Skewed News — If elected president, Bernie Sanders would use drones to assassinate people overseas, albeit on a reduced scale.
The issue of targeted assassinations came up during my interview with the presidential contender, whose surging poll numbers pose an increasing threat to Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. “I think I would limit [President Obama’s drone killing program] and be a little more selective about how it is used,” he told me.
I interviewed Sanders for my next book, a biography of the Vermont senator in graphic comics format to be published in January.
Though probably carried out by a fighter jet, yesterday’s bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Afghanistan — killing at least 19 people including the hospital’s director — highlights America’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
Studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of victims in American drone attacks are innocent bystanders and that even those who are targeted are guerilla fighters opposed to their home governments, not threats to the United States itself.
Though technologically novel, Sanders said drones and their effects are no different than other weapons from a moral point of view.
“I think drones…I don’t think you can, you know, how do I come down on medium-size bombs? How do I come down on strafing of villages?” he mused.
I asked him about the use of drones to execute extrajudicial assassinations.
“OK, you can kill people, as we have done and other governments have done, with a gun,” Sanders said. “Right? Or you can kill them with a drone.”
“But drones make it easier,” I pointed out.
“Yes. They do. Do I think that the use of a drone to kill somebody in the same way that you would use a gun to kill them is necessarily worse? I don’t. I think a drone is a weapon. It has to be used very carefully, and it has to be used in a way that does not cause damage to people who should not be hurt.”
Just over half of Democrats, and a higher portion of Republicans, tell pollsters they support drone strikes. Some are concerned about “collateral damage” (as in Kunduz yesterday) and the possibility that drone strikes could prompt retaliatory terrorist attacks against the United States.
Sanders echoed these concerns. “My main concern about drones other that my fear that they’re not regulated now and could be flying all over the place, is they have been used ineffectively and when you read in Afghanistan or someplace else that a drone has killed a dozen people at a wedding party, that is a horrible thing,” he told me.
I asked him: “Would you continue President Obama’s drone program as it is now?”
Sanders: “No, I don’t think I would. I think I would limit it and be a little more selective about how it is used. But I want to get back to this point. I know there is a lot of attention in the liberal community about drones. What happens if somebody today in the CIA is blowing somebody’s head off with a gun? From a moral point of view, how is that different from a drone killing that person?”