Post Classifieds

Opinion | Public must demand more accountability after innocent civilians are killed by drones

Milam's Musings

By Brett Milam
On February 24, 2014

It's a Friday evening; classes are in the rearview and an ice cold Shock Top sounds good.

Adorned in a red Miami hockey hoodie, a few buddies and I make our way Uptown to our favorite establishment: Skipper's Pub.

The big screens in Skipper's make it the perfect viewing location for the best college basketball games. Add in a quarter pound of savory cheeseburger and tonight is going to kick-start a great weekend.

Permeating the loud chatter and music at the bar is a sound unfamiliar to Miami students: A buzzing overhead. If Skipper's was located in the most remote tribal areas of Pakistan, the accustomed would be fleeing in desperation. Instead, I take a swig of Shock Top, my mind on the cute girl at the end of the bar.

Then there's a whirring followed by an explosion that obliterates the Top Deck at Skipper's. The large tree in front falls down, cutting through the middle portion of the bar. The burning flesh of survivors smells like charcoal, as they pour through the broken doors, bleeding and confused. There is no love and honor here - just chaos.

In the aftermath, seven people are dead and scores more wounded. The Miami community is in an uproar to find answers: Why did this happen? Who was the target? The families of the victims go before the Parliament in Yemen to testify. Their son or daughter wasn't a terrorist; they were not guilty of anything. Why did they have to die? Nobody gives an answer.

National reporters in Yemen pick up on the story and want to ask President Hadi, "why did this drone bombing occur on apparently innocent civilians in a college town in Ohio?" No answers. Hadi will not even acknowledge it occurred.

The only recourse is to turn to the Yemeni public. But the public doesn't care, either. Some collateral damage is the price of war.

All of this may seem like an absurd scenario, but it serves to illustrate what it would be like if the roles between the United States and Yemen were reversed in the operation of drones.

Such an action did happen to 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, an American citizen born in Denver. In 2011, Abdulrahman and his teenage cousin were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant in southern Yemen when they were killed by an America drone, along with nine other civilians.

Two weeks prior to his son's death, Anwar al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico and affiliated with al-Qaeda, was killed by a drone strike also in Yemen. It's the first known case of an American president ordering the assassination of an American citizen.

Some may scoff at the death of Anwar, saying, "He's a terrorist, who cares?" What about his 16-year-old son? By every account and report, he was innocent.

Even despite talks from President Obama and senior administration officials about more transparency over the drone program, just two weeks ago, reports surfaced that the president was considering a drone strike on another American citizen thought to be living in Pakistan.

Last year, the Obama administration confirmed four American citizens had been killed by drone strikes, only Anwar's was intentional. Why does that not incur more outrage from the American public? If President Bush or a President McCain or a President Romney had ordered the assassination of an American citizen, would they get a pass from Democrats, too?

Will Democrats be back in the streets protesting robust executive power and drone killings once a Republican is doing them?

We should absolutely want to know what the legal standard is to target an American citizen for death. Naureen Shah, advocacy adviser at Amnesty International U.S.A, believes little has changed since Obama promised more transparency.

"The public and most members of Congress are still completely in the dark about where the U.S. claims authority to strike, the legal rules and the identity of those already killed," she said.

The Presidential Policy Guidance, which outlines the conditions for lethal attack, states no attack would be ordered without "near certainty" that no non-combatants would be harmed or killed. Has that "near certainty" been upheld?

Nobody knows if such a standard is being upheld, according to the New York Times, because there is still a tight security blanket over the data.

And even more problematic is that the Obama administration considers all military-age males killed by drones as militants. Still, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that total civilian casualties since 2004 in Pakistan alone have ranged from 416 to 951.

It is not just American citizens; the men, women and children that have been killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali and other countries should concern us.

Sure, President Obama did not launch a preemptive war against a country under false pretenses, like Bush, but he is claiming a power even Bush didn't conceive of: The ability to assassinate an American citizen without due process.

While it does appear drone strikes have stalled in Pakistan at least, past and continuing drone strikes and the power claimed to use them should not be acceptable to the American people.

In the name of the innocents killed on our behalf, we should rein in the executive branch and demand full transparency.

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