Friday, April 24, 2015

The use of drones and after many other civilian deaths, the killing of two hostages

And Malala told the President to stop using drones.

It’s the stuff of nightmares that President Barack Obama, honored early on with a Nobel Peace Prize for good intentions, developed a personal kill list and authorized drone weaponry in the U.S. arsenal. I was as shocked by Obama’s decision to use drones as I was by Dubya’s approval of the CIA’s use of torture under his regime.

In A Brief History of Drones, John Sifton concludes that the “unique technology” of drones “allows the mundane and regular violence of military force to be separated further from human emotion. Drones foreshadow the idea that brutality could become detached from humanity—and yield violence that is, as it were, unconscious.”

Unconscious violence? I guess Sifton was referring to the possibility that a U.S. drone might miss its mark and take out a couple of Western hostages in northern Pakistan; I watched President Obama, our drone master, offer a personal apology for the deaths this morning, and I hope his words ease the pain of the grieving families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. Obama said:

“As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations,” the grim-faced president told reporters as television cameras broadcast his words. “I profoundly regret what happened,” he added. “On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”

Lest we forget – lest we forget – Juan Cole at Informed Comment reminds us:

Contrary to assurances given by President Obama a couple of years ago, the US government admits that it had no idea who it was targeting when it hit that building. Indiscriminate fire is a recognized war crime, and it seems to characterize the US drone program.

These are the figures for the US drone assassination program in Pakistan, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Total strikes: 415
Obama strikes: 364
Total killed: 2,449-3,949
Civilians killed: 423-962
Children killed: 172-207
Injured: 1,144-1,722

That is, as many as a fourth of those killed by US drone assassinations are non-combatants.

Cole continues:

Death by drone is inherently lawless. There is no constitutional or legal framework within which the US government can blow people away at will. For a while in the 1970s through 1990s, assassination was outlawed.

Now it is back, but has taken this freakish form where bureaucrats thousands of miles away fire missiles from large toy airplanes. The US is not at war with Pakistan, so this action is not part of a war effort. You can’t be at war with an organization– a state of war has a technical legal definition.

It took Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, a teenager and also the youngest Nobel Prize winner, to stand up to President Obama about his use of drones. The young social activist said:

"I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees," she said in the statement. "I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."

It would seem, however, that President Obama continues to use drones to pursue those terrorists unfortunate enough to make his secret kill list, plus any civilians who get in the way. What was it that historian John Sifton said about drones – “Drones foreshadow the idea that brutality could become detached from humanity—and yield violence that is, as it were, unconscious.”

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