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Drones and Targeted Killing Lecture

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By Lindsey Riback  11/17/2015


Drones and targeted killings have increasingly been at the forefront of United States’ national and foreign policies. Marjorie Cohn, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego and a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, tackled this issue head-on during her lecture to students and faculty on Friday at the University at Albany.

   Cohn provided attendees a small glimpse into her most recent publication, “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues,” an interdisciplinary examination of the United States’ policy on targeted killings and the use of drones. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science, Albany’s United University Professions chapter (Peace and Justice Committee) and Women Against War.

   Cohn revealed the similarities and differences in drone use in targeted killings between former President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama to a room of about 20 people.

   “By the time he [Obama] accepted the [Nobel Peace] Prize one year into his presidency, he ordered more drone strikes than President Bush did during his two terms as president,” she said.

   While the Bush administration was known to detain and torture suspected terrorists, the Obama administration has chosen to illegally assassinate them.

   Both Bush and Obama have used their title as Commander-in-Chief to obviate the due process clause of the constitution, according to Cohn who said that, “like his predecessor, Obama defines virtually the entire world as a battlefield.”

   The use of drones allows the Air Force to assert its power and ensure that no U.S. lives are lost – drones can be controlled from 7,500 miles away. But the science behind the killings is not exact, leading to the question of whether these are just killings or not.

   According to the Council on Foreign Relations, of the estimated 4,500 people killed in drone attacks, the vast majority were neither Al-Qaeda nor Taliban leaders. Most are civilians who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

   Referring to Obama’s approval of targeted killings, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to The New York Times in February 2013, “Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours?” The archbishop later went on to write the foreward for Cohn’s book.

   The use of drones not only has irreparable physical damage on the towns it attacks and the lives it takes, it also leaves survivors with psychological devastation as well, according to “Living Under Drones,” a study Cohn cited by New York University’s Law School and Stanford’s Law School.  The buzzing of the drones, which can last for up to 22 hours, keeps children up at night and out of school, and there has been a higher rate of pharmaceuticals used to treat depression and anxiety now compared to before the drones attacks began.

   Attendee Ronald Friedman, a UAlbany associate professor of psychology and Chair of the UUP-Albany Peace and Justice Committee, questioned why the Obama administration continues to carry out these acts despite knowing how inaccurate the drone killings are and the effects they have on innocent civilians.

   Simply put, Americans do not want to see their soldiers returning in body bags, according to Cohn. As long as there are no “boots on the ground,” Americans are not opposed to military force elsewhere.

   “Until we stop invading countries with Muslim populations, occupying their lands, torturing their people, killing them with drones,” concluded Cohn, “we will never be safe from terrorists.”

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