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Posted by on Feb 9, 2013 in At TMV, International, Law, Media, Places, Politics, Science & Technology, Society, TMV News, War | 49 comments

Drone Strikes: The Lesser of Several Evils? (UPDATED)


As mentioned below, there is increasing political support for federal courts to provide oversight on the use of armed drone strikes against suspected terrorists abroad, similar to the oversight presently exercised under the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) when it comes to suspected foreign spies working inside the United States.

One of the supporters of such court, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, while saying that the present drone program “has gone as far as it can go, as a covert activity” and that Congress really needs to address it, also made it clear that “the system of analysis and verification in place at CIA and the White House to determine who ends up on the so called CIA ‘kill list’ for a drone strike is ‘a solid process,’” according to The Hill.

Read more here.


In response to widespread dissatisfaction “with the hidden bureaucracy directing lethal drone strikes, there is an interest in applying the model of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court — created by Congress so that surveillance had to be justified to a federal judge — to the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, or at least of American suspects,” so reports the New York Times.

The Times mentions how today such attacks reap a “mixed bag of midlevel militants and foot soldiers whose focus is often more on the Pakistani or Yemeni authorities than on the United States,” and how, since the death of American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, “who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen, the legal and moral rationale for such strikes has been hotly debated.”

Several members of Congress and other prominent and influential groups and individuals are calling for such an independent judicial review panel.

Apparently, the Obama administration, too, has had internal discussions on the feasibility of such a body:

An administration official who spoke of the White House deliberations on the condition of anonymity said President Obama had asked his security and legal advisers a year ago “to see how you could have an independent review” of planned strikes. “That includes possible judicial review.”

“People on the national security staff and the legal side took a hard look at it, and the discussions are still going on,” the official said. “There are a lot of complexities. You’d need legislation and probably a new judicial body.”

But there is also skepticism about such a court deciding on “death-by-drone” issues, for various reasons.

Some legislators believe that if such a court’s jurisdiction extended to foreign terrorist suspects “it might infringe on the president’s constitutional role as commander in chief,” and that such a court would “pass constitutional muster only if it were limited to cases involving American citizens.”

On the other hand, judges are not “clamoring to take up the challenge,” the Times says:

“At an American Bar Association meeting in November, a retired FISA judge, James Robertson, rejected the idea that judges should approve “death warrants.”

“My answer is, that’s not the business of judges,” Mr. Robertson said, “to decide without an adversary party to sign a death warrant for somebody.”

Read more of this excellent article here.

Original Post

We have had a great, civil, reasoned discussion here at The Moderate Voice on the “pros” (if any) and the “cons” (in terms of morality, ethics, legality, Constitutionality, etc.) of using drone strikes abroad to take out suspected terrorists who mean us harm.

I personally support the judicious and minimal use of such drone attacks when the United States, its national security and its citizens are facing an imminent, credible and serious threat — and a threat that cannot be eliminated or minimized in a timely manner by any other means. However, I use the word “pros” cautiously and hesitantly because the killing of people without due process, judicial oversight and, in particular the unintentional killing of innocent “bystanders” — the so-called “collateral damage” — really has no “pros”. At best it is a necessary evil.

I say a great, civil and reasoned discussion because as evidenced by two opinion pieces in USA TODAY our readers virtually covered the waterfront of opinions on this important issue.

In “Drones Best Alternative: Our View” and in “End Covert Drone Wars: Opposing View,” USA TODAY’s Editorial Board and Naureen Shah* exchange “pros” and “cons”, respectively. They do it in such a manner that — no matter what side of this critical and controversial issue one is on — one has to admit that both sides have something important to contribute and one gains hope that our government can find some common ground to continue to protect America and Americans in a capable, legal and acceptable manner.

Readers have heard my opinion on this issue probably ad-nauseam, but I hope that it is an opinion that falls somewhere in between the allegation that by condoning or tolerating drone strikes — no matter how reluctantly — we ourselves have become terrorists and the other extreme that we should continue to use drones at will, without any oversight and regardless of “collateral damage,” as in a macabre version of the infamous musical “Bomb, bomb Iran.”

(My previously stated opinions on this subject are below, in the CODA, for whatever they are worth.)

The two USA TODAY opinion pieces are must-read for all who are agonizing about this issue. Of course, most will favor the opinion piece that best matches one’s own thoughts and values. However, reading, understanding and reflecting on the other side’s views can only help us — Americans in general — to find some areas of agreement.

The following are the “stories highlights” as provided by USA TODAY and some of the writers’ key thoughts.

USA TODAY Editorial Board:

“Judicial oversight could calm fears about program.”

• Can’t leave terrorists alone, free to operate from havens abroad.

• Using ground troops brings its own price.

• Conventional airstrikes are less precise and far more dangerous to foreign civilians.

They write:

The U.S. drone strikes that target suspected terrorists abroad come with risks: They can kill innocent civilians. They violate the sovereignty of other nations and can turn people there against the United States. They grant unreviewed power to the president to assassinate anyone he determines is a terrorist leader abroad, including American citizens.

