They are expensive, lethal, and precise in their killing; at least they are designed to be. A creation of the nation’s intelligence apparatus, they act as the new soldiers abroad, innately non-emotive machines asked to perform the previous duties of an army combatant more efficiently and free of the inhibitive emotional affects on human cognizance. They kill their enemies but also can miss their targets and a study released last month shows that they miss a lot.
Months after researchers at the University of Texas-Austin successfully spoofed a drone into its own crash landing, proving the enormous security vulnerability of the aircraft, the study conducted by law professors at New York University and Stanford argues that American drones are killing civilians in Pakistan’s tribal regions and have had a “damaging and counterproductive effect” on the psyche and social welfare of residents there. Their claims are based on roughly 130 interviews with civilians living in the regions of Northern Pakistan where drone attacks are most frequent.
The evidence, gathered with the financial and logistical support of the activist group Reprieve amongst others, directly challenges the Obama administration’s official line that targeted drone strikes aimed at suspected militants in Northwest Pakistan’s tribal regions are actually hitting their targets. According to data provided by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, cited in the study, between 2,593 and 3,373 people have been killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 and between 474 and 884 of those killed were civilians, a figure representing a possible 25 percent of all deaths.
Neither camp in the U.S. presidential campaign has addressed the figures nor has the subject of drone attacks ever been addressed in either of the two presidential debates and there is little reason to believe it will be mentioned in Monday night’s debate on foreign policy. Libertarian-leaning members of the Republican Party, such as former presidential candidate Ron Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) have pushed candidate, Mitt Romney, to address the issue in a critique of what they say are President Obama’s interventionist and illegal military policies abroad but Mr. Romney has not done so, possibly indicating his own support for continued use of drones under a Romney administration.