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Congress addresses controversial drone program

February 15, 2013

United States unmanned drones are targeting al-Qa’ida terrorists in the Middle East, but as a result, innocent civilians are unintentionally being killed.

President Obama is continuing drone programs from the Bush administration to target al-Qa’ida and other individuals who are considered dangerous to the safety of the United States.

According to the Department of Defense, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), commonly known as unmanned drones, are defined as, “powered aerial vehicles sustained in flight… and guided without an onboard crew. They can be piloted remotely.”

Drones are mainly used in areas of combat where boots are not on the ground. Recently, drones have been gaining international attention for their attacks in Pakistan.  According to Jane Mayer from The New Yorker, “The C.I.A. has joined the Pakistani intelligence service in an aggressive campaign to eradicate local and foreign militants [within Pakistan].

“Counterterrorism officials credit drones with having killed more than a dozen senior al-Qa’ida leaders and their allies in [2009], eliminating more than half of the C.I.A.’s twenty most wanted ‘high value’ targets,” Mayer wrote.

According to investigative journalist David Rohde, cost is down for the use of force in combat. “The toppling of Muammar al-Qaddafi cost zero American lives, $1 billion in U.S. funding and lasted for five months. The occupation of Iraq claimed 4,484 American lives, cost at least $700 billion, and lasted nearly nine years.”

Not all attempts at eliminating militants are successful though. Many attacks are ordered on less than 100 percent certain intelligence. According to Mayer in 2009, a missile hit, “the residence of a pro-government tribal leader… The blast killed the tribal leader’s entire family, including three children.”

Americans favor the targeting and killing of terrorists using drones. The professional polling company Rasmussen reported that only nine percent of American voters disapproved of drone strikes while 76 percent approve of unmanned drones to kill terrorists.

However, with news last week of the Obama Administration targeting American terrorists in the Middle East, the public opinion seems conflicted. Department of Justice White Papers were leaked to NBC’s investigative journalist Michael Isikoff last week. The information is government criteria for lawful targeting and killing of U.S. citizens operating at high ranking levels in al-Qa’ida.

“First, An informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States. Second, capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible. Third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”

Members of Congress have shown concern for unmanned drone operations. Mark Hosenball of Reuters wrote of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee: “She planned to review proposals for … legislation to ensure that drone strikes are carried out in a manner consistent with our values.”

Proposals of a “drone court” have been circulating where members of the executive branch would appeal to have drone strikes approved. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) suggested during a Congressional hearing that only drone attacks on U.S. citizens would need court approval.

Congressional oversight is a way of giving this controversial executive action checks and balances, but implementation of “drone courts” may be unlikely.

Joe Florio
Photo Editor

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