clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

John Oliver rips into the secret process used to choose drone strikes' victims

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

In a Congressional hearing last year, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, explained how the administration sees drone strikes thusly: "Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me."

It frightens John Oliver too, who spent fifteen minutes last night laying out exactly why the US drone program is so disturbing. Among the highlights:

  • Military-age males killed in strikes are allegedly considered guilty of being "militants" by the CIA until proven innocent.
  • The US government doesn't actually know the specific identities of many people it kills, or indeed how many people it has killed overall.
  • According to the Justice Department, for something to be an imminent threat justifying a strike "does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future," despite, as Oliver notes, that being "what the fucking word imminent means."

"It is completely natural for us not to want to think about the consequences of our drone program," Oliver concludes, after airing testimony from a 13-year-old drone strike survivor. "But when children from other countries are telling us we've made them fear the sky, it might be time to ask some hard questions."

If you want to learn more, check out this list of 15 basic facts about the US drone program. Among the most disturbing is the lack of any evidence that the program saves lives on net, which even the most optimistic study I could find suggested they likely don't, once you take civilian casualties into account.