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The Whitworthian

The Student News Site of Whitworth University

The Whitworthian

The Student News Site of Whitworth University

The Whitworthian

Use of drones to kill US citizens raises concerns

With the proliferation of terrorist activities, the world has also seen an evolving series of methods to combat them, especially from the U.S.  Most recently, the U.S. government authorized the use of drones to eliminate American citizens suspected of terrorist activities or specifically, ties to al-Qaeda, overseas.

Over the last 10-12 years, the U.S. has increased drone usage in general to the point where they target American citizens abroad suspected of terrorism.  According to CNN, “the United States has 8,000 drones. The U.S. Army has a robust plan for using them more and more in the future.”

Whitworth political science professor Kathryn Lee said that the U.S. involvement in the Middle East has a lot to do with the current role of drones.

“I think it comes in part from a concern of: how many troops do we want in Afghanistan?  How many coffins do you want to see coming back to Dover air force base in Delaware? I think the support for boots on the ground is not very high, and I think the American people left or right are tired,” Lee said.

One of the more notable aspects of this issue is that there hasn’t been a significant amount of backlash toward the U.S. government by the American people.  However, Lee and Whitworth history professor Arlin Migliazzo aren’t surprised.

“I think we’ve seen with both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, it’s easier to kind of tune those out and … because of that you don’t hear a lot,” Migliazzo said.

“The point is that the war seems distant to a lot more Americans than, say, the war in Vietnam did.  I think that when there are big problems or major events, then I think Americans kind of pay attention, but I think it goes back into the background again,” Migliazzo said.

However, Lee said she believes that it’s more of an issue of American citizens prioritizing problems that are closer to home.

“When the economy is really in the tank and people are concerned about jobs, their attention is on those issues, so in some ways you might argue that president Obama might be getting a bit of a pass from the American people on this one because they’re concerned about their jobs and the economy,” she said.

This ability from citizens to tune out these problems, however, has a weak spot according to Lee.

“I’m not sure that when they read articles about the deaths of “terrorist” operatives through the use of drones, they’re as concerned,” Lee said.  “I think they become concerned through the use of that term ‘collateral damage,’ when it concerns children or when it concerns civilians.  When those deaths occur then you have, I think, another conversation going on.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent organization, reported that among U.S. drone strikes between 2004 and 2013, the majority occurred in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.  The report concluded that  somewhere between 2,534 and 3,573 people were reported killed by drone strikes.  Of those, between 411 and 884 were civilians, and between 168 and 197 of those were children.  This does not include the similar operations the U.S. has undertaken in Yemen and Somalia.

CNN reported that in a leaked 2012 Justice Department memo, the administration spells out the legality of killing Americans overseas, arguing that the U.S. government “does not require the U.S. to have clear evidence (of a specific plot).”  In response to that, President Obama stated that targets “are subject to protection from the Constitution and due process.”

Whether or not these are drone strikes on American citizens suspected of terrorism, Migliazzo and Lee said they that the U.S. needs to consider how these attacks affect their perception abroad.  Even then, it’s not so simple.

“We don’t have the power as students or as professors to change American policy to protect American citizens.  What any government has to do is protect its people.  If we were in a position where we had to protect other Whitworth students or other Whitworth staff members, we would probably make, or be willing to make different decisions than if we’re only speaking or acting for ourselves,” Migliazzo said.

When this theory is applied to our government’s decision process historically on terrorism, the number of participants (including those from the U.S.) in global jihad has only increased and the problem for the United States has become prevalent.

“You have a value that cuts this way that protects American citizens in the contemporary world [such as] would it be better if we were to think more about what does it mean to Middle Eastern countries or other countries with regard to what our policies are doing?” Migliazzo said.

Migliazzo continued to say that the cross-cutting value of keeping Americans safe and the U.S. policies to defend that ideal strictly have perpetuated the problem the U.S. is trying to solve.

“You have these layers of problems that go well back in the 20th century and while we’re trying to solve one problem (stop terrorist bombings in the U.S.), we’re creating more of the same kind of conditions in those cultures that can lead to the very thing we’re trying to stop,” Migliazzo said.

With all of this in mind, the question comes to Whitworth students as to how to react.  Whitworth peace studies senior Abbey Cook said that it is going to take a realization of each student’s potential.

“I hope they’re thoughtful and careful about how hurtful they have the power to be,” Cook said.  “Being an American is a powerful thing, but when you’re in it every day, it becomes masked and diminished by how other Americans are sometimes more powerful than you are.  “[I think people here at Whitworth need] to take very seriously the weight that sits on their shoulders as Americans and as Christians,” Cook said.

Contact Connor Soudani at [email protected]

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Use of drones to kill US citizens raises concerns