According to a Wired report, the Air Force is considering upgrades proposed by General Atomics, the manufacturer of Reaper drones. The upgrades include improvements to the flight time of the drone’s camera, missiles, and radar equipment, thus allowing the drones to fly for almost two days straight. Although these advancements are just a company proposal so far, any growth to the U.S. drone program is a troubling sign considering how counterproductive and unaccountable it is.
For example, President Obama has blocked the ACLU and their Freedom of Information Act requests from gathering documents that would even acknowledge the drone program’s existence. The Department of Justice has repeatedly ducked and dodged any attempt or lawsuit from providing any transparency to a program that gives the president the power to be judge, jury, and executioner. This level of unaccountability, especially concerning the power of a president to bypass basic judicial processes, has no place in a professed free society.
Not only is the program shrouded in secrecy, it kills a lot of innocents and is incredibly counterproductive. Last January, when President Obama first spoke about the program, he said that drone strikes “had not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.” Counterterrorism advisor John Brennan actually claimed that the program hasn’t caused “a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”
But even the most conservative estimates, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), show several dozen innocents have been killed in drone strikes. The BIJ also released a report detailing how drones are targeting rescuers after initial attacks and mourners at their funerals. According to Jeremy Scahill’s reporting at The Nation, U.S. drone strikes in Yemen are creating far more terrorists than they kill and are the primary source for Al Qaeda’s presence in the Arabian Peninsula. Obama’s “signature strikes” — where targets a hit for displaying “suspicious behavior” and which CIA chief David Petraeus wants to expand — are backfiring and can only boomerang back to us.
Despite the brazen disregard for the rule of law, civil liberties, and any resemblance of transparency, it is becoming more and more likely that Obama’s drone program — and the aforementioned public policy aspects — will remain in place whether or not Obama is re-elected. The only thing Obama’s conservative and Republican opposition seem to like about him are these dictatorial executive power grabs, and it’s hard to imagine a President Romney doing anything other than endorsing and enhancing them.
The central claim behind the justification for the Predator Drone campaign is that the president has the ability to ignore the Fifth Amendment and 800 years of common law and order kills without due process under virtually no oversight or transparency. And with General Atomics pitching more efficient drones to the Air Force, there is also the incentive of the military-industrial-complex to make sure the president has whatever power needed to buy and use plenty of them.
More than any other, this should be the most central and important issue of the day. Thankfully, there is one presidential candidate who is challenging this bipartisan acceptance of secrecy and the imperial presidency. Because without this debate, the future of the most basic rights, safeguards, and provisions of our Constitution and our republic are in jeopardy.