Are US drones ethical?
Whether drones should be used in the US is the wrong question. Americans should be asking: Is it ethical to use drones anywhere? Is it fair to search for security for ourselves at the expense of perpetual insecurity for others?
Recently, concerns about how the US government manages and deploys its fleet of around 7,000 drones have become especially prominent. Drones have become a hot-button issue for a surprisingly diverse set of political actors, but opposition has coalesced around questions of law and procedure, including the constitutional rights of US citizens (those who might be targeted by drone attacks on foreign soil and those whose privacy rights might be violated by surveillance drones over US soil), and the need for greater transparency and regulation.Skip to next paragraph
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Some have even raised concerns about the potential use of armed drones by law enforcement in the US. Many companies are now marketing small, armed drones to law enforcement agencies, and some experts see their eventual implementation as “inevitable” – a source of great concern for many.
There is, however, a worrisome void in this debate about US drone policy – the lack of focus on the ethics of drones, whether used domestically or abroad. This neglect puts the United States out of step with the debates that are happening in the areas of the world most affected by drones. Whether or not drones should be employed in the US is the wrong question. Americans should be asking: “Is it ethical to use drones anywhere?”
In researching media coverage of drones over the past 12 years, I have found striking differences in what is reported in the US press relative to Arab media. US news outlets largely ignore pressing ethical questions about drones as a way to wage war and instead fixate on the technological and strategic innovations of drones, their multiple uses, diplomatic intrigue over downed drones in “unfriendly” countries, and whether drone strikes are legal.
In contrast, Arab media tend to focus on the loss of life among families and communities, the multifaceted costs of drones as weapons, and US disregard for other nations’ sovereignty. In covering the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, news sources such as Al Jazeera and Asharq Al-Awsat depict individuals who speak of the psychological terror from the daily presence of drones. They share stories of people constantly wondering which patterns of behavior drone controllers find suspicious.