Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nancy Tate: Consider implications of U.S. drone attacks

A resident of the southern Yemeni town of Jaar gestures as he stands near… (Khaled Abdullah, Reuters…)
By Nancy Tate

In the Jan. 27 story, "A model base in drone wars," we learn about the "busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghanistan war zone." Located in Djibouti, "an impoverished former French colony," this base is in a prime strategic position on the Gulf of Aden, near Yemen and Somalia.

This is unfortunate for the Djiboutians. Their country is now the site for very dangerous military operations. One must ask what part the roughly 1 million citizens of Djibouti played in the decision to allow this base, right next to their city, for a mere $38 million a year lease.

It is also unfortunate for Djibouti in the hazards that the drones pose. The article describes drones crashing after takeoff, crowding busy airways,and exhibiting other occasional, mysterious haywire behavior. The people of Djibouti may be worried about "blowback" that could target their country for welcoming a U.S. drone base.

One questions this militarization of U.S. policy in Africa — the article says we have "half a dozen U.S. drone and surveillance bases" there — when Africa, as much or more than any other region, is crying out for creative, nonviolent solutions to its conflicts, for creative humanitarian aid projects, and for creative responses to the climate change crises affecting so many on the continent.

Militarization, like the U.S. Djibouti base, is likely to exacerbate these problems and delay, hamper or deny creative solutions. Some writers see the deployment of U.S. troops in Africa (The Associated Press reports that Army teams may go to as many as 35 African nations in 2013) as a route to establishing access to resources, notably minerals.

The Jan. 27 article does not deal with the victims of drone attacks, but it is important to know that in total dozens of attacks have taken place in Yemen (with estimates ranging from 42 to 147) and Somalia (from three to nine), according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at City University of London. Civilians and children are among the dead in both countries. (The numbers for drone strikes and deaths are much higher in Pakistan.) In response to international concern about the issue of "remote targeted killings through the use of unmanned vehicles" the United Nations last month announced an investigation into the legality and casualties of drone strikes.

We need to think carefully about the implications of the deadly drone strikes. While drones give us the security of knowing U.S. troops are not in harm's way and provide some forms of "intelligence" in places where U.S. access is difficult, we know we do not have the right to execute, murder, assassinate and kill people in other countries.

The fact that drones have powerful cameras and are piloted from a distance of 8,000 miles makes their use a fascinating technical feat for some, but in no way exonerates us from the moral and legal violations for which we are all responsible as citizens of the country carrying out drone attacks that leave people dead.

If we cannot accurately determine real threats when we have troops on the ground (witness the number of detainees at Guantanamo who had absolutely nothing to do with or terrorism), how can we expect to make such a determination from a drone flying thousands of feet overhead?

We can be sure that the persistent reality of drones buzzing in the sky — with people on the ground never knowing when or where drones may strike — creates terror in the hearts of the people living under the threat of drones.

We must realize that our expansion of drone use is fueled to a significant extent by those who build them; General Atomics, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are some of companies. Those companies have an insatiable desire for our tax dollars to build more and more drones, which of course translates into the need for more and more places to use drones, whether domestically or in a remote country like Djibouti.

If we want to get our deficit under control and build a sustainable economy benefiting people, we must question and curtail drone bases, military outposts and armament profiteers.

Nancy Tate of Riegelsville is a staff person for the Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern, Bethlehem.
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