The Common Good

Drones in Yemen

It seems that drones have become the administration’s favorite form of warfare. There’s no danger to American troops, just unmanned aircraft killing from the skies. They’ve been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. 

The campaign in Yemen has so far relied on targeting specific individuals in an attempt to distinguish between al Qaeda leaders and Yemeni insurgents. But the CIA is now seeking to expand the campaign by asking for authority to launch strikes without knowing the identities of those being attacked. They call it “signature strikes,” choosing targets based on suspicious behavior. This, the CIA claims, involved putting together multiple intelligence reports to arrive at “signatures” of al-Qaeda activity based on vehicles, facilities, communications equipment and patterns of behavior.

Assassinating specific individuals (and often their wives, children and other people who happen to be with them) is bad enough. Attacks based on “signatures” of suspicious behavior is worse. Is a group of people gathering in a house an al Qaeda meeting, or a wedding? Is a truck convoy carrying weapons, or goods to market? It seems to me that if approved, it’s a policy change that will result in more civilian casualties and more questions about the use of drones.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.