The Dirtiness of US Drone War
by Debra Sweet Almost 5 years after the spike in U.S. use of targeted killing of people via drone by the Obama administration (thousands have been killed), the United Nations, or rather its special rapporteur Ben Emmerson, has released a report saying these drone strikes by the United States have killed civilians by the hundreds, or more, and should be carried out in accordance with international law.
Anyone wanting a ringing condemnation of how utterly wrong it is for the United States to use killer robots flown from 8,000 miles away, attacking people on the basis of suspected patterns of behavior (a "signature" drone strike) and on the President's order will read this and be outraged. The personal stories of family members obliterated in seconds, with only parts to be buried, shock the conscience, as war crimes do. But let's speak the truth and call them war crimes, not just cry for "accountability."
Joining the United Nations in criticizing U.S. drone strikes – to a point – are Amnesty International “Will I Be Next?” and Human Rights Watch, "Between a Drone and al Qaeda" each of whom issued their own reports this week. These reports come out just ahead of a debate at the U.N. Friday October 25 on the use of drones, and of the visit of Pakistan's Prime Minister Sharif, who told Obama today to end the drone strikes in Pakistan, while no doubt also appealing to him for more military aid.
Kevin Gosztola describes the Amnesty report in Drone Victims Recount Horror of Follow-Up Strikes Launched Against People Rescuing Wounded. Actual reporting and documentary footage are beginning to show us the victims. See Madiha Tahir's Woulds of Waziristan and Robert Greenwald/Brave New Films Living Under Drones.
I agree with David Swanson, who wrote today in A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized:
Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn't come up.
There is more compelling evidence of the dirtiness of drone war from Brandon Bryant, the former U.S. Air Force drone pilot who quit in 2011 after almost six years on teams carrying out targeted killing and surveillance in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly from drone control consoles at U.S. bases. He was told that during his 6,000 hours of flight time, 1,626 targets were killed, which made him "sick to his stomach." In an interviewed published today in GQ magazine by Matthew Power, Confessions of a Drone Warrior:
In the early months Bryant had found himself swept up by the Big Game excitement when someone in his squadron made “mind-blowingly awesome shots, situations where these guys were bad guys and needed to be taken out.” But a deep ambivalence about his work crept in. Often he’d think about what life must be like in those towns and villages his Predators glided over, like buzzards riding updrafts. How would he feel, living beneath the shadow of robotic surveillance? “Horrible,” he says now.
CNN reports that:
Bryant says that during his time monitoring drones' cameras and aiming its laser targeting system, he became numb and carried out the job in "zombie mode." When he left the Air Force in the spring of 2011 -- after nearly six years -- he says he turned down a $109,000 bonus to continue operating the drones.
Some children wounded by drone strikes will be in Congress Tuesday October 29 telling their stories, although Shazad Akbar, their attorney, has not been given a visa to come. We shall see what happens with that testimony, which I hope reaches the people living here, as it will be lost on those in this Congress, Democrat and Republican, who revel in their dirty wars.
I heard Davis Swanson speak Wednesday in NYC, where he said
The primary problem with weaponized drones is that the weapons murder people. And they murder people in a way that looks more like murder to a lot of observers than other forms of military murder do -- such as murder by indiscriminate bombing or artillery or infantry or dropping white phosphorous on people. When President Obama looks through a list of men, women, and children at a Tuesday terror meeting, and picks which ones to murder, and has them murdered, you can call it a war or not call it a war, but it begins to look to a lot of people like murder.
Murder carried out by a murderous system.
Debra Sweet is the director of World Can't Wait, and blogs at debra.worldcantwait.net.