This morning, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, headlined the CAP event “Strengthening America’s Security: Identifying, Preventing and Responding to Domestic Terrorism,” which discussed with ways Muslim Americans and American intelligence and police agencies can work together to combat domestic terrorism.
Afterward, Think Progress interviewed Ellison and asked him about another facet of America’s counter-terrorism strategy: the use of Predator drones to assassinate suspected terrorists. When asked about the efficacy of the drone strikes, Ellison was critical of their use. While conceding that the drones may be an effective tool if used judiciously, the Minnesota congressman said that we have yet to make a proper “legal, political, and moral” calculation as to when their use is appropriate, going as far as to say that Congress has no “consensus” as to when these assassinations are justified, and that the U.S. hasn’t “really thought through this thing at all”:
TP: There have been increasing reports of expanded drone strikes and military operations in Pakistan. Do you think these operations help or hurt the U.S. strategy in combating extremism?
ELLISON: I think that there is a case to be made on both sides of the question. But what I want to say about it is, I’m very concerned because I don’t think as Congress we have any consensus or really any idea as to when a targeted assassination would be appropriate, meaning what quantum of proof would be necessary to show that this person has waged war on America, led to the death of Americans, and this action in some legal format might be justified. We haven’t looked at what level of additional persons who killed other than the target are acceptable. [...] We haven’t really thought this thing through at all. [...] [We run] the risk that we’re not going to be careful, responsible, judicious, and critical about the use of this technology.
The problem is not the drone, that is a piece of machinery. The problem is making a decision about a targeted assassination without the necessary legal, political, moral calculation in place. Which I see no evidence that we’re making. And I tell you, it’s somewhat scary. Clearly there have been a lot of reports of wedding parties being killed, clearly that is incredibly destructive. And if they hit somebody who is truly a bad actor, dangerous to Pakistan and the United States, and that’s the only person they get, and they got the proof for it, and there’s no one else killed associated with it, that might be justifiable and something that enhances security. But it’s way more complicated than that and I don’t think we’re approaching this with the requisite amount of care, safety, and apprehension.
Earlier in the year, counterterrorism experts Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann at the New America Foundation released a comprehensive study of the casualties of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Their research concluded that nearly 1 out of every 3 people killed by the strikes was a civilian. Although extremists remain deeply unpopular in Pakistan, with only four percent saying they have a positive impact on their country in a recent survey, the drone strikes are overwhelmingly opposed by the Pakistani public as well, with a poll last year finding that only nine percent of Pakistanis agreed with their use.
Last year, Center for New American Security military expert and former adviser to General David Petraeus David Kilcullen called for a cessation of drones strikes. “If we want to strengthen our friends and weaken our enemies in Pakistan, bombing Pakistani villages with unmanned drones is totally counterproductive,” he said.
Also in the interview with ThinkProgress, Ellison criticized the GOP claims that tax cuts don’t need to be offset. “What they’re saying is completely self-serving,” he told us. “They’re looking at it strictly from the standpoint of personal gain and the gain of individuals directly connected to them and people who they regard as their base.”