In a release dated February 1, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicated it had filed a lawsuit demanding our government release information about the ongoing and now expanded drone aircraft program, a program the Union calls the “government’s targeted killing program.” The ACLU is an advocate for civil liberties, founded in 1920 to defend freedom of individual Americans to speak out against war. Its motto is “Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself.”
The complaint says, in part:
Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.
…We’re seeking, in addition to the legal memos, the government’s evidentiary basis for strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen in the fall of 2011.
This issue of unmanned war machines indeed may be of significance. In recent days the president seems to be going to some length to discuss the drone program as it pertains to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Additionally, we recall that a few weeks ago an American drone on a surveillance mission was captured and retained by the authorities in Iran.
In late January the president publicly acknowledged drone strikes on Pakistan for the first time. President Obama said, “A pinpoint strike is ‘less intrusive’ of other countries’ sovereignty than other military ways to target al Qaeda.” Speaking on a YouTube video, in a story printed in Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language news network, he referred to drone strikes as being “targeted and focused;” aimed at active terrorists in tough terrain remote areas near and between Afghanistan and Pakistani borders .
The president added:
I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones, but understand that probably our ability to respect the sovereignty of other countries and to limit our incursions into somebody else’s territory is enhanced by the fact that we are able to pinpoint strikes on al Qaeda operatives in a place where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them. …For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military actions than the one that we’re already engaging in.
A White House senior administration official said,
With hundreds of strikes over the past few years, the program has been one of the biggest open secrets in Pakistan. For years, the Pakistani government has given tacit approval of the strikes while publicly condemning them.
He also said that the president was discussing something widely known, and repeated that the missions are “precise” and “targeted to avoid casualties.”
There has also been discussion recently of use of drone aircraft over Iraq. The New York Times wrote that, “The State Department began operating some drones in Iraq last year on a trial basis and stepped up their use after the last U.S. troops left Iraq in December.” It is reported that the drone program “outraged” senior Iraqi officials. The presidential response was delivered on the internet, on YouTube: “The truth is we’re not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside Iraq. There’s some surveillance to make sure that our embassy compound is protected.” In the question and answer session, Obama said, “I think that there’s this perception that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly It is important for everybody to understand that this is kept on a very tight leash.”
The Times reported that three senior Iraqi officials: a top adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s national security adviser, and the acting minister of interior, said they had not been consulted. Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said that the government always consults with foreign governments about “steps to protect U.S. diplomats.” She did not address whether our government had obtained Iraqi permission to use the drones. The reference there is to the fact that drones can be used to track the routes and movements of U.S. diplomats as they travel within a country.
Archived science fiction predicted giant, un-manned remotely-operated robots manifesting in war. The tone at the time was that such tactics would be “unfair” and deplorable; yet today these actions seem reasonable, even humane. Have we changed as a nation? We wonder how the years ahead may play out.