The Common Good

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Why Is Voting Made So Difficult?

As millions of Americans wait in long lines to vote today, David Firestone wonders why it has to be so difficult.

“This is the day when voters raised on a reverence for democracy realize the utter disregard their leaders hold for that concept. The moment state and local officials around the country get elected, they stop caring about making it easy for their constituents to vote. Some do so deliberately, for partisan reasons, while others just don’t pay attention or decide they have bigger priorities.

“The result can be seen in the confusion, the breakdowns, and the agonizingly slow lines at thousands of precincts in almost every state.

“As they stand in windswept, hour-long lines to cast a ballot, voters might ask themselves, why are there so few polling places and workers? Why isn’t the government making it easier for me to vote, rather than forcing me through an endurance contest?”

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DRONE WATCH: Changing the Nature of War

Tom Roberts in the National Catholic Reporter, writes on questions raised by the rapidly growing use of unpiloted drones.

“Each expansion of drone use magnifies the concerns of the legal and human rights communities about whether the United States is dangerously pressing the limits of -- or even violating -- international law. Just as worrisome, experts say, is whether the increasing use of drones in such circumstances will slowly erode the force of international law, rendering it ineffective.”

After noting comments from several leading Catholic law professors, Roberts raises what many consider is the central question: must traditional international law change in this new era of non-state terrorism?

“Terrorists don't conform to national boundaries, national allegiances or recognized governments, raising the question of whether a war on terrorism necessarily changes the nature of war itself.”

It’s a question the U.S. and the international community will have to answer, better sooner than later.

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Permanent Preparations for War

Most of us have read President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech warning of the growing military-industrial complex in the U.S.  Fifty years later, many of his fears have become realities. Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer, points out in a New York Times column the part of Ike’s speech we don’t often remember: Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever.”

He explains:

“Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.”

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DRONE WATCH: Out of the Shadows

In an editorial this morning, the Washington Post sums up the legal and political problems with a continuing war based on “kill lists,” then concludes with its recommendations for greater transparency and accountability:

“Drone strikes should be carried out by military forces rather than by the CIA; as with other military activities, they should be publicly disclosed and subject to congressional review. The process and criteria for adding names to kill lists in non-battlefield zones should be disclosed and authorized by Congress — just like the rules for military detention and interrogation. Before operations begin in a country, the administration should, as with other military operations, consult with Congress and, if possible, seek a vote of authorization. It should seek open agreements with host countries and other allies.

“There may be cases where the president must act immediately against an imminent threat to the country, perhaps from an unexpected place. But to institutionalize a secret process of conducting covert drone strikes against militants across the world is contrary to U.S. interests and ultimately unsustainable.”

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DRONE WATCH: The Risks of Relying on Drones

Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to NATO from July 2008 to May 2009, wrote in the Washington Post on the risks associated with the increasing U.S. reliance on drones as its “principal and permanent component in fighting global terrorism.” According to Volker, these risks are moral, the consequences, the U.S. monopoly on drone warfare will not last, and our national identity. He proposes that we need a standard for the use of drones and suggests

“A more useful standard comes from our country’s basic approach to warfare. For a conventional military engagement, we would take into account the costs and risks of: sending a force to carry out the strike; generating public support; seeking congressional authorization; attracting allies to the cause; the regional effects of military action; and the duration and end of the mission, not just the beginning.”

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DRONE WATCH: Rare Strike in Northern Yemen Kills Four.

Reuters reports on a rare drone strike in northern Yemen, near the Saudi border.

“At least four men suspected of being al Qaeda members were killed in what a local official said was a U.S. drone strike on Islamist militants in northern Yemen on Sunday.

“It was a rare attack on al Qaeda-linked targets in northern Yemen, an area dominated by Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels battling Yemeni government forces for control of the rugged mountainous region.

“The official said that a drone attacked two houses in the Abu Jabara area in Saada Province, killing four people.”

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DRONE WATCH: This Week in Drones

In drone news this week:

• The Washington Post reported that Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, and  Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will investigate the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the U.S. and other governments. According to Emmerson, “I will be launching an investigation unit within the special procedures of the [U.N.] Human Rights Council to inquire into individual drone attacks, and other forms of targeted killings conducted in counterterrorism operations, in which it has been alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted.”

•Sixteen people from the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars were arrested Thursday while blocking gates at the New York National Guard’s Hancock Field near Syracuse. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that “The protesters believe that such operations are wrong and use the protests and arrests as a way to educate the public about the issue, said Ellen Grady, a protester from Ithaca.”

•The British High Court is hearing a case brought by Pakistani Noor Khan, whose father was killed in a suspected drone attack. According to the BBC, “Judges are deciding whether there should be a full judicial review into the legality of any UK co-operation with the Central Intelligence Agency.” In the same case, the Washington Post reported that James Eadie, lawyer for Britain’s Foreign Office, told the Court, “Ties between Britain, the U.S. and Pakistan could be jeopardized if a judge grants a request for a court inquiry into the possible role of U.K. spy agencies in aiding covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region…”

• In Pakistan, DAWN reports that a two-member panel of the Peshawar High Court has served notice on former president Pervez Musharraf to appear before the court. The Court is hearng a petition that has been filed against drone attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in particular the killing of innocent people including women and children.  

• On Slate’s Map of the Week, a map showing the location of the 284 drone attacks reported in Pakistan under the Obama administration.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Attack in Pakistan.

DAWN reports a drone attack Wednesday in the North Waziristan region.

“At least five people were killed Wednesday when a US drone targeted a suspected militant compound about 10 kilometres from the main town in volatile North Waziristan region, intelligence sources said.

“The US drone fired three missiles in Tappi village, about 10 kilometres southeast of Miramshah, on a compound which intelligence sources said was a militant facility. Two missiles hit the house and one struck a vehicle resulting in the death of four suspected militants. A woman was also killed in the strike, sources added. The official sources also said that three cows have also been killed as the house was completely destroyed.”

CNN reported three killed, and added that two children were injured.

“The latest suspected U.S. drone strike also injured two children, military officers said. Militants lived in the compound, but so did civilians, the officers said.”

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Kills Four In Yemen

The second drone strike in four days killed four in Yemen. AFP reports

Four members of the Al-Qaeda extremist network including a local chief were killed in Yemen Sunday in a strike presumed to have been carried out by a US drone against their vehicle in Maarib province, tribal and police sources said. "A drone fired a missile at a car which had four Al-Qaeda militants in it, destroying the vehicle and killing the occupants," the tribal source said,

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DRONE WATCH: France Sending Drones to Mali Region.

As Al-Qaeda-linked rebels strengthen their control over northern Mali, France has taken the lead in plans for possible military intervention. In an exclusive report, AP revealed that as French and U.S. military leaders and diplomats are meeting in Paris this week, France will send drones to the area.

France will move surveillance drones to West Africa and is holding secretive talks with U.S. officials in Paris this week as it seeks to steer international military action to help Mali's feeble government win back the northern part of the country from al-Qaida-linked rebels, The Associated Press has learned.

France and the United Nations insist any invasion of Mali's north must be led by African troops. But France, which has six hostages in Mali and has citizens who have joined al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, is playing an increasing role behind the scenes.

Many in the West fear that northeast Mali and the arid Sahel region could become the new Afghanistan, a no-man's-land where extremists can train, impose hardline Islamic law and plot terror attacks abroad. And France, former colonial ruler to countries across the Sahel, is a prime target.

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