Drones

Drones, Brennan and the CIA

As a strong supporter of President Obama, I watched in dismay during his first term as Republican members of Congress continually attempted to derail the plans and policies of his Administration.

The stated position of the Republican leadership was to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. That failed. Dismally. The American people delivered Mr. Obama a decisive victory in last year’s election.

Still, there is a difference between obstructionism and oversight. The American system of democracy establishes checks and balances in an effort to insure that no element of the government runs amok. Unless these are exercised judiciously, the government cannot function properly. Striking an appropriate balance is not always politically easy.

Just as the Republicans cannot fulfill their obligations to the country by constantly blocking efforts of the Obama Administration, the Democrats cannot be faithful stewards if they never challenge the President. Congress has a perfect opportunity to meet its obligations as the Senate begins confirmation hearings on the appointment of John Brennan to head the CIA.

Everyone American citizen should be concerned about the U.S. drone program.

Although I am fundamentally opposed to violence, I realize that there are times when violence is inescapable. However, I find it impossible to justify the use of drones to kill people—even those who are deemed to be enemy combatants, or imminent threats to the United States. The use of drones is problematic, not only on legal grounds, but more so on moral ones.

President Obama has done much to restore America's standing in the world. The use of drones is not among them. These are not only legally tenuous, they also create a new wave of hostility, sow the seeds of future violence and breed new terrorists.

Like the atom bomb, we cannot unlearn this technology. Sadly, like weapons of mass destruction, other nations are now pursuing their own drone programs and we appear headed to a “drones arms race” that could, from a practical point of view, be more dangerous than the nuclear one. Drones are more likely to be used than nuclear weapons.

Brennan’s nomination is troubling on many fronts, but mostly because of his position on drones. The fact that they are effective is irrelevant, especially the “collateral” damage of hundreds of innocent dead. He has publicly argued that drones are both legal and moral. There is little support for the legality of this program, indicated by the opposition of nearly every other national government. What’s worse, are his statements that drones are a moral use of force. On this issue, Brennan is morally bankrupt.

Brennan’s confirmation hearing seems a good time for the entire country to confront the deadly reality of the drone program. It is a chance for the U.S. to step back from the policy that allows the use of drones and provide the necessary leadership that insures a peaceful future for all nations and peoples on this planet. This is a good time for the U.S. Senate to exercise its role in the system of check and balances in a thoughtful and responsible manner. If that means denying President Obama's choice of John Brennan to head the CIA, then so be it.
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Why…and Why Not? Questions about the Sandy Hook Shooting

The peace, joy and celebrations of Christmas and the holiday season have been shattered by despicable violence. In many parts of the country, people have been physically sickened and have shed tears, some uncontrollably. The first question, the Why, is not an attempt to seek and understand an explanation for the massacre. Rather, it queries the reason so many in our country care what happened.

Certainly for the families and friends who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the pain and sorrow are obvious and understandable. Families have been ripped apart, literally, as they lay the bodies of their little ones to rest. Sadly, neither our President, nor local politicians, nor our teachers, nor even our pastors can craft adequate words of consolation. Darkness hangs over the city of Newton; an oppressive darkness that obscures even the light of Christmas. On a basic and intuitive level we understand the concern and care of each of the families and of their friends.

But why should the rest of the country care? Most of us did not know these little children or their families. Could it be that the wanton murder of twenty little first graders creates an existential disruption in our own lives? After all, for most of us, the massacre was, and remains, incomprehensible. Our own sense of order has been distorted and thrown into chaos. Or could it be that we have become afraid? Afraid for ourselves and our own children? Or maybe it is that the massacre of innocent six and seven-year-olds is simply too unsettling to fathom, compounded by the fact that their little bodies were riddled with close-range bullets. Could it be our own repugnance at the terror they must have felt as their bodies were pierced and life ripped from their tiny frames? There are many legitimate and humane reasons to care. And as a nation, we care deeply.

But we are challenged by the second question:
Why Not? Why do we not demonstrate the same outrage and grief for the innocent children killed in Pakistan and Yemen? I don’t mean children who are victims of floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, or even children who die of starvation or disease. I am not speaking of children caught in the crossfire of soldiers’ rifles in the midst of war. No. I mean the 178 children killed by drone attacks ordered by our own government, the United States of America. That is nearly nine times the number killed in Newton!

The children at Sandy Hook faced a madman. Children living in Pakistan and Yemen faced unmanned drones. Is their terror any less because they cannot see their killer? Are they any less innocent? Are their futures filled with any less promise? Are their dreams of being teachers or doctors, scientists or musicians any less deserving? Why don’t we rise up in anger and protest? Why don’t we care?

Could it be that they are not massacred together in a single violent act? Could it be that the media doesn’t deem these deaths worthy of news coverage? Could it be that we do not see their faces or know their names? Could it be that we consider them the “other” because they are not us? Could it simply be that they are different?

We try to justify our drone attacks by saying we are pursuing an enemy. We are hunting the “bad guys.” Well, little children are not the bad guys—no matter what country they live in. The fear that overwhelms them as they hear a drone humming in the sky above is just as real as the fear of children who hear gunfire in the next classroom. And it is just as evil.

This is not a lecture, and I do not have the answer. I have only the question:
Why don’t we care?
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