Tuesday, November 20, 2018
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Autumn drone

There are few better places than this valley to enjoy autumn. This past weekend brought with it gorgeous golden colors, bugling elk throughout the valley, a growing and interesting Crested Butte Film Festival and no shortage of places to bike or hike. It is pretty wonderful in these Rocky Mountains at the moment. Don’t take it for granted…

Fall is far less ideal in the mountain valleys of Pakistan. That may be stating the obvious but it is worse than you might think and we must shoulder at least part of the responsibility. Bring that situation across the globe to here and consider what your government is doing and how you might deal if you were in the same situation…
The foreign minister of Pakistan last week bluntly stated in New York that the top reason for anti-American sentiment in her country is the U.S. tactic of using drones to attack those suspected of being terrorists.
According to several news reports, Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said, “The use of unilateral strikes on Pakistani territory is illegal. It is illegal and it is unlawful.”
In an article by Joshua Hersh in The Huffington Post, Khar noted that the Pakistani government approves of their overall strategic purpose—to target and kill high-level militants—but the manner in which the United States has used them, she said, has been illegal and has turned the local populations against the United States.
“What the drones are trying to achieve, we may not disagree,” Khar said. “If they’re going for terrorists, we do not disagree. But we have to find ways which are lawful, which are legal. The use of unilateral strikes on Pakistani territory is illegal.”
The United States has deployed drones as part of a “top-secret war” against suspected terrorists in the mountainous regions of northern Pakistan. The Obama administration brags about its use of drones but denies that the drones have killed any innocent civilians. Every independent study indicates that is simply not true.
President Barack Obama told CNN recently that a target must meet “very tight and very strict standards,” and John Brennan, the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said last spring that in “exceedingly rare” cases, civilians have been “accidentally injured, or worse, killed in these strikes.”
In contrast to these claims, a report released last week by Stanford and NYU—titled “Living Under Drones”—offers more frightening statistics published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent organization based in London.
That report concludes that the drones have killed thousands of people in the years since 9/11, including hundreds of civilians, many of them children.
“Drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles and public spaces without warning,” the report says. “Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”

Think about what you did last weekend. It had to have been pretty good. Now think about doing it if you knew the world’s most powerful superpower was watching you and your actions from armed drones in the sky. Would you have gone on that bike ride wearing a Camelback that might look threatening from the sky? Would you have gathered with a group of like-minded citizens to see thought-provoking films in a covered public meeting place that might be interpreted as a dangerous planning meeting? Would you have used your camera to take photos of the glowing trees? Would you feel…terrorized?
The idea of some 23-year-old Air Force “pilot” in Florida flying a drone in the skies on the other side of the globe with what could be a Wii joystick and firing missiles at what he has been told are terrorists is frightening. It is certainly frightening to the people living in those mountains in Pakistan. It should be frightening to you as well.
It doesn’t seem to me to be righteous or in the long run effective at doing much to protect this country. It seems reasonable to conclude that this policy is making those people angry with us, and most reasonable people would understand that resentment. Top military officials who served Iraq and Afghanistan have said one of the biggest challenges there was that every time a civilian was innocently killed, it produced more insurgents who wanted to violently lash out at Americans. And many have. What makes our leaders think the same result will not happen in Pakistan or Yemen?
A former university professor who taught the U.S. Constitution now as president authorizes such covert deadly attacks—this is a Bizarro world. It shows the complexity of the office. But are there not better ways?
Fighting shady terrorists is a muddy business but it seems clear that this policy is legally questionable at best. At worst it appears to be feeding a new generation of people who ultimately might feel helpless and terrorized enough to strike out at the source of their terror: Us.

Man, the colors were brilliant in the aspens last week. The trails were riding smooth and clean. The film festival was a success and the elk are bugling day and night. It is pretty wonderful in these Rocky Mountain valleys right now. We are blessed. Here’s hoping you enjoyed a perfect and peaceful fall weekend in the mountains…

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