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Droning On

“I support that entirely and think the president was right to use that technology.”

We’ve found at least one area where Governor Mitt Romney wholeheartedly embraces a policy of the Obama Administration. It’s not healthcare reform or green jobs or even funding for public television.

That was Romney talking in Monday night’s foreign policy debate about drone attacks by the US military.

Throughout this contentious campaign, the candidates have endeavored to distinguish themselves from their opponent. The televised debates have often devolved into verbal sparring matches, and last night’s foreign policy debate was no exception.

So what does it tell us that this is one of the very few overt areas of agreement?

It means that the candidates anticipate no backlash for espousing this position. Under the Obama Administration, more than four times as many people have been killed by drones as under Bush. This dramatic upsurge in killings has been ushered in with little transparency or accountability. Troubling accounts of a “kill list,” a catalog of individuals targeted for assassination, have been dismissed by the President (until it bolsters his credentials as “tough on terrorists”).

Meanwhile, families in communities where drone attacks have occurred live in fear. This is heartbreakingly demonstrated in a recent report by the international law clinics at NYU and Stanford. They tell of entire families traumatized by the possibility that death could rain down on them at any moment. Parents pull their children out of school, to keep them out of crowds that might be targeted. Children cower at the sound of a slamming door.

Extrajudicial killings are a clear violation of international law. Individuals are labeled as combatants, sometimes simply by virtue of being “military-age males in a strike zone,” to artificially deflate the number of civilian casualties. Proponents of drone attacks hide behind the fiction of “precision” in the strikes, an argument that ignores the hundreds of people who are killed as so-called collateral damage.

There are many things that separate the US presidential candidates and that distinguish their vision for the country. But this is what they can agree on. There’s no doubt that we still have our work as activists cut out for us.

October 24, 2012  / Building a Just Peace