Posts Tagged ‘Killer Drones’

The Obama revolution in military affairs

August 1, 2013

President Barack Obama’s commitment to warfare by means of flying killer drones and secret special forces may have accomplished what Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld failed to achieve in the Bush administration.

Rumsfeld sought to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome”—the reluctance of the American people, based on sad experience, to commit to long-term wars on the continent of Asia.   The replacement of the military draft by an all-volunteer army was supposed to accomplish this, but, unfortunately from the standpoint of the administration, even members of a volunteer army have families, friends and neighbors who don’t want to see them go into harm’s way for no understandable purpose.

droneattackobamaUnder President Obama and probably under his successors, the United States is unlikely to become involved in long-term struggles in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  Instead the prime tool of the U.S. military will be the flying killer drone.   Nobody ever held a funeral for a flying drone, or wondered whether the drone was sacrificed in vain.

What can’t be accomplished by drones will be done by the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite force tasked with carrying out the execution of President Obama’s kill lists.

What JSOC can’t accomplish will be done by U.S.-armed local insurgents, as in Libya and Syria.  While the latter have their own agendas, which aren’t necessarily the same as the U.S. government’s, this is offset by the fact that the bodies of dead insurgents won’t come home to the United States in flag-draped caskets.

Years ago I was a member of a prisoner adoption group for Amnesty International.  We conducted letter-writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience, which were highly embarrassing to dictators around the world.  One of the successes of my group was Jacobo Timmerman, a brave Argentine editor.

The response of the Agentine and other Latin American dictatorships was not to create death squads and arrange for their opponents to be “disappeared”, so there no longer were any prisoners to protest.  As Stalin once said, “No person, no problem.”

Obama’s flying killer robots accomplish the same goal.  Instead of grabbing someone and bringing them to Guantanamo Bay, his forces simply reduce the person to a bug splat with the killer drone.  There are no embarrassing prisoners conducting hunger strikes.  No person, no problem.

The problem with drone warfare is not the technology.  If you have to fight a war, the drones are good weapons to have.  They are not more lethal than the technologies they replace, certainly no worse than the bombing of “suspected Viet Cong strongholds” I was always reading about in the newspapers in the 1960s.

The problem with drone warfare is that it removes the constraints on waging war.  In fact, drone warfare isn’t really like waging war as most people think of it.  It is more like hunting prey, like Sarah Palin’s family shooting wolves from helicopters.

President Obama has recommitted the United States to a “war on terror” that will go on so long as there are people plotting to do harm to Americans.  But there will be people plotting to do harm to Americans so long as children, old people and other bystanders are killed by American killer drones.


Coming clean on drone killings?

May 23, 2013

Attorney-General Eric Holder has revealed the names of four American citizens killed by flying killer drones.  They are the pro-terrorist Muslim cleric Anwar al-Alwaki; Samir Khan, who happened to be nearby when al-Alwaki was killed; Abdulrahman al-Alwaki, Anwar’s 16-year-old son who was killed a few days later; and Juda Kenan Mohammed, about which nothing else is known.

droneattackobamaAnwar al-Alwaki was killed on purpose, because of he reportedly worked with terrorist plotters.  Samir Khan, Abdulrahman al-Alwaki and Juda Kenan Mohammed were killed by accident—”collateral damage.”  I can’t really generalize from a few examples, but if only one out of four victims of Obama’s flying killer drones were actual targets, this does not speak well of the supposed precision of drone strikes.

I think more Americans would be concerned about this if the unintended victims had names such as John Smith, Patrick O’Riley or Karl Andersen.   We need to remember that what can be done to people with dark skins and Arabic names can be done to people with light skins and European names (not that the latter is worse than the former).

Holder’s memo says the Obama administration’s policy is only to assassinate American citizens if they are on foreign soil and if (1) they pose an “imminent threat of violent attack” against the United States, (2) capture is not feasible and (3) the attack is conducted in accordance with the law of war.   The law of war requires that (a) killing is required by military necessity, (b) civilians are not intentionally targeted, (c) collateral damage does not exceed the military value of the operation and (d) the type of weapons used do not inflict unnecessary harm.

He gives a bill of particulars against Anwar al-Alwaki which makes a strong case that al-Alwaki was an “enemy combatant” and deserved to be targeted under these criteria—although there are observers who dispute his facts, and al-Alwaki himself, laboring under the disadvantage of being dead, is not able to give his side of the story.

Read Holder’s letter as a lawyer would.  Note that his criteria refer only to the killing of American citizens abroad.  There is nothing in the letter to limit drone killings of foreigners abroad.  In particular, there is nothing to limit the “signature strikes” killings people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia based on suspicious patterns of behavior—what you might call “walking while Muslim.”

I was struck by the supercilious tone of the letter.   Holder appears to feel that the Obama administration really wasn’t obligated to reveal the names of the four dead Americans, and that it has gone above and beyond its duty of transparency to satisfy critics in the Senate.

Actually, this stance is politically shrewd.  Obama and Holder don’t absolutely refuse to disclose what the administration is doing, but they make it as difficult as possible to obtain the most minor bits of information.  With each disclosure, the temptation for Congress must be to declare victory for transparency and give up.

When I raise questions like this, friends point to earlier periods of American history, such as the Civil War, World War One and World War Two, when civil liberties were temporarily suspended with no permanent loss of liberty.  But all these conflicts came to an end in a short time, and the country was able to return to normal.   What is different about the “war on terror” is that, on the one hand, the existence of the country is not at risk, but, on the other hand, the war is planned to last for decades and perhaps indefinitely.


Holder Letter on Counterterrorism Strikes Against U.S. Citizensa copy of Eric Holder’s letter to Patrick J. Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Acknowledges Killing 4 Americans in Drone Strikes by Charlie Savage and Peter Baker in the New York Times.

