After eight years of George W. Bush, a period of time that saw our country engage in two undeclared, illegal and immoral wars, the rise of Barack Obama was hailed as a sign that the U.S. had renounced its previous foreign policy of unmitigated aggression and unrepentant murder in the name of terrorism. When I voted for Obama in 2008, I was perhaps more pessimistic than many about his upcoming presidency, but I was still pretty sure the election represented a step forward from the Bush years in terms of ending our national obsession with continual warfare. Unfortunately, five years later, the world has come to understand that Obama is merely Bush 2.0. The proliferation of drone technology, along with Obama’s shadowy approach to targeted assassination, reveals him as a war criminal, as bad as if not worse than the administration he replaced.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been 368 indiscriminate drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Of these, 316 were ordered by the Obama administration. Up to 3,500 Pakistanis have been killed by drones during this period, including hundreds of civilians and at least 168 children. In Yemen, the Bureau reports 44-54 confirmed drone strikes since 2004, with 78-96 additional strikes unconfirmed. Civilian death estimates in Yemen range into the 400s, with possibly 12 children killed. Drone strikes in Somalia are still in the single digits, but Obama has another three and a half years to get those numbers up.
Even if the lowest estimates are correct, the United States has killed 423 civilians and 180 children in Pakistan and Yemen alone since 2004. Those deaths are war crimes, and the people who ordered them and carried them out should be prosecuted for murder. That’s not counting other forms of covert action in these areas, which have reportedly killed hundreds more, nor those who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and other undeclared battlefields since America went to war against a noun. A week before the tragic death of an 8-year-old boy in Boston, 12 children were killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan. The murder of an American child is cause for national mourning. In less fortunate countries, it has become horrifyingly routine.
For all we know, these numbers might be even higher, because the Obama administration has shrouded the drone program in secrecy, refusing to answer questions about the authority and justification for targeted assassination. On April 23, more than a decade after the program’s inception, the Senate finally held a public hearing on United States’ use of drones. Neither Obama nor any member of his administration made an appearance, nor have they offered any comment on the hearing.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of journalists, we do have some information on Obama’s stance toward drones. We know Obama has a secret “kill list” from which he personally chooses targets each month. We also know, thanks to WikiLeaks, that Obama got permission from the Pakistani government to operate drones in their country by assassinating someone who was on their list, not ours. Most troubling of all (if, like Obama, you place more value on an American life than any other) is the use of drones to assassinate American citizens such as Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Due process, it seems, does not apply in the war on terror.
The American political left wanted to see George W. Bush and Dick Cheney tried and imprisoned for what they did, but Obama has made their wildest dreams a reality. He’s given himself the authority to kill whoever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants, without telling anyone why. The price of combating terror has been the transformation of America into a deadly terrorist machine that makes al-Qaeda look like Mr. Rogers. However history chooses to judge Barack Obama, his will be a legacy forever haunted by the specters of dead children.
Originally published in The Lumberjack (http://jackcentral.com/opinion/2013/05/obamas-drone-wars-make-us-the-terrorists/)