But for all the controversy, USA TODAY says, “the drone attacks have this going for them: They are effective, and the other options are worse” and the Editorial Board cites how drone strikes have significantly weakened al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and hopefully will do a similar job against al-Qaeda offshoots in Yemen and Somalia.

USA TODAY further supports its “pros” by asking what other options we have and listing those options along with the consequences.

The editorial concludes with a discussion of how an appropriate forum to provide for judicial oversight is worthy of consideration and “could go a long way toward calming fears about future abuse.”

But USA TODAY also says, “for the moment, as [CIA director nominee John ] Brennan reminded the [Senate Intelligence]panel, the United States remains ‘at war with al-Qaeda and its associated forces,’ which ‘still seek to carry out deadly strikes against our homeland and our citizens.’ As long as that remains the case, the drones should keep flying.”

Naureen Shah’s “Opposing View”

“In a democracy, the privilege of waging war comes with a duty to inform the public and win its consent.”

• Reliant on the intelligence of the Pakistani and Yemeni governments, we might not know whether drone strikes truly serve our interests.

• As the first nation to wield drones, we should set the world’s example.

• Use them lawfully, democratically and sparingly.

Shah’s introduction:

After the bloody and costly wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, drones offer the tantalizing possibility of cleanly and quickly taking out a few dozen of America’s worst enemies. In reality, the lure of drone technology has drawn us into messy conflict zones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, where we have conducted about 400 strikes and killed more than 3,000 people.

We wage this drone war secretly, through the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), because the Pakistani and Yemeni governments have at times feared that their citizens would oppose open U.S. involvement.

Shah claims that in order to “shore up dubious democracies abroad, we have poisoned our own. For in a democracy, the privilege of waging war comes with a duty to inform the public and win its consent.”

More specifically as to the use of drones, Shah says that the CIA and JSOC refuse to do so — inform the public and win its consent: “They do not publicly admit to any role in drone strikes. They refuse to respond to reports that some strikes are wrong-headed — targeting men who oppose the local government but who do not threaten the U.S.”

She also laments the “killing [of] innocent men, women and children who were in the wrong place, at the wrong time” and that “[r]eliant on the intelligence of the Pakistani and Yemeni governments, we might not know whether drone strikes truly serve our interests, or merely theirs.”

Shah concludes:

Drones are the future of warfare. As the first nation to wield them, the United States should set the world’s example: Use them lawfully, democratically and sparingly. End the covert drone war and initiate a counterterrorism strategy that is honest about the benefits and limitations of drone strikes.

Instead of tasking the CIA and JSOC with a secret war, we should entrust any necessary strikes to the conventional U.S. military forces that — over time and in response to public demand — have built traditions of complying with the law, reporting mistakes and answering public inquiry.


I believe that drones can and should be used abroad to take out terrorist combatants, but only IF:

– An individual poses a known, verifiable, clear and imminent threat to America and Americans (e.g. about to blow up an aircraft, launch a missile, blow up a U.S. consulate or embassy, launch an attack on U.S. soil, etc.)

– The terrorist suspect cannot be apprehended and otherwise neutralized in a timely manner using other resources or means, or/and when the host government is non-existent (e.g. Somalia), cannot (e.g. Yemen) or will not (e.g. “many”) take action itself.

– Everything possible is done to avoid or minimize collateral damage.

I will now add, “And provided judicial oversight is exercised by a body similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, especially if Americans-turned-terrorists are involved.”

* Naureen Shah is a lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School and associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at the school’s Human Rights Institute,

Image: U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez)

  • adelinesdad

    Finally we reach common ground. I agree with your principles. And after much back and forth I think you’ve put your finger on the problem: under the cloud of secrecy and with no oversight we cannot guarantee that those principles are being observed. Based on the frequency of the attacks and number of people killed I have a hard time believing they are, but that’s just my gut feeling and that’s the problem: we can’t know.

  • sheknows

    The use of these weapons is something which our government should be closely scrutinized for. There should be an oversight committee that monitors the effectiveness and results of these strikes. I agree that we need to defend our nation, but we also need to protect the defenseless.
    So far, we are falling short, not only in accuracy, but in taking moral responsibility. The end does not justify the means. Before we make more of these strikes, our operators, our systems and our intelligence community needs to be spot on.

  • Enkindle

    So many opinions, so little time. I’m totally a drone strike proponent. Now that we have a President that we can trust, I trust him. President Obama is the Commander and Chief, and, I dare admit a lot more educated and certainly much wiser than I am. I’m not going to sweat the drone strike management. I didn’t vote for a president to run national security just to tell him how to do it.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      I trust this President, too, Enkindle, but just to be sure — for future presidents — some oversight might be called for.

      (I did not mention it in my post, but there should be a clause in the “new law” that in the case of true national emergencies that can not wait for such court’s approval the President can act, but his decision must be reviewed by the court or body later — I know, “that doesn’t help the dead terrorist…”)

  • Well, I’m the twit who asked whether we have become the terrorists because of drone strikes in nations with which we are not at war, so there isn’t much question where I stand. That view hasn’t changed and probably won’t until someone produces proof positive that at least we aren’t creating more Al-Qaeda members and sypathizers than we kill with each drone strike.

