Hellfire from Above

ON THE AFTERNOON of Dec. 14, President Obama stood in the White House press room, tears in his eyes, and spoke for many Americans who had watched the terrifying events unfolding in Newtown, Conn.

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children: beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” he said. “They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

A little more than a month later, on Jan. 23, a pilotless aircraft owned and operated by the United States and controlled remotely by an individual on U.S. soil launched a targeted attack on the riders of two motorcycles in Yemen. The attack missed its target. It hit the house of Abdu Mohammed al-Jarrah instead, killing several people—including al-Jarrah’s two children.

There was no press conference for the al-Jarrah children.

It was President Obama himself, in fact, after his inauguration in 2009, who authorized an expansion of the U.S. drone program launched under George W. Bush. The “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” passed shortly after Sept. 11, gives the president broad authority to use force against those involved in the 9/11 attacks or those who harbor them. Drones have become President Obama’s weapon of choice.

The first reported drone strike against al Qaeda occurred in Yemen in 2002. U.S. covert drone strikes have killed more than 3,000 people since 2004, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Of that number, nearly 1,000 were civilians—including an estimated 200 children. (The U.S. military has also used drones in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.)

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