The mass torture of drone strikes

Forget waterboarding, a drone strike is mass torture. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. November 13, 2012 — Leon Trotsky once said: “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Unfortunately, that is true for the innocent men, women and children in the Middle East who have witnessed their loved ones blown into pieces by drone strikes.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be winding down but the drone war lives on, with no end in sight. Drone strikes are one of the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy arsenals for fighting the War on Terror.

Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst, writes that in Pakistan alone, President Obama has authorized over 283 drone strikes, six times more than President George W. Bush in his eight years in office.

Forget waterboarding, a drone strike is mass torture.

Sure, bad guys get killed in the process. But so do innocent women and children. In Pakistan for example, BBC’s Jane Corbin reports the story of a young girl named Nabeela Ur Rehman. She was tending to her cow in the family compound when she witnessed the slaughtering of her grandmother by a drone, right in front of her eyes. The trauma she must have experienced, and the fear that she continues to live with is unfathomable.

Investigators from Stanford and NYU Law Schools released a study (“Living under Drones”) about the effect of drones on the civilian population in Pakistan. Some of those effects include severe anxiety and psychological disorder.

Have drone strikes killed top Al-Qaeda targets? Are they more efficient than ground troops? Yes and yes.

The American approach to fighting the War on Terror has slowly shifted from a counter-insurgency strategy into a counter-terrorism approach. Counterinsurgency—like in Iraq and Afghanistan—requires protecting the population, winning them over, training the country’s army, and gathering human intelligence. The amount of money and military personnel it takes to successfully deploy such a strategy is unsustainable in the long run. Not to mention the inevitability of mass casualties.

As a result, we see more targeted counter-terrorism operations through drone strikes.

But that comes with unintended consequences. For the first time in history, an American intelligence officer from the comfort of his air-conditioned office can order the remote-control killing of another human-being in a country the United States may not even be at war with.

America does not capture terrorists anymore. She kills. She even has a running “secret kill list” and a “disposition matrix” to show for it.

The problem with an over-reliance on drones is not whether or not it is effective. It is.

But, at what cost? Are drones as surgical and precise as we think? Have they replaced Guantanamo Bay as the recruiting tool for terrorists? Should they only be used for high-valued terror targets like Anwar Alwalaki or anyone with a known or unknown association with a terrorist organization?

Will it ever end?

Perhaps Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser, said it best: “The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower, you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

Maybe there should be a greater focus on stopping the grass from growing.

Ayobami is graduate student in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.


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Ayobami Olugbemiga

Ayobami Olugbemiga is a Political Sales Team Leader at NCC Media where he develops Cable TV advertising schedules for political candidates and interest groups. An award-winning collegiate journalist, Ayobami received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Political Management from George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. 

In 2013, he was honored by the Society of Professional Journalists with a Mark of Excellence Award for Online Opinion and Commentary. Follow Ayobami on twitter at @ayobamiao


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