The presidential election and drone strikes: Five Questions

Not much has been said about the issue of drone attacks during the presidential election campaign. Robert Naiman suggests that there are five important questions that journalists should ask about the issue.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Among his other many pursuits he writes on U.S. foreign policy for the Huffington Post. Given that there has been little discussion of U.S. drone policy during the presidential campaign, Naiman along with others urged Bob Schieffer , who was moderator of the third and last debate between Obama and Romney, on foreign policy, to ask a question about drones. He did.
Schieffer asked the question only of Mitt Romney! He asked only Romney what his position on the use of drones is on the grounds that people already know what Obama's position is. Romney replied:
" Well I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it's widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends."
One can see from this answer that Romney is in basic agreement with Obama on drones. In the election campaign, the two want to emphasize their differences, and hence they will not even bring the issue up.
To ask only Romney about the issue is strange. After all, Obama seems proud of his policy and considers it a success even though there are many criticisms. Schieffer could even have asked a critical question but I suppose that would be going beyond the pale.
However, Naiman and others have considered that even bringing up the topic was a step forward. In the Guardian, Mark Weisbrot said: "It was a victory just to have drones mentioned." Perhaps it is a big leap forward over Big Bird.
On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough said:
What we are doing with drones is remarkable. The fact that ... over George W. Bush's eight years when a lot of people brought up a bunch of legitimate questions about international law--my God, those lines have been completely eradicated in a drone policy that says that, if you're between 17 and 30, and you're within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up. And that's exactly what's happening.
The defense of these attacks as protecting civilians in the U.S. shows how completely bizarre the discourse has become. There is no direct and immediate threat to anyone in the U.S. by most of those who are targeted. At most they are a threat to U.S. troops and those who might support them in Afghanistan. The way to avoid that problem would be to withdraw the troops as many in the U.S. want.
Naiman suggests it would be informative and useful if high-profile journalists ask some detailed questions about drone policy and engage in genuine critical discussion of the issues. I doubt that this is likely to happen, certainly not before the election in any event. Here are the five questions Naiman wants asked.
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan recently said that the U.S. has an official count of the number of civilians it believes to have been killed since 2008 by drone strikes in Pakistan but the number is classified. What is the number? Why is it classified?
Researchers have reported U.S. secondary or follow-up attacks that target rescuers after drone strikes. Legal experts say these attacks are war crimes. The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan denies such strikes. What is the truth?
U.S. officials say that the Pakistani military secretly support the strikes. However, the Pakistan parliament has several times passed motions demanding the strikes stop. Is the U.S. violating international law and Pakistani sovereignty by the drone strikes when they are not approved by the Pakistani parliament?
U.S. officials claim the strikes are narrowly targeted on high level terror suspects. However, the U.S. also is said to use "signature strikes" based on suspicious activity. How is this consistent with narrow targeting? I think the answer to this is that it isn't but that officials do not care.
John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism adviser, says that civilian deaths are exceedingly rare. However, data collected by a number of sources show otherwise, and that at least 15-30% of deaths are civilians. If the collateral damage is this high is the U.S. violating the principle of proportionality?
Those are all good questions but I would not expect the questions even to be addressed in the near future if ever. Certainly, they are unlikely to be answered before the election.


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