    On the other hand, I also agree that a quasi-judicial oversight panel could be a useful step assuming drone strikes will continue. I would be honestly disappointed if such a panel were limited to potential strikes against American citizens.

    Thanks, Dorian for the overview of the competing opinions.

  • dduck

    “I trust this President, too, Enkindle, but just to be sure — for future presidents — some oversight might be called for.”
    Trust but verify, cause there may be a Rep president some day in the distant future, you guys slay me. Yes, the CIA has miniature drones that can come in my window and send a poison dart straight into my heart. Wait, I am a Rep so they better aim for my ass. I know I am in the U.S. so they would NEVER do that here. Better to wait til I am on vacation overseas.

  • cjjack

    I trust this President, too, Enkindle, but just to be sure — for future presidents — some oversight might be called for.

    When it comes to issues such as this, I find it is a useful thought experiment to consider if you’d be okay with handing such power over to a President you don’t trust, don’t like, and don’t want in the White House. Then, if possible, try to consider the ramifications of the power 10 or even 20 years down the road.

    Right now, I’m re-reading a book I read a long time ago called “A Nation of Sheep.” It was written by one of the co-authors of the classic “The Ugly American,” and is now long out of print. While some of the characterizations of certain ethnic groups contained in the book are quaint and outdated (to put it mildly), it is a blow-by-blow account of how we were being dragged piecemeal into conflicts in Southeast Asia thanks to misinformation and outright lies, bolstered by our trust in elected leaders and the need to fight the Communists at every opportunity.

    It was published in 1961. I think you know what happened next.

    Now, I’ve written elsewhere on this site that I’d rather our military take out individual bad guys with drones as opposed to imposing “regime change” on entire nations in order to smoke a few out of their holes, but the fact remains that drones are a new and dangerous tool that has been handed to our leaders. We need to think very carefully about the ramifications of their use.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Good points, cjjack. Thanks.

  • petew

    Although I detested GWs use of rendition to snatch anybody or anyone off the streets, transport them to another country and ruthlessly torture them until they said what their captors wanted to hear, I continue to be haunted by one of Bush Junior’s statements after 911 when making the case for temporarily reducing some of our constitutional rights in order to fight terrorism. He said, “we know things that you don’t.” or something to that effect, only with slightly different wording.

    It is true that American especially, should stand up for human rights in ways that supports our beliefs in human liberty and equality, but, perhaps, when a President is first given their first intelligence briefing, that President learns information which causes him or (possibly) her, to change their minds. I am not condoning the indiscriminate use of drone strikes by ruthlessly attacking our fellow Americans, and, I agree that this is all NOT too cool, and, I am now seriously speculating on why we, and many other average citizens, may not truly have the wisdom to decide his issue with total objectivity.

    The old saying goes, “There are no atheists in a fox-hole.” Maybe there is also no such thing as a completely principled and non-fearing President—once they get the full range of what is involved in any given controversy.

    I don’t believe that Obama is a greedy or a belligerent Person, but, much of what he has to do, and/or rely on doing, is practical—rather than purely ethical. We may have a sad situation, and an unfortunate reality, but, one that is easily worth fighting for—especially when considering the possibility that we will more likely face a more unfortunate outcome! If this happens on our watch, it may frighten us to death!

  • epiphyte

    IMO the cure is worse than the disease. Most people aren’t rational or objective when considering these questions. Viz:

    – Since 9/11 more people have been killed in traffic accidents in the USA than would die if someone was to set off an atomic bomb in Baltimore. 90% of those deaths could have been avoided if only we’d lower the national speed limit to 40 mph. Any takers?

    Didn’t think so. So how-come it’s ok to spend a trillion dollars on a “security” infrastructure which is not only valueless, but also reduces the effective speed of air transportation for the average trip within the US from 600mph to 270mph?

    I have an answer to that, but it’s just like the matrix; no-one can tell you what it is, you just have to see it for yourself.

    That’s it.

  • dduck


    I know most of you on this site don’t think much of John Yoo, the drafter of memos for Bush II. But this piece does point out some aspects of drone policy and justifications that bear considering, or at least that we should be aware of. You don’t have to agree with him just consider alternatives to the “legal” and pragmatic basis of the drone weapon and its uses and excuses.

  • Enkindle

    Since declarations of war are apparently out of vogue since WWII, I’m trying to envision a war rule, that has never been broken many times over already, that might apply to unmanned vehicle operations. Heck I can’t even get details of accidental fratricide events for the Vietnam war, much less investigation details of possible war crimes during combat actions since, unmanned or not. They simply don’t want the public to know. So ostensibly, we the people, give our approval via an ignorance of facts and apparently must accept the fact that we will always have blinders on when it comes to the military. Since I don’t have many years left, I cowardly and lazily say screw it, let the kids create their own world. I’m pooped.

    • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

      >>>>>>They simply don’t want the public to know. So ostensibly, we the people, give our approval via an ignorance of facts and apparently must accept the fact that we will always have blinders on when it comes to the military. Since I don’t have many years left, I cowardly and lazily say screw it, let the kids create their own world. I’m pooped.>>>>

      Enkindle, thou has said it in a few good words: about citizens’ some kind of febrile ‘approval’ without knowing the actual motives and facts– and also without the power, even in the millions that might march on washington to make those so very few who decided to take our children to war, to do harm to innocents, stop in their tracks.

      And, I would just say this too, that you stated that cogently. And dont be too tired, for there are many young people who read this blog, and they are noting what others write here. It’s natural after a long life to think, boy, what have we really gained? We have gained much much enkindle by our works and acts in the world, by our support of decency and by helping, teaching our own young. You wouldnt have taken such a beautiful name, enkindle, if you didnt have the jing.

      Just remember, for many of the young, they want to hear what you have to say. Not all. But many many. Keep on. There are millions of us elders poised to help in small and large ways– sometimes the small ways are the most powerful, the kind word, the hand on the shoulder, the good thought.

      Remember too, the internet is called ‘destructive technology’ for a reason; it has brought down many of the gatekeepers. We are not seeing new dreck, we are finally seeing the dreck that has always been true. And we have more chance than ever to note it, raise it up so all can see it. Courage.

      This is just my .02 worth.

  • The_Ohioan

    Shah says the program is kept secret; worst kept secret ever over a long period of time.

    Shah says the program is to prop up other governments; don’t think so. It’s to kill people who continue to plot to kill us.

    Shah says in relying on the intelligence of the Pakistani and Yemeni governments, we might not know whether drone strikes truly serve our interests, or merely theirs. Now that is a legitimate and a serious concern.

    When we relied on the Vietnamese to show they had a “kill” by turning in ears. When we relied on the Iraquis to give us information about who was the bad guy. We had no way of knowing which was a kill or a bad guy and which was a personal vendetta against a perfectly innocent person.

    If we have no idea if the intelligence we are getting is about militants or about political opponents we need to stop and reassess this program. If we are getting good information (from those young Arabs slipped in on our side, I assume) that’s another story.

    I don’t need to know, but my elected congresspeople need to know. That’s the way it works here. There’s always the possibility of another Gulf of Tonkin deception, but someone somewhere, legislative or judicial, needs to be informed even if not given power to stop it.

    Torture, drones, all the rest are the result of Congress ceding ALL acts of war to the executive office. It may be constitutional, but so was slavery and preventing voting for more than 50% of the population; doesn’t make it right or a really good idea.

  • SteveK

    Torture, drones, all the rest are the result of Congress ceding ALL acts of war to the executive office.

    Just two things:

    1) Torture and hardware (drones, jeeps, hoses & towels used to torture) do not belong in the same sentence and it’s disheartening to hear so many trying to equate them.

    2) Where does the congressionally approved $1.51 trillion F35 program (2443 x $618M each – with 10,000 x the destructive power) fit into this ‘woe-is-me drones are evil (JUST LIKE TORTURE) and we need to know what each and every one of them is doing’ scenario?

    Do you want each and every F35 mission made public and accountable to scrutiny of the masses?

  • The_Ohioan

    Steve K

    1) I’m not equating them, but others do. I should have said “The controversies about…” mea culpa

    2) See the paragraph above starting with “I don’t need to know,”

    You are free to indicate any agreement or disagreement with the rest of my comments including the problem of ceding ALL acts of war to the Executive branch.

  • SteveK


    Though responding to your comment my comment wasn’t aimed at you I’ve just seen so many here that I tend to agree with on issues continue to put the Drone Program and torture in the same sentence, the same category and your comment was the comment I put my feelings out to… Nothing personal and I’m sorry, I should have worded my comment better.

    My second comment was to what I see as a faux horror that’s being thrown on the drone program. I see it as but one more attempt to make that black President the overseer of horror.

    Again, there seems no concern with the fact that the congress has/is/will continue to spent $1,500,000,000,000 (1/3 of the national debt they all pretend to be upset about) on a fighter plane with 10,000 times the fire power.

    Oversight hell, congress can’t even oversee the money they are paying Lockheed Martin for cost overruns.

  • As noted earlier in this thread (and in several articles posted in the past few days) I believe I am one of the most vocal critics of the administration’s drone policy here at TMV. That includes pointing out the horrors of killing and maiming civilian men, women and children in those strikes, questioning the international legality of striking into nations with whom we are not at war, and questioning whether we make more enemies than we kill with such strikes. In the aftermath of that I read:

    “My second comment was to what I see as a faux horror that’s being thrown on the drone program. I see it as but one more attempt to make that black President the overseer of horror.”

    Are you suggesting that my opposition to this policy, including the horrors it perpetrates on innocent civilians, is a) false (faux) and b) racially motivated. I find myself deeply offended by that insinuation.

    Given the mutual respect between us over the years, SteveK, I request an explanation. I’d honestly prefer a retraction, but an explanation at least, please.


  • Enkindle

    The thing I worry about most, is the precedent of killing Americans abroad, via unmanned air vehicles somehow translating into killing Americans abroad in general, without even considering the constitutional right of due process. “Well we do it with drones”, being a set precedent to kill an American via other means, such as military or DIA operatives rather than law enforcement arrest and extradition for prosecution.

