Yesterday I spotted another one the many U.S. drone strike stories–the story I read was published by MSNBC. These stories are incredibly predictable: U.S. drones launched an attack that killed a group of people from the Middle East who are presumed to be bad people despite the fact that we have no idea who these victims were. The witnesses and the victims are unnamed. The source of the entire story could well be the U.S. military, which has no idea who the dead people are and, in fact, has been repeatedly caught claiming that the dead people were threats to America (through the use of the word “militant”) when many, if not all of them turned out to be innocent people, including children.
And, of course, there is no information about how the local people acted. They should be outraged, because, according to the story, unknown people were killed from the sky by the U.S., which has repeatedly outraged the government of Pakistan for such conduct in the past. For all we know, this attack, like so many other attacks, has angered the people, causing them to swear revenge against the United States. But you’d have no idea of whether this attack advanced the interests of the U.S. or hurt U.S. interests. This is a prototypical sterile story about the U.S. using its high tech weaponry to preserve freedom, or so this immensely obeisant and gappy story suggests. The U.S. doesn’t know who was killed, even long after the fact, because the U.S. doesn’t care. If they cared, they would quickly announce who the dead people were and tell U.S. citizens the “bad” things these people did to deserve to die such a fiery death, often in the presence of their children.
I’d like to give a lot of credit for what follows to Glenn Greenwald, who has repeatedly pointed out that these drone strikes are usually nothing but propaganda, and that the word “militant” is used as follows: Any person killed by a U.S. weapon. With Greenwald’s guidance, I decided to mark up the opening lines of the MSNBC story as if I were an editor reacting to the reporter’s first draft:
What would you think about someone who started shooting a gun from the top of the Empire State Building in order to kill “bad people” walking on the sidewalks below? Assume that he could tell very little, if anything, about the people he was killing. Also assume that when we asked him to justify how he knew he was shooting “bad people” he asked us to trust him and questioned our loyalty to the United States to the extent we doubted him. Now consider America’s largely indiscriminate killings using its huge fleet of drones. Glenn Greenwald puts it in perspective:
After I linked to [a New York Times] Op-Ed yesterday on Twitter — by writing that “every American who cheers for drone strikes should confront the victims of their aggression” — I was predictably deluged with responses justifying Obama’s drone attacks on the ground that they are necessary to kill The Terrorists. Reading the responses, I could clearly discern the mentality driving them: I have never heard of 99% of the people my government kills with drones, nor have I ever seen any evidence about them, but I am sure they are Terrorists. That is the drone mentality in both senses of the word; it’s that combination of pure ignorance and blind faith in government authorities that you will inevitably hear from anyone defending President Obama’s militarism . . . . As it turns out, it isn’t only the President’s drone-cheering supporters who have no idea who is being killed by the program they support; neither does the CIA itself. A Wall Street Journal article yesterday described internal dissension in the administration to Obama’s broad standards for when drone strikes are permitted, and noted that the “bulk” of the drone attacks — the bulk of them – “target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.” As Spencer Ackerman put it: “The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups.”
Take a look at Greenwald’s article to get a feel for what it is like for innocent families to live in terror of attack by drones. I wrote on this topic recently, actually twice, and I find it profoundly disturbing that this sort of sky-adjudication and killing is being done in my name by our large staff of predator pilots.
The way we are fighting our ongoing drone “war” appears incompatible with a genuine attempt to seek lasting peace. We don’t have any confidence that we are killing people who threaten the United States. Shame on us.
What’s it like to kill human beings by dropping bombs with the push of buttons on your computer keyboard 7,000 miles away? Imaging doing this every work day, then driving home to hug your wife and kids every night. This video from FrontLine will give you a good idea of what it’s like. Whatever your emotional reaction to this form of “warfare,” you will find someone agreeing with you (and disagreeing with you) in the comments following the video.
If our enemies were using robotic planes to drop bombs on American soil, I suspect that we’d be outraged, much more than by conventional warfare. This is certainly a sterile way of war, no matter how much the supervisors remind the pilots that they are killing human beings.
If I understood why we are at “war” in Afghanistan and Iraq, maybe then I could understand whether these drones are furthering our “war objectives.”
Erich’s comment on my post about the increasing use of contractors as warfighters reminded me of a couple of issues that I had forgotten to raise.
First, the use of these contractors also makes is easier possible for the Executive Branch to fight unpopular wars. CNN released a poll yesterday showing that the oppostion to the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time high, and even über-conservative George Will has said it’s now “Time to get out of Afghanistan.” Imagine how much more forcefully the nation would be calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan if the draft had to be re-instated in order to continue to attempt to impose our will on Afghanistan. Jeremy Scahill reports that
According to new statistics released by the Pentagon, with Barack Obama as commander in chief, there has been a 23% increase in the number of “Private Security Contractors” working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which “correlates to the build up of forces” in the country….
Overall, contractors (armed and unarmed) now make up approximately 50% of the “total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility].” This means there are a whopping 242,657 contractors working on these two US wars.