Drones are bad, but drones will stay: Obama

At an important speech last Thursday since winning a second term, Obama ran into a heckler. Yet again.

“Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA?” well-known anti-drone campaigner and founder of Code Pink group Medea Benjamin yelled at President Obama, interrupting him twice earlier, as he delivered a major counter-terror policy speech in Washington.

Twice, Obama managed to quiet the woman, as he pleaded her to let him finish. Benjamin yielded. She said she kept waiting to hear about changes that would represent a “significant shift in policy”. “Unfortunately, I heard nice words, not the resetting of failed policies.” That’s when she burst out. Medea Benjamin escorted out of Obama speech

In his long speech, Obama signaled a narrowing down of the war on terror, closing of Gitmo and limiting the use of drones — not abandoning them. Although there was much to appreciate in the new speech, the problem is that Obama speaks more than Obama does.

According to the New America Foundation data, in Pakistan alone, 3,336 people have been killed by these remote controlled skybombs since 2003. Many of these are believed to be unintended targets. They represent the most unspeakable of crimes. They are, without doubt, targeted killing.

The UN is already probing the impact of drone strikes on civilians. Ben Emmerson QC, the lawyer leading the probe, told BBC that drones represented “a real challenge to the framework of international law”.

Obama acknowledged this in his speech. “And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”

It was good to hear the president speak openly on the drones and its impact on civilian casualty. Obama owes an explanation on why drones should be a weapon of choice – his administration, according to a Boston Globe article, is believed to have launched about 300 drone strikes, five times more than under George W. Bush.

There’s no legal and moral justification for the use of such a secretive weapon that goes unaccounted. The secrecy of the drone programme allows little fair estimate of how many civilians have been killed in Pakistan and Yemen, for example.

Obama also expressed remorse – for the first time – about innocents killed by drones. “For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Yet it was shocking to hear Obama defend, however, the use of drones where “no alternative” was possible. The president needs to come up with more clear-cut details on how he plans to limit the drone programme or limit civilian casualties

Benjamin couldn’t have been clear enough on how Obama has been against all that he promised 9 years ago. She wrote on Common Dream website:

“While I have received a deluge of support, there are others, including journalists, who have called me “rude.” But terrorizing villages with Hellfire missiles that vaporize innocent people is rude. Violating the sovereignty of nations like Pakistan is rude. Keeping 86 prisoners in Guantanamo long after they have been cleared for release is rude. Shoving feeding tubes down prisoners’ throats instead of giving them justice is certainly rude.”

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