  • ShannonLeee

    we should entrust any necessary strikes to the conventional U.S. military forces

    LOL. So we should fall back on a reputation of carpet bombing and napalm in order to clean the image of our military strikes? Or maybe the author wants to see more American lives put at risk? It is hard to fight against a policy when you don’t have dead Americans to plaster on the front page of the USA today.

    As I have said before, I find Tidbits opinion completely valid, logical, and defensible, but some of the arguments I am reading from other news sources, in particular drones = torture, to be laughable.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Hi ShannonLeee,

      I know that I — having served in our armed forces for 20 years — am probably biased, subjective and all that crap.

      But carpet bombing and that napalm stuff is World War II and Vietnam War vintage, tactics that were executed by the military to achieve the strategies and objectives laid out by our political leaders. Anytime Roosevelt or Nixon or Johnson or whoever had problems with such abhorrent tactics, all they had to say is “Don’t do it.”

      And please spare me the horrific images of the results of such tactics — they make me sick, too.

  • ShannonLeee

    I hear you DDW. I know our military does its best. History is still history. I consider Vietnam to still be part of our current history.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      “. History is still history. I consider Vietnam to still be part of our current history.”

      Of course Vietnam is still part of our current history, and so is World War II (more than one million World War II veterans are still with us), but it should be seen in its proper context — as we are beginning to do now by revisiting and lamenting the demeaning way in which we “welcomed home” our returning Vietnam War veterans.

  • ShannonLeee

    Just in case anyone was wondering. This is from Spiegel mag in Germany.

    Germany’s government recently announced plans to do a 180-degree policy shift by deploying armed drones in combat. It argues that remote-controlled killing machines are no different than any other weapons, but experts say the “new wars” have completely different — and revolutionary — rules.
    Germans should finally give it a rest and stop all the worried talk about how their military plans to use armed drones in combat. After all, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière has spoken, and it’s apparently no big deal. “In ethical terms,” he says, “a weapon should always be viewed neutrally.”

  • zephyr

    My sentiments with regard to our country’s use of drones is similar to Elijah’s. I don’t like it, I don’t like the blindtrust acceptance of the program, I don’t like the term collateral damage, and I don’t like politicizing it in partisan ways. We don’t know how the decisions are being made, we don’t know who is being killed – meaning how many innocents, and we certainly don’t know the long term ramifications. This is a can of worms that needs to be opened up to the light of day. Anything that desensitizes us and insulates us from the carnage done by our government in our name is wrong, wrong, wrong. I’m sure that most here who venture opinions on whether or not they support use of drones have no basis for stating said opinions other than faith. Sorry, that isn’t good enough, regardless of who is president.

  • ShannonLeee

    Z, I agree, oversight is essential. The government simply needs to put those mechanisms in place and I understand anyone’s vehement opposition to the drone programs without said oversight. And I do also agree that it does not matter who the President is…R or D…oversight is necessary.

    We are an armchair warrior nation. The American public has felt very little pain from the war in Iraq. The idea that drones make America less in touch with war simple does not hold water imho. We are out of touch already. Drones are just safer for our military.

  • Enkindle

    ShannonLee/DDW, if I might interject?

    About the military doing their best not to kill innocent people, with drones or anything else for that matter, do we have any record of prosecutions for the military killing innocent people because they “did not do their best not too”. Since it seems that only the military prosecutes the military, I’m in a bit of a quandary as to how “oversight” can be faithfully accomplished by our duly elected civilian representatives, as the Constitution of the United States mandates, regarding drones?

  • ShannonLeee

    True DDW. I wasn’t around for those times and do not understand how people could spit on returning soldiers and call them baby-killers. We still barely understand what war does to a soldiers soul. We see the results, but we don’t understand the depths.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thanks, ShannonLeee

  • Did you know that you can buy a kit to build an 8 foot long remote control drone online for under $150? Eight feet is not tiny, and sufficiently powered, could carry a payload. I wonder how much it would take for one of our enemies to “weaponize” one [now that we have set the precendent of using drones as weapons] and fly it into an open stadium or a Starbucks or open air cafe or a building as we have been known to do in Pakistan/Yemen/Sudan/etc.

    And, when that first drone, and all that follow, begin to hit us, will we remember that we led the way in drone warfare or will we simply condemn “their” use of drones while escalating “our” use of drones.

    Just asking.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Hi Elijah,

    Good point.

    But, without minimizing or detracting from your good point, our enemies have already done such — and worse — at the cost of a few airline tickets and some box cutters.

  • our enemies have already done such — and worse — at the cost of a few airline tickets and some box cutters.

    a) hijacking planes was a long established revolutionary tactic before 9/11. Drones are our contribution to the world of war. b) we have the means of protecting against repeat performances of hijacking commercial jetliners, albeit at some cost to our privacy. We do not, I think, have similar means to prevent a weaponized drone from hitting a church picnic in Wichita.

