Brown Lives Matter, too. (Book Excerpt)

Excerpt from We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age., chapter 6: “The New Banality of Killing,” pp. 133-154. References (in parentheses) are available in this free audiobook supplement.

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‘The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.’

–US President Barack Obama, 14 July 2013 (142)

 

‘“Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.’

–US Attorney General Eric Holder, 2009–14 (143)

 

ONLY LEGITIMATE SELF-DEFENSE exonerates a killer within civil society. Consider the controversial case of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in a Florida criminal court on all charges of wrongdoing in the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black adolescent shot dead during a fight with the defendant on 26 February 2012. The details of the case were hazy – whether Zimmerman had pursued and provoked Martin, which then led to a scuffle that culminated in Zimmerman’s firing of his gun.

Whatever errors of judgment Zimmerman may have made in the moments leading up to the death, the ultimate question for the jurors came down to this: Did Zimmerman intend to kill Martin, or was he acting only in self-defense? Zimmerman was working as a neighborhood watch patrolman, out on the prowl for suspicious activities. Recent perpetrators of crimes in the area had reportedly been young black males. The family and supporters of Trayvon Martin portrayed him as an entirely innocent teenager who was not violating the law in any way but only walking home from a store. The defense attorneys maintained that Martin attacked Zimmerman, and the ensuing fight resulted in the tragic drawing of the killer’s gun to shoot the victim. By following Martin and getting out of his vehicle to confront him, Zimmerman disobeyed the police, who had instructed the neighborhood watch scout to stay put, as they were on their way. By the time the police arrived on the scene, Martin was already dead, and Zimmerman’s head was dripping with blood. Who was at fault in this case?

The overwhelming fogginess of what transpired on the day of Trayvon Martin’s death is precisely why the jury returned a not guilty verdict. A murder suspect tried in a US criminal court is not to be sentenced unless his culpability has been established in all of the jurors’ minds beyond a reasonable doubt. There were open, unanswered questions in the Zimmerman case. Photographs showed that the defendant had suffered head injuries, presumably caused by what became his victim. There have been cases in history where killers inflicted injury upon themselves in order to establish a pretext for a plea of self-defense. Barring that possibility, only the survivor’s version of the story remained, which appeared to be confirmed by the physical evidence. According to Zimmerman, Martin bashed his head against the concrete ground. It can hardly be denied that the physical fight between the two young men was made possible by Zimmerman’s decision to leave his truck rather than wait for the police to arrive. Nonetheless, the defendant’s plea of not guilty and the explanation given for his use of deadly force in self-defense were accepted by the jurors after weighing all available evidence.

The ‘Stand Your Ground’ policy said to justify Zimmerman’s use of a gun in the state of Florida bears some similarity to the felony murder rule. If a policeman mistakenly shoots an innocent bystander during an armed robbery, then the criminal, not the policeman, is said to be responsible for the death. If the robber had not been in the process of committing a crime, then the policeman would never have reached for his gun. The Trayvon Martin case was highly controversial because the victim was not committing any crime, but his pursuer suspected that he might be, given reports of recent thefts in the area. To many people, Zimmerman’s behavior smacked of racial profiling, a notorious problem for African Americans, as they have often been singled out for special scrutiny solely on the basis of the color of their skin.

In the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, President Barack Obama soberly observed to the American people that ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me thirty-five years ago.’(144) What the US president appears not to have recognized is that he might also have been the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was killed under Obama’s authority by a Predator drone-delivered missile on 14 October 2011. Both slain teenagers had brown skin, and they were about the same age – Abdulrahman was sixteen years old; Trayvon was seventeen. At the time of his death, Anwar al-Awlaki’s son was with a group of friends at an open-air barbecue in Shabwah, Yemen. All of them were obliterated. Why did this happen?

