On June 4, 2012, American officials announced that Abu Yahya al-Libi, reportedly al-Qaeda's second in command, had been killed in Pakistan by a missile fired by an American unmanned aerial vehicle (or drone). Although drone strikes began under the Bush Administration, they have increased significantly under President Obama. In recent weeks, the administration has been speaking more in public about this program that is still technically secret.
Supporters of the drone strikes argue that they are a legitimate weapon in a legitimate war being fought against an organization, al-Qaeda, that has killed thousands of Americans and has been plotting to kill many more. Drones are able to achieve the objective of eliminating threats to the United States with great accuracy once the targets have been identified. Since this can be done without the physical presence of any Americans, no American lives are put at immediate risk, and there is also less disruption of the lives of local noncombatants than there would be if Americans actually went in to capture the suspected terror plotters. The strikes are occurring in an area of Pakistan near the Afghan border where the Pakistani government is not able to exert control.
Opponents of the drone strikes question some or all of the supporters' assumptions, and raise additional concerns. Instead of being treated as an entity we're at war against, al-Qaeda perhaps should be treated as a criminal organization. Drones may be seen as cowardly weapons, and intelligence opportunities are lost when high-value targets are killed and not captured. But the most commonly expressed concerns of opponents are the lack of accountability for choosing targets, and the collateral damage to civilian bystanders, which may be greater than the U.S. is willing to admit. This collateral damage angers many people in Pakistan, which is a democratic ally of the United States. There may be more people joining anti-American terrorist organizations as a result of anger at drone strikes, than there are targets being killed by drones, so that the net effect is to make America less safe from terrorists.
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- Conversation (audio only) on KQED FM, with Daniel Klaidman (Newsweek), Thomas Henriksen (Hoover Institution, in favor), Medea Benjamin (CODEPINK, opposed), and callers, moderated by Michael Krasny (June 12, 2012)
- BBC Radio 5, audio and transcript of debate between Richard Perle (American Enterprise Institute, in favor) and Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com, opposed) (June 6, 2012)
In favor of the motion:
- John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, "The Ethics and Efficacy of the President's Counterterrorism Strategy" (April 30, 2012)
- Robert Barnidge, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, "A Defense of Drone Attacks in Pakistan Under Humanitarian Law" (May 30, 2012)
- David Bell, The New Republic, "In Defense of Drones: A Historical Argument" (January 27, 2012)
- Amitai Etzioni, The George Washington University, "In Defense of Drones" (April 2, 2012)
- Troubadour, Daily Kos, "A Rational Analysis of Drone Policy" (May 30, 2012)
- Michael Llenza, Norwich University, "Targeted Killings in Pakistan: A Defense" (Spring 2011)
Opposed to the motion:
- Sherry Rehman, Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., "Pakistan and the U.S.: A new beginning?" (May 20, 2012)
- Jefferson Morley, Salon, "Hatred: What drones sow" (June 12, 2012)
- Glenn Greenwald, Salon, "Media, drones and rank propaganda" (June 8, 2012)
- David Harris-Gershon, Tikkun, "The Trembling Voices of Those Terrorized by America's Drone Campaign" (May 31, 2012)
- John Yoo, UC Berkeley School of Law, "Obama, Drones and Thomas Aquinas" (June 7, 2012)
- The Guardian, "Drone attacks create terrorist safe havens, warns former CIA official" (June 5, 2012)