    Dorian, I accept your sincerity and the conviction of your point of view. That we disagree means no disrespect. I simply believe that we all need to think this through. Since you are a progressive democrat, I recommend to you the three segment piece that appeared on the Melissa Harris-Perry show yesterday on MSNBC. It is five liberals/progressives discussing drone policy in an outstanding discussion – for American television.

    Here’s a link: . You’ll find on the right side of the page, some boxes about this program. The first is America’s Never Ending War State Since 9/11. Below that you find a block on drones and kill lists, with the final block below that. Each block is about a seven minute video.

    Other than the first one starting off a bit slowly with a monologue about a Japanese/Chinese island dispute, they are very instructive. If you choose to watch, pay particular attention to the foreign national (sorry, name forgotten) as she describes how the people of the Waziristan region of Pakistan have learned to hate Americans because of the sound of drones overhead. Up to you if you choose to watch these videos, but I hope you do, as I hope any “progressive” who reads this will do.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    We do not, I think, have similar means to prevent a weaponized drone from hitting a church picnic in Wichita.

    I assume your scenario is some terrorist group in Yemen or similar place controlling the weaponized drone from some command post 8,0000 miles away and guiding it onto the Wichita church picnic?

    If not, it must be launched and controlled to the Wichita church picnic by some foreign or homegrown terrorist group not too far from Wichita.

    If we are talking the latter, what means do we have to prevent a small airplane — such as a crop-dusting-kind — laden with explosives (or some other “stuff”) from taking off from some farmer’s field nearby that Wichita church picnic, piloted by some suicidal homegrown or foreign terrorist and plowing into that church picnic?

    Just thinking aloud…

  • ShannonLeee

    last I checked…people have been flying radio controlled planes for decades. The idea to weaponize them may or may not have been ours, but they have been around in one form or another for a very long time.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    You’re right (again), ShannonLee.

    Additionally, such a radio-controlled “drone”, if loaded with some chemical or biological “stuff” capable of killing thousands in a crowded surroundings can be 1/20th — or less — (certainly much less than 8 ft. — and cheaper)the size of a CIA-used weaponized drone.

    Whether we kill innocents with drones or with bombs and bullets as we did in Iraq, they are certainly going to hate us.

  • SteveK


    No, I am not insinuating that your opposition to US drone policies is either false or racially motivated and I’m surprised that you took it so personally especially considering it was part of a comment where I was trying to apologize to another commenter for not always being in control of the english language.

    One of the reasons most of us come to TMV is that most of the comments on this and other topics are usually not over the top but all you need do is google “Obama Drone Policy” but don’t be surprised to find a large percentage of the comments with the feel of what my comment implied.

    My primary beef with all this is what I see as FALSE equation between Drone Strikes and torture.

    Add to this the apparent acceptance of US military fighter policies given the fact that their numbers range and destructive power dwarfs anything drones can do and should trigger the ‘what’s this outrage really about’ gene in all of us.

    I believe that at the international level the US Government (US Military) has overreached on everything they’ve touched for the last 15 years.

    To me the Drone Policy ‘outrage’ (faux or otherwise) is being directed at such a small part of the current misdirected US Military Policy that it seems to me to be motivated more by politics than by what’s right and wrong… Like another Benghazi ‘scandal’ something to attack the other side about.

    I worry about the lives of innocents and children too; I also worry about the national debt so in order to make things right with the world I propose we cancel the F-35 Fighter Jet Program. Lose 1,000 jobs, save $1 TRILLION dollars and rid the earth of 1,000,000 times the potential deaths compared to the Drone Program.

  • Whether we kill innocents with drones or with bombs and bullets as we did in Iraq, they are certainly going to hate us.

    That’s no excuse.

    [Said in the most non-judgmental manner possible of course]

    EDIT TO ADD: Thanks for your explanation SteveK. I don’t think the serious criticism is coming from the right. The right, as you point out, is trying to take some partisan advantage with comparisons to torture. But, the serious moral/immoral, right/wrong critique is coming from progressives. I recommend to you the same Melissa Harris-Perry discussion I linked to above in response to Dorian.

    Best as always, tidbits

  • The_Ohioan

    I’m still waiting to hear what policy those who are opposed to drone use are suggesting we use to combat al Qaida in Waziristan who are targeting our troops in Afghanistan and are there and elsewhere are still plotting strikes in the US.

    If there is a more pragmatic policy to protect us and our troops, I’m willing to listen. Removing our troops from Afghanistan may solve one problem but not the other.

  • dduck

    AQ and wanabe AQs are doing fine. Although we may have knocked off many of the top-tier leaders, their recruitment of new troops and probably money flow has increased and who can blame them for being pissed and afraid, remember the terror of the V-1, or Buzz Bomb in London; that noise alone was devastating.
    That being said, I would want top-level people that are committed to killing Americans and hatch viable plans to be droned (surgically and with no, or minimum danger to innocents).
    On small drones, I was not entirely joking in an earlier thread that they they are practical, cheap and could be devastating with biological disbursement techniques.
    This evil genie is out and is not going away.