When asked about the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, blurted out: ‘I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their children. I don’t think becoming an Al-Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.’(145) This glib and in some ways nonsensical response well illustrates what has become the banality of killing inherent to the Predator drone program. Gibbs’ reply seemed to imply that the crimes of the elder Al-Awlaki were the reason for the killing of his son. Would the reason, then, for the deaths of the others present at the time be, according to Gibbs, that they should have chosen a friend who had chosen a more responsible father? Several innocent, unarmed, brownskinned teenagers were destroyed by a Predator drone-delivered missile as they prepared to eat their dinner. Any one of those adolescents might have been Barack Hussein Obama.

Various theories about the case of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki have been floated. Unfortunately, the most plausible is simply that Obama’s secret ‘kill committee’ – the small group of men who convened behind closed doors on ‘Terror Tuesdays’ for meetings chaired by targeted killing ‘czar’ John Brennan to watch PowerPoint presentations on ‘nominees’ to the US government hit list – decided to squelch a possible burgeoning terrorist before he had the chance to become one.(146) Abdulrahman’s father had recently been hunted down and killed by the CIA, and if anything can drive formerly non-violent young men into the arms of anti-American groups such as Al Qaeda, it is their personal experience of having lost a close friend or family member to a US missile. The young Al-Awlaki had only just turned sixteen years of age at the time of his death. Was this coincidental? Or was Al-Awlaki’s son deemed fair game for targeting, having suddenly come of military age, as stipulated by his killers? What explains the silence of Barack Obama on the fate of brown-skinned Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, when it was every bit as tragic as the death of Trayvon Martin?

In truth, it is difficult to imagine why a committee capable of defining all males from the ages of sixteen to fifty in ‘hostile’ territories as combatants worthy of summary execution might harbor any scruples about snuffing out the progeny of men long on the government’s hit list. That the Predator drone program administrators may have intentionally assassinated the son of Anwar al-Awlaki becomes even more plausible in view of the fact that Khalid, the unarmed son of Osama bin Laden, was executed along with his father during the May 2011 raid on the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. No attempt was made to capture Bin Laden’s son, nor to incapacitate him.(147) Was Bin Laden’s son guilty of any crimes? The world may never know. He was ‘guilty’ of being Osama bin Laden’s son, just as Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was ‘guilty’ of being Anwar al-Awlaki’s son. One thing is certain: neither son had anything whatsoever to do with what transpired on 11 September 2001, as both were children at the time.

The George Zimmerman–Trayvon Martin case is an apt metaphor for both preemptive war and targeted killing, for the latter is essentially micro-preemptive war. Zimmerman’s explanation for having fired his gun on the unarmed Martin was that he was afraid that Martin would reach for and use the gun. If Zimmerman, a neighborhood scout in a Florida program designed to counter local crime, had not been in possession of a loaded gun, then Martin would not have been killed on that day. Likewise, if not for the advent of a new technology, the Predator drone, the son of Anwar al-Awlaki and his friends in Yemen would not have been slain. Would any of them ever have developed the desire and found the means to attack the people of the United States? It seems unlikely and is a matter of pure conjecture. The vast majority of people who dissent from US military practices never end up wielding deadly violence against any other human being, whether American or not.

President Obama did not devise the policy of ‘signature strikes’, which involves ending the lives of persons who fit the criteria of a ‘disposition matrix’. In ‘crowd killing’, all military-age males in ‘hostile’ areas are defined as fair game for targeting. What is surprising is that Obama, a brown-skinned male very familiar with the problem of racial profiling in the United States, somehow failed to recognize that signature strikes and crowd killing are essentially forms of racial profiling. The signature strike practice was developed by the CIA near the end of the Bush administration, but Obama accepted and proceeded vastly to expand the Predator drone killing program. Under Obama’s leadership, thousands of people were destroyed by Hellfire missiles. The morally dubious definition of all military-age males as combatants in designated areas of the world – persons who happen also to have brown skin – may not have achieved the magnitude of a full-scale genocide, but the logic bears an eerie resemblance to that of genocidal killers.

