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US President Barack Obama’s overnight announcement that he would be placing some additional restrictions on drone strikes and scale back the CIA’s use of drones to kill targets is welcome. But his claim that this practice is “necessary, legal and just” demonstrates a continued unwillingness to face the reality of drone strikes.
Simply put, the use of drones to kill terrorist targets is unnecessary, illegal and unjust.
As senior US military figures like Stanley McChrystal have argued, drone strikes inflict major damage on the United States as well as their targets. Credible estimates suggest many hundreds of civilians have been killed in drone strikes, including scores and almost certainly hundreds of children. The blood of these people, of these children, is on the hands of US personnel and officials right up to Obama. The President may claim to be “haunted” by these deaths, but his words will do nothing to comfort those who have seen their children killed, or lost family and friends in drone strikes, nor will it assuage the visceral anger these incidents produce.
Nor will those words wish away the responsibility Obama and officials like the new CIA director John Brennan have for the death of American teenager Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy from Denver killed in Yemen in 2011 while looking for his father Anwar, who had been targeted and killed in a drone strike two weeks before. At the time, the inevitably unnamed administration sources first tried to claim the boy was a “militant”, then dismissed it as him being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” And the administration has never explained why US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki — an active member of Al Qaeda — was killed by his own government, rather than captured and given a trial.
The call yesterday by Australia’s Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, for a discussion about the use of armed drones by Australian defence forces is a welcome one. The Obama’s administrations slaughter of civilians, and its own citizens, demonstrates how these tools can be profoundly misused.
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