Screen-grab from the App 'Metadata' detailing the number and concentration of US drone strikes in the FATA region of Pakistan.[/caption]Granted, Obama did try to reign in some executive powers regarding the conducting of war in his final months at the country’s helm. However, this was too little too late, particularly considering the previous eight years he had spent increasing those very powers. December 5th, 2016, saw the publication of a 61-page report summarising the administration’s views on the legal barriers and policies limiting the president’s military powers. The report reiterated the importance of the complete prohibition on torture and a note stating that the president didn’t have a blank check to kill alleged terrorists wherever they are. The report nonetheless tried to buttress Obama’s legacy by painting a picture of an administration far more restrained than it actually was in practice.Propaganda went hand in hand with Obama’s drone program. By now you’ve probably entertained the thought that drone strikes are ‘much more precise’ when compared to other weapons. This was crucial for Obama: if he could convince people that drones were more accurate, and therefore more humane than other methods of war, criticism of the legally dubious program could be deflected. And that is exactly what he and his administration did throughout his two terms as President, consistently arguing that drone strikes were more precise.
If you are killed by a drone, or even an elite special forces unit, then you are guilty until proven innocent - an ideal completely antithetical to supposed American values.The 61-page report released in December continued the propaganda line that justified the weapon’s use. Once people’s minds are implanted with the false proof that the drone is a more precise weapon and in step with the legal principle of distinction, ethical arguments surrounding it can be steered away from the fundamental issues that exist. On an empirical level, the iterations of better precision and fewer civilian death seems to fall flat. A study based on classified military data, conducted by Larry Lewis from the Centre for Naval Analyses and Sarah Holewinski of the Centre for Civilians in Conflict, found that the use of drones in Afghanistan had in fact caused ten times more civilian deaths than manned fighter aircraft. The issue then, is not just with the accuracy of the weapon, but the ways in which that weapon is used and how targeting is conducted. So long as one’s targeting is problematic, then the precision of the weapon means little. The Grim Reaper Returns The reemergence of drones over the tribal areas of Pakistan could mark the beginning of a new reign of terror. Not only do drone strikes have the obvious horrendous impact of killing innocent men, women and children, they also cause widespread social and psychological harm to the targeted populations. Drones fly over communities 24 hours a day, emitting a hum that constantly reminds people below that they could be killed at any moment. Parents are afraid to send their children to school, teachers are afraid to teach, community members don’t gather for any functions and trips to the market are filled with fear. [caption id="attachment_43667" align="aligncenter" width="512"] Left: Badge of the USAF Reaper Drone Unit . Right: Emblem of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who oversee drone operations in Pakistan.[/caption]
If he [Obama] could convince everybody that drones were more accurate, and therefore more humane than other methods of war, criticism of the legally dubious program could be deflected.It must be understood that the drone program and its associated secrecy is not only unjust in and of itself, but the very vulnerabilities of the weapon results in its primary cruelty. Drones are loud and slow aircraft, meaning that they can only be effectively used against defenceless populations. Yet, their very use against a population attempts to redefine those peoples as a 'threat'. In so doing, the drone justifies the removal of any and all control of ones' life from the individuals who live under its gaze. It becomes the ultimate sovereign of life and death, with the power to kill at the push of a button. The Reuters reporter David Rohde describes living with drones as “terrifying...the buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death”. Defining the experience as ‘hell on earth’, Rohde explained that even in the areas where strikes were less frequent, the people living there still feared for their lives. It is perfectly fitting then, that the official badge of the United States Air Force (USAF) Reaper Drone unit has ‘That Others May Die’ inscribed below an image of the Grim Reaper, clutching his bloody scythe.All of Obama’s tireless work to extend covert US military power across the world hasn’t gone to waste. Rather, the powers and secret institutional structures that shape the drone program are now in the hands of an individual who can use them to their full potential. While it was great that many believed Obama had some moral fibre that regulated his use of drones, he purposefully developed an incredibly vicious apparatus of war, only now to have passed it to a man with seemingly no moral fibre at all. The drone program, in its current macabre form, screams out for a president like Donald Trump. It may finally see its full brutal capacity realised and be put to good use “bombing the shit” out of the enemy, whoever or wherever they may be, regardless of any consequences.