  • Ohioan,

    Let me try, as respectfully as possible, to respond. I have attempted to present options, but they fall on deaf ears to those committed to violence. I get the impression that you and others who agree with you seek a “military” or “violent” solution to replace the violent, military use of drones. So long as that is your criteria, nothing I say will ever satisfy you because I seek to end the violence, not find a new way to perpetrate it.

    My goal is not to make enemies with drones rather than bombs and bullets. My goal is to stop making enemies. So long as we continue to make enemies, no matter the means, we cannot ever see the end of the war on terror.

    My suggestions have included reconsidering basing US troops in Muslim territory, as this is a sore spot going back to the crusades. I also suggest being a force for resolution of the Palestinian issue (not easy with Bebe in power, but we could show good faith). I have also suggested that we could be the first to stop pulling the trigger…at least on a temporary basis…to see what the response would be.

    But, those are steps designed to seek peace. They are not designed as a new means of making enemies that will replace drone-created-enemies. As one of the guests on the Melissa Harrris-Perry show (that I llinked above) said, to paraphrase, “Immediately after 9/11 the kill list was ten, today it is thousands.” And, it grows with every new enemy we make.

    Pardon me for not agreeing with my fellow commenters and authors here at TMV (though a few seem to understand) but I decline to accept the neocon premise of endless war and I refuse to accept that the only question must be how we prosecute the war and never how we achieve the peace.

    Add: If people insist on only accepting the neocon solution of endless war, I very strongly recommend a universal military draft. If the children of the privileged and middle class are in harm’s way along with the volunteers we may develop a different perspective…as happened in Vietnam. Today’s voluntary force comprises less than 1% of our population and, as a result, the vast majority live too isolated from the horrors of war. My view.


  • dduck

    Ohio said “and are there and elsewhere are still plotting strikes in the US.”
    Is this still true? Either they are doing a lousy job, or they are not really trying, to make attacks in the U.S., or we are doing a good job in thwarting them in said execution. Of course, in the process of stopping potential attacks here, I haven’t even the slightest doubt that “we” are being eavesdropped/monitored excessively and probably illegally. Do we want that “abuse” curtailed? Certainly our precious freedoms are, and have been, marginalized, but the credo of protecting us stands firm. That same theory has allowed perhaps slipshod drone operations (when in doubt, don’t drone wedding parties and wood gatherers).
    I agree in many respects with ES, but I fall into the more pragmatic, and yes callous group. I still think there has been a shift in AQ’s attitude at striking at the U.S. on our own turf and more concentration on more local and non-US regions (ME and Africa)and the homeland security issue is exaggerated and too many bureaucracies and businesses benefit for a shift to a more normal view of terrorist attacks. Of course the homegrown ones may grow if we are not vigilant.
    Just my paranoid 3 cents.

  • petew

    I think if one has to compare the moral correctness of drones vs. the Rendition of innocent people during GWs Presidency(many of which were also Americans) there is really no adequate comparison to be made.

    During the paranoia of the Bush Presidency, the administration was so afraid of failing to prevent another catastrophe, that it would abduct people on very flimsy grounds, and then torture them until they talked. At least, if one watches the movie about Rendition, one gets the impression that the movie’s main character, was tossed into a dungeon on very little evidence at all—in that case, only making a call on the same cell-phone as a terrorist.

    When the government and the CIA are virtually certain that a target is a terrorist who is capable of actually blowing up a plane or, crashing it into a building, there is much more logic behind needing to end the life of that person. It is also notable that, at least, Obama has decided to release information to Congress in defense of drone attacks. Both methods of killing suspected terrorists take place on a slippery slope, but Bush did not volunteer any real information about how much of his torture sessions were taking place, and only after he left office are we beginning to learn more and more about its structure and far reaching operations.

    What Bush did, is of course based on lies,and, what Obama is doing is also based on a lot of possible lies justified by classified information as well as rocking our American values rudely, in order to justify using our drones to knock out Al Qaeda. Because of this “sneaky” mentality and the existence of mistakes that take the lives of innocent people, there is also the backlash represented by a growing membership of terrorist groups, intent on revenge!

    The real tragedy is that, Obama does recognize that using brute force and Gestapo like tactics when rushing suspects to other countries where we can then claim that, we don’t really have the jurisdiction to interfere, was largely responsible for turning many disaffected Muslim youths into avowed terrorists and now, by using drone strikes, he seems to be under-playing the same phenomenon.

    Still, I agree with much of what Dorian has said. It is true that, no matter what kind of war we fight—even one using only conventional warfare—we are also bound to take out many innocent lives as unwanted side-effect of our aggression anyway!

    All warfare is rife with atrocities and vengeful actions taken against our enemies. Sadly, in Vietnam as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, it isn’t even always clear just who the enemy is! So, when collateral damage results from taking out the wrong people, those of us belonging to the country which makes such tragic mistakes, are sometimes less inclined to view the death of many ordinary Iraqis or Afghans with the same emotions as those of the actual victims.

    Of course, there is no clear answer, other than end the drone program, or by hoping that it eventually decimates our enemies so much that they are permanently rendered powerless. But, since I can’t see either happening, I would think the best change that can possibly be sought, is to somehow make much more sure that we are really striking an ENEMY, while also providing as much transparency as possible!

