Predictable Response to U.S. Drone Attacks
Since the early 2000’s, the United States and its allies have carried out unmanned drone missile strikes in foreign, sovereign nations against which the United States has not issued a formal declaration of war. The countries targeted by American drone missiles include Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A recently released report by human rights researchers at Yale and Stanford universities suggests that the number of enemies created by the drone strikes grossly outnumbers the suspected and confirmed enemies killed by the drones. This report, in addition to other sources, claims that only a small percentage of those killed by drone strikes are suspected militants, and that only a fraction of suspected militants are actually a threat to the United States.
The term “suspected militant” is used to describe the targets of unmanned drone attacks. This term has no official definition. If one were to wonder how to become a suspected militant, there is no publicized criteria available for one to consult. Two definitions of “suspected militant” proposed by one author are “all military-age males in a strike zone” and “a person not charged with any crime, not afforded even the most perfunctory due process protections, but summarily executed upon order of the president anyway.” (Wolverton). One might be convinced that these definitions are more accurate than not, when considering the case of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Abdulrahman was 16 years old, and an American citizen. He was born in Denver, Colorado. Without his mother’s permission, the young man left his home and traveled to Yemen in search of his father. A couple weeks later while eating supper with his cousins, an American drone dropped a missile on Abdulrahman, his 17 year old cousin, and six other people.
It is reasonable to assume that family members of someone injured or killed by a drone attack would feel anger, even hatred, toward the person or government that ordered the attack. These feelings are intensified when the dead or injured person is presumed innocent of causing harm or intending to cause harm to the entity who ordered the drone strike. When American drones are responsible for deaths in far-away parts of the world, striking back alone is virtually impossible. Whether one is seeking justice or revenge, the only solution that many in that situation see is to join a group whose stated goal is to cause harm to the United States. American drone strikes are likely one of Al Qaeda’s strongest recruiting tools. There is no need for Al Qaeda or the Taliban to seek out new members. Angry family members of the victims of drone strikes are seeking them out, hoping to avenge the deaths of their loved ones.
Americans are generally unaware of the consequences of these government-sanctioned killings. The average American is also unlikely to believe reports of civilian deaths, and is likely to think those numbers are exaggerated. It is inconceivable to many Americans that their own government may actually be causing the problem that it claims to fight. Mainstream media reports civilian deaths with disclaimers. It is common to hear a newscaster saying “Al Jazeera reports 68 civilian deaths, including 35 children and 2 infants. These numbers are disputed by reliable sources on the ground, so the exact number of civilian deaths, if any, is unknown” or something similar. Schoolchildren in America are taught that Al Qaeda hates American and Americans because we are a free country and they want the entire world to be ruled by their religious laws. Media reports quoting foreign leaders praising the United States for fighting Al Qaeda, Taliban, and other anti-government groups in their countries gives credence to the belief that the United States is conducting drone strikes with the permission and at the request of the target country’s government. Any country that is a victim of drone attacks that condemns the United States is portrayed as a quasi-enemy of the United States.
If the United States were to attack suspected militants in the UK using drones, it is doubtful that the UK and other allies would congratulate the United States on a job well done. There are some in the UK who are beginning to question the legality and ethics of allowing UK pilots to control drones owned by the UK from the United States, with American military or CIA personnel determining the targets. A new parliamentary group headed by Tom Watson and Zac Goldsmith will also seek to answer the question of whether drone attacks are actually causing extremism, and thus causing the birth of a threat where none previously existed.
To me, it is laughable that the United States government can deny that drone attacks are causing people to take up arms against American troops, government officials, and civilians in retaliation. Any attacks on the United States by a foreign country are immediately followed with vows of retaliation by the sitting President and encouraged by Congress and the public at large. The government is correct when they tell the American people that there are violent groups in the middle east who wish to harm us. If these groups did not have these intentions before, they certainly do now.
I would like to point out that I did not edit this paper prior to submitting it because I procrastinated. It ended up being 30 seconds late, for which my professor graciously did not penalize me!