Assassination has replaced interrogation - to what end?

Drones have replaced Guantanamo Bay: suspected terrorists are no longer being captured. They are killed. No ifs, no buts. It is a cheaper and more discreet modus operandi

A drones over Pakistan
Julia Lenarz
On 2 November 2012 12:07

The Obama administration is launching a secret, undeclared war from the Situation Room in the basement of the White House.

The President himself has unprecedented authority over the ‘Kill List’, which literally sentences people, without interrogation or trial, to certain death.

The excessive use of drones is nothing short of acts of war, where US soldiers no longer fight in flesh and blood but are replaced by metal birds with a license to kill.

Every fourth day, a drone rises somewhere. Between 2009 and present, 283 missions have been authorised on Pakistani territory. In 2011, up to 27 percent of those eliminated were civilians and of the 148-220 casualties in 2012, at least one-fifth were non-combatants.

The total number of people killed remains unclear but what is known is that the current administration’s utilisation of drones is six times and the death toll four times higher than under the previous presidency. Bush authorised no more than 52 strikes during his eight years in office.

In all fairness, under Obama’s leadership top terrorists, including Osama bin Laden and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki have been taken out.

Those victories clearly strengthened the government in its choice of preferred method of killing. In total, however, the percentage of leading terrorist figures eliminated by drones is below two per cent, as a recent study by Stanford Law School and New York University's School has shown.

Furthermore, according to the Democrat-leaning New America Foundation, under Bush’s leadership, a quarter of those killed by drones were al-Qaeda insurgents and 40 percent Taliban fighters. Obama, in contrast, has liquidated only eight per cent al-Qaeda members and roughly 50 per cent Taliban insurgents. And while under Bush’s command every third drone killed a militant leader, the number has now fallen below 13 percent.

What is fascinating is that this is happening under the watch of the man celebrated by the bleeding-heart liberal left as the candidate of hope and change, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the political messiah who promised a moral departure from years of warmongering.

The truth is that, while the President officially embraces a faint-hearted policy of ‘leading from behind’, he secretly became an executioner.

Drones have replaced Guantanamo Bay: suspected terrorists are no longer being captured. They are killed. No ifs, no buts. It is a cheaper and more discreet modus operandi.

But is what Charles Krauthammer calls ‘the assassination by remote control’ morally superior to enhanced interrogation? Are Obama’s drone strikes not as pre-emptive in nature as the war in Iraq he so fiercely opposed and denounced as unjust? Are they not causing long-term psychological damage to the residents of Pakistan’s tribal northwest region, who hear drones hover 24 hours a day?

This is not a statement against drones per se. They are a legitimate tool in the war on terror. The problem is that Obama has mainstreamed targeted killing, instead of considering it a last resort.

It is time to put an end to the moral amnesia and hold Obama to the same standards we hold Bush. There is no room for saints.

Julia Lenarz is a political consultant specialising in the Middle East, terrorism, and humanitarian interventionism. Follow her on Twitter @MsIntervention

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