    At least (after the fact) Obama should be making a solid case to a US judge for doing what has been done. Unfortunately, Obama himself, as well as his moral character, are rapidly becoming forms of collateral damage in the court of public opinion. So, he definitely needs to involve the Judicial system to a greater degree, if, he wants to sleep well over authorizing such, macabre and surreal strikes—If he wants to prove himself not to be another George W. Bush, he has to concede some of his authority to the Judicial Branch! That’s all there is to it!

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      If [Obama] wants to prove himself not to be another George W. Bush, he has to concede some of his authority to the Judicial Branch! That’s all there is to it!

      I think he, his administration and Congress are moving that way,Petew. Thanks.

  • dduck

    Short and sweet: When it comes to his war on terror, he is already Bush-Lite and a”here comes the judge” strategy is not going to change that but it will lead to pretty speeches full of platitudes.

  • SteveK

    If [Obama] wants to prove himself not to be another George W. Bush, he has to concede some of his authority to the Judicial Branch! That’s all there is to it!

    Revoking the “Patriot [sic] Act” would be a step in the right direction.

    To quote Salvor Hardin “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

  • The_Ohioan


    I’m not sure what muslim countries we have bases in (I believe we are not in Saudi Arabia any more). I know we are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan. I know we are not as tolerant of the Israelis’ treatment of the Palestinians as we once were, though if you have an answer for that one please don’t hesitate to express it. We’ve not supported any ME leader against the Arab Spring uprisings. We have no control over protests about videos or Koran burnings that al Qaeda uses to rile up their troops.

    And it is a fact that al Qaeda and their wannabes are persistent in wishing to target us and our troops for past transgressions (and they are many and we non-neocons regret them) and, more to the point, to gain power over rivals in their world.

    If you are under the impression that most of the commenters here are neo-con fans, I hardly know how to reply. Most of us are not and speak out vehemently against military actions not necessary for our defense but for the protection of Big Oil. Most of us despise the corrupt regime we must prop up in Afthanistan because of the “pottery theory” and can’t wait to be out. What you have been reading here that makes that even one of us a possible neo-con is puzzling. My personal long held opinion is that we should drop a nuclear device down every oil well in the Middle East and move on.

    But to move to an isolationist position where we do not defend ourselves from those who would harm us and our allies seems difficult if not impossible in a globally connected economy and defense system. Being the first to stop pulling the next trigger is one of those “you go first” quandries.

  • adelinesdad

    Since my first comment, I have learned that any oversight committee will likely be limited to approving names to go on the kill list (not overseeing how they are killed) and/or only apply to US citizens. Consider me unimpressed if that’s all it is. I just think there is a fundamental difference between civilian casualties in a war zone and civilian casualties of a covert operation someplace else. Yes, I consider undertaking operations that have a high likelihood of civilian casualties, outside of a war-zone, where there is a not an imminent threat (in the true definition of the word), to be similar in wrongness to torture of known terrorists in an attempt to extract information. I get that torture is a horrible wrong and never excusable. I just don’t get why “accidentally” killing a child because he’s in the same building as someone affiliated with a terrorist group is more excusable.

    Though that position may disqualify me from being taken seriously, I’ll go ahead anyway and clarify a few points:

    I don’t have a problem with drones (thought Elijah brings up a good point about us setting a precedent for their future use against us, that wasn’t my principle objection). I apologize if my language has not been precise on that point in the past. When they are used in war-zones, such as to support our troops or act as substitutes to manned air missions, they are fine. They are a tool, as others have said. What I have a problem with is assassinations of people outside a war-zone, when there is no imminent threat, and when there is a high likelihood of civilian casualties. I don’t care if it’s using drones or other means.

    As for the “what to do instead” question. On another thread I stated my opinion that is pretty much heretical in the current political discourse: that maybe we don’t need to do anything, or at least not as much of it. That maybe the possibility of a particular terrorist not dying, at least not today, is not as crazy as it sounds. The most important thing we did after 9/11 was secure the cockpit doors during flight. After that we’re just playing around at the margins. There may be simple safety precautions like that that make it harder to commit mass murder through other means that we can focus on. We won’t ever be able to guarantee that terrorists can’t cause some damage. The key is to limit the damage of any single attack such that the cost/benefit ratio discourages more attempts.

    As for US citizens, when there is no imminent threat this is essentially a police action. When there is a dangerous criminal held up in a building in the US we don’t fire missiles at it. I can think of a few reasons why, and those reasons apply whether the person is in Pakistan or in Mississippi.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Thanks for clarifying, AD

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Just as with torture, there is an entire spectrum of opinions on targeted drone killings.

    We have read some very good opinions on these “pages” on both sides of the issue and in-between. Here’s one that I would call unabashedly on the side of “yes, drone, drone those terrorists.”

    I agree with some of it, but — in particular — I would take the “moral” out of

    “Make no mistake: Drones are a crucial, moral tool for keeping America safe in the war on terror.”

    I would rather call it — as I have — a necessary evil.

    Read more here

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