The CIA currently controls a program wherein drones - unmanned planes - strike specific areas in the Middle East, hoping to dispense of Taliban officials. A BBC interview with a Taliban detainee indicated that the program is successful in frightening Taliban insurgents, and taking areas away from the Taliban that might previously have been deemed safe. Many members of the Taliban have been killed in these strikes, and terrorism may be suffering some serious blows.
However, this program carries with it three major problems (besides the fact that people are dying, even if they are dangerous and terrorists).
First of all, the program is kept under tight wraps. This is the CIA we're talking about, and the program is not available for a wide amount of scrutiny by other government organizations - such as the military. The American people are not well informed enough to fully understand the drone strike program's itinerary or its implications. More urgently, innocent civilians may be at high risk. And it's difficult for anyone not the CIA to tell - because mistakes made resulting in civilian deaths might never be reported beyond the CIA.
There was one military investigation into the program fairly recently, and it reported the deaths of 23 civilians due to human error. President Obama greatly increased the number of strikes since taking office, and, while most strikes have occurred in northwest Pakistan, other less involved countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Sudan have each confirmed deaths. Since 2004, the program has caused hundreds of casualities - but how many were targeted terrorist victims, and how many were regular Pakistinians going about their daily lives? The CIA hasn't said.
Another of the worst issues the drone strike program has is that it seems to be working against American interests. The capacity for the program to cause civilian deaths alongside targeted terrorists is angering native Middle Easterners. Especially as robotic, unmanned planes destroy lives while their operators sit safely at computer screens, the program displays to tribal Pakistinians American cowardice. Al Qaeda is reportedly finding it easier to recruit, as furious Muslim men find no satisfaction with American methods. According to a retired military officer with contacts in the CIA, even certain CIA officials are beginning to protest the program within the agency, feeling that the program is harmful and counterproductive.
Finally, let's switch to those operating within the program itself. A blog I read on politics.gather.com brought up the very valid point of how these killings affect the planes' "pilots." With the push of a button, an American "pilot" can kill dozens of people some 10,000 kilometers away. He or she will not witness the deaths, will not see the people before they are killed, and can go home at the end of the day to watch soap operas and eat potato chips. While this may dispense with some of the ordinary psychological issues of killing fellow humans in war, is this cultivating a healthy way to view death? Such detachment may create an almost video game mentality of war.
So to wrap everything up, this program may be protecting ordinary people by targeting terrorists, but it may be falling backwards and alienating probable allies. Who knows? As long as the CIA's drone strike program remains a mystery, we'll never get anywhere. Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, has argued that the CIA should turn the program's responsibilities over to the military, which has greater accountability. But whoever holds the reins on these strikes needs to open up, and let the rest of us know what's going on.
To sign the petition asking the CIA to allow further scrutiny of the program: