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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/25/15

E-Signatures and Drone Strikes

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Michael Galli
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On October 21, NPR's Morning Edition ran a three and a half minute story on a particular "side effect" of electronic signatures, those boxes one checks or buttons one clicks to "show that you signed" an online document. According to a study conducted by Eileen Chou and released by the University of Virginia, people are more likely to perjure themselves via e-signatures than they are when they sign a document the old fashion way: pen, paper, and ink. This is because, according to Chou, hand written signatures tend to be "intimate representations of our identity." E-signatures, on the other hand, allow "us to psychologically distance ourselves from the promise that a signature is supposed to imply." 1 This is hardly news to anyone who has fired off an email in a fit of anger or been the victim of a cyberbully.

As bad as we imagine a perjured e-signature to be, it is unlikely that such an act would lead directly to murder. There is another use of signature, however, replete with the same type of "psychologically distance," that does kill. It's called a "signature drone strike." 2

The bizarre nature of this method of murder is that the weapon and the one who wields it are often separated by a "psychological distance" of six thousand miles.3 That distance is further compounded by the fact that in a "signature strike," the victims are not chosen by name, deed, or guilt, but by "profile." For example, a signature strike in 2010 killed at least fifteen civilians traveling in three cars in central Afghanistan because the drone's camera operator identified "military aged males" when the party stopped alongside the road to pray. "They're praying. They are praying," he is recorded as saying. "This is definitely it, this is their force "Praying? I mean, seriously, that's what they do." 4 In 2013, a signature strike carried out in Yemen killed 13 members of a wedding party. The "signature" of their travel apparently mimicked an al Qaeda caravan. 5

Data compiled from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that between 2002 and 2014 in the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, for every victim specifically targeted for assassination by drones, twenty-eight civilians were killed.6 While a 2012 New York Times article titled Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will reports that the president often personally "signs off" of some drone strikes, it does not make clear if his approval is verbal, hand written, or e-signed.7 Whichever method he employs, he does so from within the walls of a fortress thousands of miles away from the victims. One has to wonder, were we able to close that psychological gap, would the commander - in - chief be willing to carry out the killings personally, not by pushing a button but by pulling a trigger?


1. Do E-Signatures Change How People Think Of Documents?: http://www.npr.org/2015/10/22/450769874/do-e-signatures-change-how-people-think-of-documents

2. 'Signature Strikes' and the President's Empty Rhetoric on Drones: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/signature-strikes-and-the_b_3575351.html

3. A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/us/drone-pilots-waiting-for-a-kill-shot-7000-miles-away.html

4. Anatomy of an Afghan war tragedy: http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-afghanistan-drone-20110410-story.html

5. Officials: U.S. drone strike kills 13 in Yemen: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/officials-us-drone-strike-kills-13-in-yemen/2013/12/12/3b070f0a-6375-11e3-91b3-f2bb96304e34_story.html

6. US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for every intended target, new Reprieve report reveals: http://www.reprieve.org/us-drone-strikes-kill-28-unknown-people-for-every-intended-target-new-reprieve-report-reveals.html

7. Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html
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Michael Galli is the Dean of Students at Rivendell Academy, a small 7-12 interstate public school on the New Hampshire / Vermont border, where he teaches classes on media and U.S. foreign policy.

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