The drone war: It’s a sticking point among liberals and activists, and a subject about which Obama has stealthily avoided going into depth.Until now.
CNN’s Jessica Yellin sat down with Obama for an interview, which was posted on 9/11 at 5 p.m.
“You know, drones are one tool that we use. And our criteria for using them is very tight and very strict. It has to be a target that is authorised by our laws. It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” Obama tells Jessica. “And we’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, you know, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties. And in fact, there are a whole bunch of situations where we will not engage in operations if we think that there’s gonna be civilian casualties involved.”
But just last week, a drone strike in Yemen killed 10 civilians. In fact, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that there have been approximately 116 drone strikes in Yemen alone. Often, the report says, Yemen will step up to take the blame for strikes which go off course (as they promptly did with the aforementioned strike).
In total, there have been 39 for which the U.S. has taken responsibility. This drone strike in particular saw many witnesses who stated the drone was unmistakeably American.
The U.S. gave the Yemeni government $147 million in the Fiscal Year 2011 and plans to give $337 million in FY 2012, the largest provision of “aid” to date, according to the Department of State website.
Obama goes on to say, “I think what the American people need to know is the seriousness with which we take both the responsibility to keep them safe, but also the seriousness with which we take the need for us to abide by our traditions of rule of law – and due process.”
Again, President Obama’s track record with “due process” isn’t sterling, especially in the case of Anwar Awlaki, an American who defected to Yemen and began an overt terrorist propaganda campaign over YouTube. Obama killed Awlaki, along with his 15 year-old son, with a drone strike in Yemen.
Granted, regular citizens are not given the sort of access Obama has to intelligence, so no one outside his circle knows what it is Awlaki did to warrant the death penalty without trial (also referred to as “due process”). Many individual rights activists hope it wasn’t simply putting videos on YouTube which led to the death of Awlaki.
Obama goes on to talk about how drones are often used in situations where “terrorists” are in hard-to-reach places. If the administration thinks the ground-intelligence is solid, and that that “person of interest” may move locations and is probable to launch or organise an attack while in transit, they’ll shoot off a drone on a kill mission.
It makes no sense to put troops in danger in order to prevent putting troops in danger: These hard-to-reach places would require troops to trawl through tough terrain … but also that means it might require troops to be in places they are not legally allowed to be, like Pakistan.
The president twice said that he wants the American people to know that he’s willing to do what needs to be done to protect them. Then Yellin asked him if he personally struggles with the program and its implications.
Here’s part of what he said:
Oh absolutely. Look, I think that a president who doesn’t struggle with issues of war and peace and fighting terrorism and the difficulties of dealing with an opponent that has no rules – that’s something that you have to struggle with. Because, if you don’t, then it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means.
Obama continues by saying that the program can become a slippery slope, and that he and the national security team are constantly “asking tough questions” in an effort to avoid that slippery slope, where the end justifies the means.
The U.S. has drones operating in several countries with whom we are not officially at war—Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and the UN has expressed a fear that the U.S. policy sets a frightening international precedent. The program also don’t do much for our international image: the U.S. is the only country with a population that dramatically approves of drone strikes.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.