Domestic Drone Launch Date Approaches; Drones to Be Autonomous

Drones will soon be buzzing over every city in America.

As reported by the New York Times on December 30:

The agency picked six institutions to operate test locations, which will explore how to set safety standards, train and certify ground-based pilots, ensure that the aircraft will operate safely even if radio links are lost and, most important, how to replace the traditional method for avoiding collisions. Integrating the aircraft into the nation’s airspace, set by Congress for 2015, will be phased in gradually.

While the Times article reports only on the proliferation and imminent launch of sorties of surveillance drones (that is, unarmed aerial vehicles), comments made by Attorney General Eric Holder make it easy to foresee the day when drones armed with deadly missiles are carrying out strikes similar to those that have killed so many in the Middle East and North Africa.

In March 2013, CNN reported, “Attorney General Eric Holder is not entirely ruling out a scenario under which a drone strike would be ordered against Americans on U.S. soil.” Such an admission is startling given the massacres that are almost commonplace in Yemen, Pakistan, and other alleged hotspots for “militant” activity.

In fact, the information reported by the New York Times, put in the context of Holder’s prediction, wouldn’t be as frightening if the drone operations to which Americans (and the world) have become accustomed weren’t so deadly. As The New American reported recently:

The U.S. government on December 12 “mistakenly” murdered 15 people attending a wedding in Yemen.

Citing “local security authorities,” Reuters reports that the families celebrating the wedding “were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al-Qaida convoy.”

Another unnamed official told Reuters that 10 people were killed immediately by the missiles, while five died later of injuries they sustained in the attack. Five more members of the wedding party were wounded, but survived the strike.

In a follow-up story, the LA Times offered a slightly revised casualty report:

The death toll reached 17 overnight, hospital officials in central Bayda province said Friday. Five of those killed were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda, but the remainder were unconnected with the militancy, Yemeni security officials said.

So, even if one accepts that five of those killed in the drone strike were “militants,” he must also accept that 12 of the dead were innocent.

Writing in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf presented a thought-provoking recrimination of the effect of the wedding day massacre carried out by the United States:

More than a dozen dead, many more injured, and an unknown number of survivors whose lives have suddenly taken a nightmarish turn the likes of which we cannot imagine, and all for the sake of five people suspected of ties to al-Qaeda. How many actual al-Qaeda terrorists would we have to kill with drones in Yemen to make the benefits of our drone war there outweigh the costs of this single catastrophic strike? If U.S. drone strikes put American wedding parties similarly at risk would we tolerate our targeted-killing program for a single day more? Our policy persists because we put little value on the lives of foreign innocents. Even putting them through the most horrific scene imaginable on their wedding day is but a blip on our media radar, easily eclipsed by a new Beyonce album.

Not everyone seems to be worried by the Obama administration’s perpetuation of the deadly drone war. In an article published on December 31, The Guardian reports:

President Barack Obama’s mid-year decision to wind down drone strikes has accounted for a lower number of deaths resulting from such actions in 2013, newly compiled data indicates.

Sifting through the estimates of three non-governmental organizations, the Council on Foreign Relations scholar Micah Zenko published on Tuesday a tally of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the central theaters of deadly and formally undeclared counterterrorism operations run in official secrecy.

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