Frank Harris III
5:05 PM EST, February 13, 2013
"Honk! Honk! Honk!"
The sound filled the air as I walked to my car in the Southern Connecticut State University parking lot. With bag in one hand and keys in the other, I looked skyward at a flock of geese to my right. As I reached my car ready to pop the trunk, I paused to marvel at their beauty.
Then two geese broke formation. They were high in the sky and I didn't think anything of it. Then right before they got above me, I saw something drop.
"Holy sh-- !"
Do I move right? Do I move left? Do I jump back? It was hurtling fast and in slow motion and right at me. Then, at the last moment — whether it was the wind or the hand of God — it drifted two feet in front and exploded against the trunk of my car.
I stared at my now-funky car and, with regard to my aforementioned exclamation, saw I was half right. I turned and watched the two geese rejoining the flock, then set my bag down and pulled some wipes and tissue from my car. As I cleaned, I kept looking up at the sky. This was beyond Hitchcockian, but it gave rise to a thought I'd often had: What if the birds of the world truly wanted to make things difficult for us?
This led me to consider what it must be like to live in Pakistan and other places where U.S. drones patrol the sky. What must it be like to perpetually wonder if what's up there in the sky can, with a hiss and a bang, blow you to Kingdom Come?
Granted, the general thought is that if they're terrorists, then they deserve what they get. But what if they're not?
According to the report "Living under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan," the U.S. position that drone strikes in Pakistan are surgically precise in targeting terrorists with minimal civilian casualties or other downsides is false.
The report, conducted by the Stanford University School of Law International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the NYU School of Law Global Justice Clinic, is a result of on-the-ground reporting with victims and witnesses, along with numerous documents.
It found that from June 2004 to September 2012, drone strikes killed 2,562 to 3,325 people in Pakistan. Between 474 and 881 of these were said to be civilians. This means 18 percent to 24 percent of those killed were civilians, including children. Conversely, it could be extrapolated that 76 percent to 82 percent of those killed were terrorists. The question then becomes whether this kill rate of terrorists to civilians is acceptable.
According to the Pew Research Center survey, 56 percent of Americans support the use of missile strikes from pilotless aircraft, albeit more than half are concerned such attacks could endanger civilian lives, while one in three are concerned that it could lead to retaliatory attacks and another one in three are concerned about the legalities of drone attacks.
The major distinction between drones and fighter bombers is that the former are unmanned and can stay in the sky longer. If manned planes were sent to perform such missions, that would be considered an invasion of airspace and an act of war against countries with which we are not officially at war.
Technology, as usual, outraces policy, ethics, legality and morality before a discussion has taken place. This will change because at some point not only will there be foreign nations with their own drones, but we can expect domestic drones roaming our skies as law enforcement's future toys.
Only thing is, given the tendency of mistaken identity, how willing will we be able to accept our own civilian casualties?
As I continued to clean, I heard honking in the sky and jumped in my car.
Bird bombs make such a mess.
But it's all relative.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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