qaeda camp in the first place. His regret implies, had the attackers been aware of Weinstein’s and Le Porto’s presence at the camp, they would have definitely called a halt to the attack. Conversely, there’s altogether a different strategy for U.S. drone attacks. The attackers don’t bother to know if there are innocent Pakistani, Afghan or Yemeni women, children and elderly in and around their targets.
The atrociously indiscriminate drone attacks, which amount to war crime from any definition of the expression, and Obama’s appallingly selective apology re-affirm certain established facts. Firstly, it’s obvious from the nature of the selective apology from the Nobel Laureate (in Peace) President that Washington not only considers some lives more important than others, but it also categorizes Western casualties of friendly fire as “innocent victims”, while non-Western victims of such attacks are considered integral to the ubiquitous “collateral damage”. “Collateral Damage” is again a repulsive expression. It dehumanizes helpless human victims of American invasions in the Third World.
Secondly, Obama didn’t mention that drone attacks violate international law; are grossly inhumane; imprecise; indiscriminate; and amount to extra-judicial killing of suspects, state-sponsored terrorism and war crime. Thirdly, he did not promise his administration would prohibit using drones as weapons in the foreseeable future. He was rather upbeat about the rich dividends drones bring to America.
Although assassination as a method of Counterterrorism or CT operation is controversial, it appears to be an effective tool in CIA’s Best Practices Manual. Despite Wikileaks’ release of CIA’s secret High Value Targeting (HVT) Operations Manual last year – which hinges on assassination – CIA has continued using drones in assassinating terrorists and suspects with impunity; its latest attack took place on April 12 this year. The U.S. Administration simply ignores the fact that only around 12 per cent of drone attack victims are known militants.
American “Exceptionalism” being the determining factor in formulating U.S. foreign policy, which is mostly about its trumped up threat perception (at times America projects tiny Venezuela or distant Iran as a security threat), justifies drone attacks to kill a handful of terrorists and suspects, and thousands of innocent civilians with impunity, any regret and remorse. The logic of American “Exceptionalism” justifies invasions of countries, violations of their sovereignty, changing regimes in various continents, torture, and assassinations. This lopsided logic does not care if the line between atrocious acts and war crime is very thin or non-existent.
In the backdrop of Obama’s continued support for drone attacks that kill innocent people, and violate international law and sovereignty of countries not at war with America – such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen – it’s quite puzzling as to what a U.S. President meant by his adherence to peace and promise to “Change”. As a former attorney and legal expert he knows it well killing of one innocent civilian – when it should have been avoided – amounts to committing war crime. The world never expected him to behave like another George W. Bush or another Machiavellian.
He should have realized by now that the Machiavellian dictum, “End justifies means” does not work. His immediate predecessor proved it at least twice, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Violations of international law, killing of innocent human beings, and even extra-judicial killing of known terrorists and criminals mostly backfire.
Americans should know their country can’t enjoy the immunity from global reprehension, hate and retribution for killing innocent people and invading countries in the names of democracy, freedom and War on Terror. It’s time for the Americans to realize that their country’s double standards in the realms of diplomacy and warfare annoy, anger, agitate and humiliate people across the world. And as Evelin Lindner has pointed out: “Men such as Osama bin Laden would never have followers if there were no victims of humiliation in many parts of the world”.
It’s heartening that the Obama Administration has taken some bold steps in normalizing relations with Cuba and Iran. It has recently punished those Blackwater gunmen who unjustly killed several Iraqi nationals in 2007. Better late than never! However, America’s turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s illegitimate bombing of Yemen; the Saudi military intervention into Bahrain to crush the majority Shiite upsurge against the minority Sunni autocracy in March 2011; and last but not least, Obama’s support for the illegal drone attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere reflect America’s double standards and love for gunboat diplomacy.
We know drone attacks are not only ineffective in the long run, but are also counterproductive; they multiply the number of terrorists from among the surviving family members and friends of dead victims. It’s time to reckon that all lives are equally important, some are not more precious than others. As Western nations deserve apology and compensations from America for killing their citizens in “friendly fires”, Pakistanis and others also deserve similar treatment, and above all, an end to killing of their citizens by drones, bombs and death squads under any pretexts or excuses. Obama should waste no time to restore order in the home front, and make peace abroad by containing the overpowering Military Industrial Lobby. Selective public apologies to some people for involuntary killing by America, and its unabashed killing of Non-Western civilians at the same time, won’t do any good to anybody.
It’s time that Americans realise neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan poses any military threat to their country. Hence the futility of the drone attacks, which kill innocent civilians, and a handful of terrorists. These indiscriminate and illegitimate attacks simply alienate Muslims from America, and its phony War on Terror, especially in Muslim-majority countries which have been under American drone attacks, almost on a regular basis. Drone attacks are ineffective weapons against terrorism. They create more terrorists than they manage to kill anywhere. In sum, Obama’s selective apology for the accidental deaths of two Western hostages in Pakistan is extremely insensitive, offensive and counterproductive to peace between America and the Muslim World.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University at Clarksville, Tennessee. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.
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