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Exposing Obama's Hypocrisy on Drone Warfare

There’s a disconnect between what the president and his team say about drones, and what actually happens.
 
 
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A drone firing.
Photo Credit: From "Unmanned: American's Drone War," by Brave New Films

 
 
 
 

In 2013, the discussion about the Obama administration’s use of drones as weapons of war intensified. Americans became more aware of the practice, and President Obama outlined his vision of counterterrorism efforts, and how the use of these unmanned bombers fit into that vision. The upshot is that the administration continues to deploy drone strikes as its main counterterrorism strategy, ignoring both the high rate of civilian casualties associated with these attacks, and the high cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Take a look back at some of the statements the Obama administration made about drones in 2013, and you'll see there’s a disconnect between what is said and what actually happens, as this brief timeline will show. Drone policy and reality are not the same. Increasingly, progressives want to know what they can do to reduce or do away with this weapon of mass destruction in 2014.

Winter 2013

What was said:

In March, during his confirmation hearings to become CIA director, John Brennan says this about drones: “We only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.” President Obama says the U.S. government would rather capture and interrogate suspected terrorists than use targeted killings, but he echoes the Bush administration claim that it is not possible to use capture methods in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He says this is because the Pakistan government’s legal authority does not extend to federally administered tribal areas (FATAs).

What was done:

Recently, drones strikes have occurred outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas. They continue in Somalia, and in Yemen, where 15 civilians attending a wedding were reportedly killed by a drone strike in December.

Spring

What was said:

In May, during his speech on counterterrorism at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, President Obama first defended drone strikes as legal, and said we are still at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates. He also said our use of drones was “heavily constrained” and only in the case where a “terrorist poses a continuing and immediate threat to the American people.” He predicted that by the end of 2014 there would be a “reduced need for unmanned strikes.” Finally, he said he was releasing the framework behind the administration’s use of drone strikes to provide greater transparency on the issue.

What was done:

Obama had said the Presidential Policy Guidance would provide clear guidelines, oversight and accountability of the drone program. The PPG was only two-and-a-half pages long and does not outline legal reasoning, how strikes are coordinated with broader foreign policy objectives or the scope of legitimate targets.

Summer

What was said:

When asked when the U.S. would end drone strikes, Secretary of State John Kerry stated in an interview with Pakistan TV: “I think the president has a very real timeline and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon."

What was done:

Almost immediately the State Department refuted Kerry’s statement, saying there is "no  exact timeline” for ending drone strikes.

Things We Still Don’t Know About Drones

The Obama administration has not followed through on its promise to provide greater transparency about the drone program. Most of the legal rationale and procedures behind the drone program still have not been explained to the American public. Most importantly, there is no end date for the drone program, as the State Department admitted above.

Here’s a list of things the American public still doesn’t know about drone strikes:

  • The U.S. government’s count of civilian deaths
  • Who can be targeted
  • Which strikes are conducted by the U.S.
  • The legal processes behind who the Obama administration decides to target
  • The rationale/reasoning process in who or where they decide to strike

The upshot is that drone policy continues without any transparency or accountability. It became clear last year that while our government continues to cloak this policy in mystery, innocent people are dying, as Pakistani Rafiq ur Rehman testified before Congress. His family members are just a few of the innocent victims.

 
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