Interns in the News
The Hillman Interns are given the opportunity to write Opinion Articles in The DePauw student newspaper as a forum for ethical discussion.
November 22, 2013
US drone use anything but ethical thus far
Conner Gordon, Sophomore Political Science Major
Time and time again, there is one military strategy that has proven itself in its sheer destructiveness: shoot first, ask questions later.
Whether seen in the trenches of the Western Front or rural villages of Vietnam, it has been shown throughout history that simply trying to kill the other side without considering a larger strategy produces some of the most horrific consequences of war.
And yet, even after its own traumatic experiences with shooting first and asking questions later in Vietnam, the United States has failed to give up this reckless strategy. Instead of the humid jungles of Southeast Asia, however, we have taken our fight to the arid highlands of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. And the means of this attrition do not come from the rifle of a soldier on the ground, but from the wing-mounted missile of an unmanned drone flying thousands of feet overhead.
It is these drone strikes, which the Obama administration and the military have tried to paint as precise and legal, that help perpetuate some of the greatest abuses of our military power in recent years. Unless we take more care in their use, our drone policy will only add to a growing list of problems that jeopardize human rights and foreign policy alike.
In some limited cases, drone strikes certainly constitute a legal means of warfare. However, in a number of cases their use is marred by a deplorable track record of civilian casualties. Between 400-900 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since the program began, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Among them are community leaders, grandparents and even children-- all innocent bystanders that pose no threat to the United States.
All of them were killed by a weapon system lauded as precise and legal. But the abuses of the drone program are not simply limited to unintentional civilian casualties. In some cases, our drone policies have targeted militants and civilians alike, all for the sake of attaining higher body counts.
Often, in the moments following a drone strike, a number of first responders rush to the scene to assist the wounded. The last thing these responders expect is to become a target. Yet this is exactly what happens when, several minutes after the first strike, a second missile is fired to kill anyone drawn to the scene.
This technique, dubbed the “double tap” method, is a key aspect of the CIA’s drone program. For years the technique, which makes no distinction between militants and civilians, was allowed to continue without public oversight. And, in all likelihood, it continues today. Evidence suggests that, despite a brief hiatus caused by public outrage, the CIA has continued to use this technique, targeting people simply due to their urge to help the wounded and dying.
Even civilians not directly targeted by drones suffer from their negative effects. Constantly terrorized by the sound of aircraft buzzing overhead, entire communities are forced to live with the fear that their homes could be the next one targeted by a missile. The results of such fears are profound. Children are kept home from school, community leaders avoid holding meetings and people avoid congregating in public, all out of fear that they will be the next ones in the drone’s crosshairs.
Though our administration may be comfortable to wage its detached war of attrition and ignore the consequences, we won’t be alone forever. Drone technology is becoming increasingly accessible, and in a matter of years it will likely be found in the arsenals of many major militaries. It is these nations that will be looking to international precedent to determine how drones can be used in the future. As of now, the precedent we have created is anything but ethical.
Our government must look to the future and understand the long-term implications that the drone program has created. If we continue to practice drone warfare haphazardly, with little regard for civilian life or international law, we can only assume that other nations will eventually follow our example. In order to prevent such a future, we must reform our drone practices to adhere to the ethical and legal standards of combat. Otherwise, when the dust of our wartime fervor settles, we may be faced with even more questions than when we began.
September 24th, 2013
U.S. Must Make Humanitarian Mission in Syria a Priority
Conner Gordon, Sophomore Political Science Major
After two long years of brutal civil war, it appeared that the world’s inaction over the Syrian conflict had finally been broken. The killing of hundreds of civilians through the use of chemical weapons, presumably fired by the Assad regime’s forces, had firmly crossed President Obama’s “red line” and captured the world’s attention. After debate flared over a potential military strike, the Russian proposal that Syria turn over its chemical weapons stockpiles received widespread praise. And while the world congratulated itself for avoiding the outbreak of a larger war, the Syrian people continued to suffer just as they had for the past two years.
While the accomplishments made by the international community in recent weeks are by no means insignificant, we as a whole have still failed to address the most pressing issue of the Syrian civil war. In dealing with Syria’s larger security threats, in fact, the United States and other countries have lost sight of the larger issue at stake – the overwhelming humanitarian need of the Syrian people.
It is an issue largely forgotten among the larger politics of the conflict in Syria. Despite this, its effects are just as devastating to the country and its people. Over six million Syrians have been forced out of their homes, two million of whom have left the country as refugees. Crammed into overcrowded and often underfunded camps, many refugees have lack of access to fundamental needs, including adequate shelter and basic educational services. The continuing influx of Syrian refugees to these camps places an ever-growing strain on their resources that will only compound these issues as the conflict drags on.
Our involvement in the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian crisis is not an unprecedented one. The United States has already sent over $1 billion in aid to Syria and funds numerous medical, sanitation- and food-related missions, according to figures released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In conjunction with a number of United Nations and non-governmental agencies, the work done by USAID has made significant progress in easing the suffering of Syrian refugees. However, even with these efforts, the increasing burden placed on refugee camps and other humanitarian aid programs threatens to undo the progress made and threaten the security of every Syrian who flees the conflict.
It is now that the United States must match its massive diplomatic efforts towards Syria with a renewed, wholehearted focus on the basic humanitarian needs of its citizens. We must act as an example to the world by increasing our support of USAID programs that help Syrian citizens endure the conflict, return to their homes as soon as possible and rebuild their shattered country.
Some may say that international aid, especially to refugees, is hardly in the interest of the United States, or that we should spend our tax dollars elsewhere before solving problems abroad. Admittedly, providing humanitarian aid may not topple the Assad regime or weed out the extremists in the Free Syrian Army.
However, the importance of aiding the Syrian people goes far beyond mere national interest. Aiding the Syrian refugees constitutes a moral imperative on the part of the world, an imperative that it has not yet met.
It is of utmost importance that the United States fulfills this imperative, and that it assures that the basic needs of every Syrian refugee are met. By furthering our commitment to caring for Syria’s citizens, we send a powerful message to the world that, despite than the political debates of the conflict, it is in the lives of the Syrian people that we find our true measure of success.