Columns / Discourse / February 13, 2013

America Examined: Critique of drone strikes

The United States government can now kill some of its citizens overseas without so much as an indictment or evidence of guilt. No you didn’t misread that. In a memo from the justice department, released by NBC news, legal justification has been given for the targeting of U.S. citizens that the government believes to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida ( However, the so called “White Paper” that has been made public goes further than that, specifically in regards to the requirements for a strike. The memo states, “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

Now, many Americans are willing to turn a blind eye when attacks half way around the world target al-Qaida, but how about when the targets are American citizens? With this latest memo, the world has the U.S. justice department on record saying it believes it is legal to kill a U.S. citizen abroad even if there is no evidence that they are involved with a future attack. This appears to be only applicable with drone strikes, so a brief background seems in order.

Since Obama has come in to office, there have been over 300 drone attacks carried out on foreign soil; this is six times as many as occurred during the Bush administration ( Unfortunately, drone use seemed to be a non-issue during the presidential election, despite its new prevalence. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, has compared drones to the development of nuclear technology in 1945, in terms of their ability to change warfare and military strategy for years to come (

Yet, no one seemed to be talking about the issue much until the release of the “White Paper.” It is unfortunate that it took the mention of American citizens to get people interested in the topic, but now that it has been brought up on the national scale, it is important that both the media and the people of the United States do not let the government slide by on the issue.

Those in favor of the drone strikes often cite the need to eliminate terrorist factions. While I personally disagree with the logic of the “war on terrorism” that is being used to justify such attacks, if it were only known terrorists dying this would be a very different column. The fact is that even by conservative estimates, 15 percent of Pakistanis killed in drone strikes have been civilians or unidentified persons ( That means that for every 20 persons killed in a drone attack in Pakistan, the U.S. is responsible for three undeserved deaths. That ratio simply cannot be accepted by the American people, regardless of whether American citizens are being targeted or not. Yet, as recently as last month, Obama referred to past drone attacks as “very precise” ( This marks a severe misrepresentation of the situation that can only be cured through media coverage and, you guessed it, talk among our nation’s people.

As a nation, the United States stands proud of the liberty and due process our fore-founders worked so hard to ensure. Yet, as we go abroad killing terrorists and civilians alike from the comfort of our own soil, it’s hard not to question the inconsistency. If the U.S. justice department believes that they can justify the killing of their own citizens abroad without hard evidence of wrong-doing, should we really be the force of liberty in the world?

Payton Rose
Senior Payton Rose is a political science major with minors in creative writing and Spanish. This is his first year working for The Knox Student as discourse editor. He has written a political column for TKS for two years.

Tags:  america drone Justice Department obama Pakistan strikes terrrorist war on terrorism

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