Droning on from Obama to Trump

The deployment of unmanned aerial drones by the United States military and C.I.A. to execute alleged enemies of the U.S. is unethical, unconstitutional, and undermines its credibility as a source of global leadership, justice, and integrity. These drone missions threaten relations with international allies and must cease if the United States is to remain a respected leader in the global war on terror.

The use of unmanned combat aerial vehicles, known colloquially under the sinister guise of ‘drones,’ has more than tripled under the Obama administration. While no president wants to be responsible for the deaths of American soldiers, the unmanned drones that have replaced on-the-ground troops in many areas are neither capable of informed wartime decision-making nor precise execution. The result is that one in three people killed by a U.S. drone in Pakistan has been a civilian–a staggeringly high percentage of innocent victims from the military leading the so-called fight against terrorism.

This practice is bad for the countries with which the United States collaborates and is equally bad for the U.S. Drone attacks fuel anti-American sentiment and spark distrust for local governments and their law enforcement efforts. Deadly suicide bombings have increased following drone attacks, while the imprecise nature of the execution attempts has made their success questionable at best. Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, for example, was reportedly killed multiple times by drone attacks due to the misinformation and inexactitude that prevails among drone operations.

The use of unmanned drones also marginalizes the role of United States soldiers. In many instances, Special Forces personnel are better equipped to deal with the available intelligence and unconventional war tactics in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq. Instead, they are replaced by remote control devices, which can neither react to immediate changes in theater nor make informed judgments during the course of the mission. While soldiers commit their lives to rigorous training and sacrifice, drone missions often rely on brute force, sloppily delivered and resulting in the collateral deaths of innocent civilians.

The fallout from drone executions has marred United States foreign policy among its allies. United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston delivered a harsh judgment on drone attacks saying they present a “risk of developing a Playstation mentality to killing.” When it comes to the stress placed on servicemen and women piloting, the New York Times reports that drone pilots suffer the same PTDS and stress-related depression as soldiers on the ground.  Meanwhile, Pakistan, the country in which the majority of attacks are taking place, has publicly objected to the executions despite their complicity.

For his part, president-elect Donald Trump has vowed to continue using drones to execute alleged terrorists. Coupled with the rampant Islamophobia that characterized the rhetoric of his campaign, drone expert Jameel Jaffer fears the outlook is bleak without a significant public backlash against use of combat drones in the Middle East.

Unmanned drone killings are neither ethical nor effective and are jeopardizing the status of the United States as a credible world leader in the global fight against terrorism. In order to salvage the damage done by these machines, the U.S. must significantly reduce its use of unmanned drones in combat roles and begin working with its few remaining allies in the Middle East to rebuild the trust it has lost from the terror its drones have inflicted.

– Tyler

 

 

Outside the ballot box

When federal election results are being tallied on the evening of November 8th, the votes of nearly 6 million American citizens will be missing as a result of systematic disenfranchising laws that disqualify ex-convicts from voting. The majority of states in the U.S. enforce some penal restrictions on voting: In the most egregious cases, Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky permanently bar all people with felony convictions from voting while Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, and Tennessee permanently disenfranchise at least some ex-criminals. As you can see in this interactive state-by-state map of disenfranchising laws, the only states that do not restrict voting for ex-offenders are Vermont and Maine.

The practical implications of these laws are problematic for representative democracy, while the ethical grounds on which they stand call into question why they were imposed in the first place. The biggest and most obvious problem is that for those who have been convicted and are no longer incarcerated, being stripped of voting rights provides another barrier to reintegration and civic engagement already made difficult by challenges that exist in obtaining gainful employment, stable housing, and societal acceptance.

Proponents of disenfranchising laws argue that ex-criminals have forfeited their rights by engaging in activity that runs contrary to the goals of a lawfully-functioning society. Let’s put aside for a moment that not all those who are convicted and serve time are even guilty of the crimes for which they’ve been charged. This is a big problem, but we’ll assume that most who are sentenced are guilty and even so we can dismantle the arguments behind the practice of disenfranchising.

The next logical problem here is that no state strips voting rights for all types of illegal activity so instead we have a system in which some crimes lead to disenfranchisement while others don’t, even in instances when the alleged threat to the public good is nearly identical. Proponents would like to believe severity is commensurate with consequences, but the arbitrary nature of the justice system means that isn’t necessarily the case. For instance, a driver in Iowa cited thrice for operating a vehicle under the influence receives a felony sentence and is permanently barred from voting even after release. An equally unsafe driver who similarly violates traffic laws and is charged with reckless endangerment or excessive speeding while sober will not face the same disenfranchisement despite that their behavior is a similar threat to the safety of the public and can reasonably be assumed to result in the same outcome (property damage, injury or loss of life, etc).

This arbitrary lineation and disenfranchisement violates the bioethical principle of justice, described by Stanford Medical as the concept of fair distribution of resources (or in this case, consequences) among society. In the case of the drunk drivers versus reckless drivers, states make their best guess at what constitutes impairment, with the majority thresholds falling around a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Our understanding of neurobiology, tolerance, toxicity and metabolism, however, recognizes that this is an inexact science and a nondrinker with an even lower BAC may be significantly impaired while someone with a higher tolerance is able to maintain homeostasis and normal functioning well over the .10 mark. This is an unfortunate inexactitude but realistically necessary as a preventive mechanism for deterring drunk driving.

However, the permanent disenfranchisement that happens for one but not the other makes no sense through the lens of the justice principle. It also makes no sense from a penal perspective, because disenfranchisement is unlikely to be an effective deterrent against such crimes since the consequences are often years in the future.

There are myriad reasons why a repealing of disenfranchisement laws results in a more just, equitable, and most importantly, democratic society. Permanent barring of voting is a counterproductive and oppressive practice that discourages reintegration and erects insurmountable barriers to representation that no free citizen should be without.

– Tyler