Column: The danger of American drones

In order to guarantee the safety of innocent civilians, the United States needs to reconsider its drone strike program.

Government officials last announced April 23 that a U.S.-led drone strike killed an American aid worker and an Italian hostage captured by Al-Qaeda earlier this year. The government issued a written statement disclosing how the Jan. 15 strike in Pakistan, close to the Afghan border, targeting an Al-Qaeda sanctuary mistakenly resulted in the deaths of Warren Weinstein, the American taken in 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, the Italian taken in 2012. The CIA has claimed that it did not realize these hostages were inside the compound, despite hours of surveillance footage and lengthy investigations.

President Barack Obama made a rare apology in the White House briefing room soon after his administration released the information. He claimed he would investigate and review the drone strike program. However, later that day, government officials admitted that the drone campaign would continue without many changes. Pakistani officials expressed their sorrow toward the situation last Friday, but they pointed out that these deaths are an unfortunate risk of using this type of technology.

The drone strike campaign has been vehemently contested over the years, but this information has brought more facts and figures to light. The way the government handles its drone strikes is not only irresponsible; it is careless and quite frightening. The CIA and the military have been responsible for thousands of deaths due to this campaign, most of which have been innocent civilians or hostages.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported that 12 percent of drone strike victims have been militants, and 4 percent were members of Al-Qaeda. In November, human rights organization Reprieve reported that drones in Pakistan and Yemen targeted 41 men, but there was a death toll of 1,147 people. So far, eight Americans have been killed by drone strikes, and only one was intentionally targeted, according to The Daily Beast.

The American drone strike campaign needs to be thoroughly reviewed to determine why so many civilians are being unjustly killed. Part of the issue with the strikes is the guidelines they act under. The U.S. and Pakistan made a secret arrangement in 2004 that gave the right to the CIA to conduct drone strikes in tribal areas of Pakistan if each of the countries’ governments did not acknowledge these activities. In 2014, the Department of Justice disclosed a secret 2011 memo that explained how the government would handle American terrorists overseas. It legally justified the government to use deadly force if a capture and trial was not plausible.

Furthermore, the American government defines “all military-age males in a (drone) strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent,” according to The Guardian. The CIA can also conduct “signature strikes,” which give them the power to target certain people if they look like they are conducting terrorist activities from the sky. The agencies involved in drone strikes also do not have to be held accountable for any deaths or provide any estimates on how many people were killed in a particular strike.

The government’s hostage rescue policies are also partly to blame for the deaths of numerous American hostages. Many agencies in the U.S. government who are responsible for rescuing hostages withhold information from each other, making a cohesive mission very difficult to achieve. Journalist Luke Somers was fatally shot last year while being rescued by the Navy SEALs. However, Weinstein is the first reported American hostage fatality by an American drone.

Drones are very useful and innovative machines. They can provide the U.S. government with essential information. However, as demonstrated by many recent situations, they can be fatally dangerous. It seems the U.S. does not fully comprehend how to use drones in an effective manner, and this needs to be changed. The U.S. government needs to carry out a thorough investigation of their drone strike campaign to prevent anymore unnecessary injuries and deaths of innocent people. It is time for the government to be held accountable for their destructive actions.

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