Drone Strikes Expanded

The previous post raised the issue of US drone strikes, and I wanted to offer a more complete post rather than just a comment.

The US use of predator drones is a topic which has caught my interest for quite some time now. While their use is intended to be used delicately and deliberately, there are many assertions from independent sources that these strikes are not as precise as the military’s narrative suggests. The military acknowledges the possibility of civilian casualties, but they regularly (and from their perspective, understandably) downplay the size of the issue. Since it is inherently difficult to get exact figures, there are only varied estimates of the civilian death count. However, this independent journalism group gives what they believe to be the true statistics on the issue. If one tallies only the conservative estimates, it results in around ~450 confirmed strikes throughout Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with a death toll of around 2,600. Of these 2,600, at least 446 are civilians, and a minimum of 175 being children.

When analyzing the burden of responsibility, it is important to understand a few factors at play in each individual drone strike. While a large team is required to run and service a predator drone, in the end there is a kill order that comes from the upper echelon of the CIA or Air Force, and then there is a single pilot that executes this order. These pilots often report being indoctrinated into the culture by being promised that they will never be faced with killing innocents. However, when it comes time to execute an order, the pilot is often aware that he/she will be taking the lives of civilians or children. While this weighs heavily on their mind afterwards, more often than not they make the decision to follow through in the moment.

Based on this information, it would seem that current US drone policy needs revised if it wants to be held to any ethical standard. Statistically speaking, for every confirmed strike there is at least one death of an innocent, and roughly half of which have resulted in the death of a child. While some of the more extreme proponents of the strikes argue that these innocent casualties are, in a sense, “guilty by association” because they live in close ties with known terrorists, this characterization lacks prospective. Hypothetically, if you are a child who lives in a rural tribal village in Pakistan, and your entire family is in poverty and lives in one house or compound, how are you expected to have the means to separate yourself from your “terrorist uncle”? However, he may very well be the target of a strike, which could have an immense impact on your entire family or even cause you to lose your life.

While Predator drones have a place in modern military operations, their use thus far has been non-transparent and much messier than promised. I personally feel that their current standard procedure is wholly unethical and needs revised. Anyone who has an HBO account and wishes to know more of the effects of these strikes on the people of Pakistan can watch this episode from season 2 of Vice.  What do others think of the ethics surrounding this issue?

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