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Justifying Targeted Assassinations: the BBC on the Effectiveness of Drone Strikes
In support of the ongoing policy of US drone strikes in Pakistan, US defence secretary Leon Panetta stated that "This [policy] is about our sovereignty as well". His comment came in response to claims by Pakistan that their sovereignty is at risk as a result of the drone attacks. Despite the wild suggestion that the sovereignty of the world's military superpower could be at risk from this tribal region of northern Pakistan, the BBC chose to highlight Panetta's claim, adding to the report the sub-headline (appearing midway through) '"Our Sovereignty"'.
The article, appearing on 6 June, following two weeks of heavy drone strikes on Pakistan, ran with the headline 'Pentagon chief Panetta defends Pakistan drone strikes'. It would be hard to imagine a similar headline from the BBC if another world power such as Russia or China were to undertake a policy of assassination in the territory of another country – particularly if the orders came from the top, from the President’s own ‘kill list’, as is the case with the drone strikes on Pakistan.
The BBC presents the arguments thus: ‘Pakistan says the drone attacks fuel anti-US sentiment and claim civilian casualties along with militants. The US insists the strikes are effective’. The report itself reads almost as a press-release for the Department of Defense, the ‘resentment’ of Pakistani society allowed only the briefest of acknowledgements.
Throughout BBC reporting on the US policy of drone warfare, the ‘effectiveness’ of the attacks is a primary consideration. Where arguments against the strikes are noted (acknowledging that the policy ‘is highly controversial’) the BBC presents as counter-argument the priority of those advocates of drone strikes; the capability for the US to ‘eliminate its enemies’, as Frank Gardner put it.