The Audacity of Eric Holder’s Letter by Conor Friedersdorf.

Washington gets explicit: its ‘war on terror’ is permanent by Glenn Greenwald.

Missing the point on drone killings

February 25, 2013
G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

He had … … the trick of dismissing the important part of a question as if it could wait, and appearing to get to business on the unimportant part of it.  Thus, he would say, “Whatever we may think of the rights and wrongs of the vivisection of pauper children, we shall all agree that it should only be done, in any event, by fully qualified practitioners.”

==G.K. Chesterton, The Flying Inn

I heard a version of this kind of argument the other day when I was talking about drone killings to an Obamaphile friend of mine.  My friend, whom I regard as both an intelligent person and a decent human being, argued that for President Obama to order the killing of people by precision flying drones is better than the alternative.  The people in the target areas are better off, he said, than if the United States was dropping napalm and cluster bombs or invading with troops.

Considered as a technology, flying killer drones are of course no worse than other weapons technologies, except they allow the illusion that killing is easy, safe and without consequences.  The question is whether in a supposedly free country, the President should have the power to draw up death warrants and order killings at his sole discretion, like Yuri Andropov in the days of the old Soviet Union.

V.I. Lenin once wrote:  The scientific definition of dictatorship means nothing less but this: power without limit, resting directly on force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules.   If a head of state has the authority to sign death warrants as his sole discretion, what does he lack to fit Lenin’s definition?  If this is accepted, not only President Obama, but every President for the foreseeable future, will lack nothing to exercise the power of a dictator.

Dr. King’s dream vs. Obama’s drones

January 23, 2013


In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attended a gathering in Islamabad where he was taught how to use a video camera so he could document the drones that were constantly circling over his Pakistani village, terrorizing and killing his family and neighbors. Two days later, when Aziz was driving with his 12-year-old cousin to a village near his home in Waziristan to pick up his aunt, his car was struck by a Hellfire missile.  With the push of a button by a pilot at a US base thousands of miles away, both boys were instantly vaporized—only a few chunks of flesh remained.

Afterwards, the US government refused to acknowledge the boys’ deaths or explain why they were targeted. Why should they? This is a covert program where no one is held accountable for their actions.

via People to People Blog.

Tariq Aziz had as much right to live on this earth as Trayvon Martin or the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Murder is murder, whether it is committed with a firearm or a killer missile, or whether by someone acting alone or acting under cloak of governmental authority.

John Brennan, who was President Obama’s chief adviser in drawing up his drone kill lists, is now the President’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency.   Ron Wyden, the Democratic Senator from Oregon, has written to Brennan and to the heads of other government agencies requesting information on the legal justification for the drone killings.  He also requested a list of countries in which the U.S. government is conducting drone killings.  So far he has gotten no response.  The information Wyden requested is hardly a matter of national security—unless you regard the people of the United States as an enemy.

Barack Obama was sworn in to his second term as President of the United States using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s bible.  Dr. King in 1967 called the United States the leading purveyor of violence in the world today.  Honoring the legacy of Dr. King would mean a dedication to peace and social justice.  It means more racially-integrated killer strike forces.

For his second term, President Obama apparently has made a decision to stand up to the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, which is a good thing.  But he continues to be a champion of the real holders of power in this country, especially the secret military-intelligence establishment and the Wall Street financial establishment.

Click on John Brennan vs. Sixteen-Year-Old for the source of the quote on the People-to-People Blog.

Click on Senate hearing for killer-drones master for more by Nat Hentoff.

Click on US military says Martin Luther King would be proud of its weapons and MLK’s vehement condemnations of US militarism are more relevant than ever for more from Glenn Greenwald.

The emerging American police state

October 30, 2012

If you had asked me 15 years ago what head of state would create a secret paramilitary force whose purpose was to execute an expanding list of death warrants into the indefinite future, I would not have said “the United States.”  I might have guessed Russia or China or North Korea or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  I would have said that such a force is a defining characteristic of a totalitarian government.

But in fact, as the Washington Post revealed recently, this is the policy of the United States, as carried out by a supposedly liberal Democrat who holds the Nobel Peace Prize.

The U.S. government has a policy of open-ended undeclared war, implemented by flying killer robot drones.  We have government surveillance in which every message and transaction carried over an electronic network is available to the state.   Our police are being increasingly militarized, as if they are preparing to put down an uprising.

I don’t think George W. Bush or Barack Obama are comparable to Hitler, but between the two of them, they have established an institutional and legal structure in which a Hitler, if he came to power, would lack no power to make his dictatorship total.  If you have the power of life and death without accountability, if you have the power to act in secret and prosecute those who reveal your secret, what power do you lack to be a dictator.  No, I don’t think George W. Bush or Barack Obama are comparable to Hitler, but having lived through their administrations, I find it easier to understand how the German people could come to accept Hitler’s rule as normal.

There are two things I find hard to understand.  Right-wing Republicans think that President Obama is secretly plotting against American constitutional liberties.  Yet these same Republicans are perfectly content to give this same President unlimited, unaccountable life-and-death powers exercised in secret.  They opposed the President’s health care plan because they imagine it would create death panels, yet they support the creation of real death panels.

Liberal Democrats are afraid of what Mitt Romney would do if elected President.  Yet they are content to give the President unlimited, unaccountable, life-and-death powers exercised in secret, as if there never will be a time when these powers are handed over to a right-wing Republican.

Click on Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. plans to keep adding to kill lists for the Washington Post report on the Obama administration’s “disposition matrix”.

Click on Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent for Glenn Greenwald’s analysis.

Click on US legislation targets anyone in the world it deems a threat – that could be you for the larger picture.