Mar 21, 2013 - Issue 509 Cover Story: Drones - Foreign & Domestic - African World By Bill Fletcher, Jr, BC Editorial Board

The debate over the use of drones took a very odd turn when it became clear that the Obama administration did not wish to state, categorically, that there would be no drone strikes against targets in the USA.  Watching Attorney General Eric Holder bob and weave was actually quite fascinating and at the same time chilling.       

The debate exists at multiple levels and one important level is what I would call imperial right.  By ‘imperial right’ I mean the notion that drones can be used overseas, almost without question, but that we must draw a line when it comes to the domestic usage.       

Drones are instruments of reconnaissance and attack.  They are not fundamentally different than any military attack aircraft except that the pilot is not on-board.  So, the question is not really one of drone usage in general; it is about how any sort of military craft is used, whether domestically or overseas.  The drone strikes used against alleged terrorist targets have drawn attention not because of the deaths of alleged terrorists but because of what is politely referenced as “collateral damage,” i.e., the deaths of civilians.  We have no idea whether solid evidence has been accumulated on various alleged terrorist targets but one thing that has become especially clear is that there are many civilian casualties and that these casualties are bringing with them increasing hatred of the USA and its overseas policies.  Pakistan is a case in point but it is not the only case.       

Drone strikes are no different than an F-18 carrying out an attack run.  So, what we need to really focus on in the drone debate is the combination of the threat to the sovereignty of countries and the almost cavalier manner in which these strikes take place, with the corresponding loss of civilian lives.      

In the case of domestic usage, there are certainly Constitutional questions.  Have charges been drawn up by a grand jury against a particular target?  Has there been an attempt to arrest them?  Is the target simply a suspect?  How solid is the evidence?  What is the anticipated “collateral damage” resulting from such an attack? To questions such as these Holder seems to be saying something along the lines of “…it depends…”  This is simply not good enough.  If a journalist had contact with an organization on the terrorist watch list, does that justify a drone attack against the journalist?  Where does it all start and where does it stop?       

Drone usage has become very acceptable because it flows from the culture of video games.  Sit behind a screen and ‘whack’ a target, but with no personal consequences.  It all seems so clean, and to some it is fun. But with increased drone usage there has been a decrease in explanations and accountability.  The fact that they are contemplated for use in the USA, therefore, should not surprise us.  In remaining silent about their usage overseas it was only a matter of time before the chickens—the drones—would come home to roost. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author of They’re Bankrupting Us” - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is also the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.