To see the parallels between signature strikes and racial genocide, it suffices to consider how a Nazi administrator such as Adolf Eichmann might take the reasoning of the US Department of Justice White Paper to ‘justify’ the annihilation of the Jewish people. Simply substitute ‘the Jews’ for ‘Al-Qaeda’ and ‘Germany’ for ‘the United States’, and a ‘legal pretext’ for the Holocaust emerges:

Der Führer has authority to respond to the imminent threat posed by the Jews and their associated forces, arising from his constitutional responsibility to protect the country, the inherent right of the German state to national self-defense under international law … As detailed in this White Paper, in defined circumstances, a targeted killing of a German citizen who is a Jew or collaborates with the Jews would be lawful under German and international law. Targeting a member of an enemy force who poses an imminent threat of violent attack to Germany is not unlawful. It is a lawful act of national self-defense. Nor would it violate otherwise applicable federal laws barring unlawful killings … Moreover, a lethal operation in a foreign nation would be consistent with international legal principles of sovereignty and neutrality if it were conducted, for example, with the consent of the host nation’s government or after a determination that the host nation is unable or unwilling to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.
Were the target of a lethal operation a German citizen who may have rights under the German Constitution, that individual’s citizenship would not immunize him from a lethal operation.

All of the justificatory work in the White Paper is underpinned by the assumption that the evil enemy is hatching schemes to destroy the nation claiming the right to self defense. The ‘imminent threat’ is an idea in the mind of administrators and not subject to denial. The Nazis denigrated the Jews as wicked threats to their nation and the German people. If such a Nazi reading of the White Paper would not legitimate the Holocaust, then the pretext is equally bogus for the extermination of brown-skinned suspects who ‘behave’ as terrorists might.

Genocide involves defining entire classes of people as worthy of execution not for anything which they themselves have done, but because of identifying properties which they share. Obama’s shortterm political success at appearing ‘strong on national defense’ by expanding the Predator drone program can be expected to serve as a long-term precedent to be invoked by leaders even more thorough and determined than the current US administration to ‘wipe out’ their enemies as defined by themselves. If the world is a battlefield, as advocates of targeted killing maintain, then why not eliminate all Islamists between the ages of sixteen and fifty? Why stop with the males? Do not brown-skinned females in that same age group give birth to all of these evil terrorists?(148) And why focus only on the people of Third World nations? What about Canadian and European Islamists? What about American Islamists? Most of those people have brown skin.

The rebranding by the Obama administration of assassination as a military practice (dubbed ‘targeted killing’) was undoubtedly intended as part of the new president’s endeavor to avoid the sorts of full-scale wars in which his predecessor had embroiled the nation, particularly in Iraq. The ‘light footprint’ strategy has been seen by commentators in Obama’s decision to use drones in hundreds of cases to kill rather than capture suspected terrorists. The long-term, global consequences of this policy will eventually become clear when other nations and groups point to the US example in executing without trial their avowed enemies one by one. Among the burgeoning non-US drone warriors, heads of state will follow their role model in insisting that such killing is permitted by the ‘self-defense’ clause of the Charter of the United Nations.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that no one in the US administration appears to have recognized that normalizing a practice formerly considered to be taboo – and prohibited by international law according to two successive United Nations Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston and Christof Heyns – will embolden and fortify factions and ‘lone wolf’ operators much more than military states.(149) Subnational and transnational factions have access to neither state-supported military institutions nor formal judicial systems. By transmitting the message that assassination has suddenly become morally permissible, a part of ‘just war’, it seems quite likely that jihadists, too, will be spurred on to conduct themselves more along the lines of assassins than soldiers. If even the soldiers of well-established, formal military institutions have become snipers at a distance, hiding in the shadows and dispatching their victims without warning and with no provision for the possibility of surrender, then there would no longer seem to be any distinction between those killers and the sorts of persons who undertake to assassinate heads of state.

If the most militarily powerful nation on the planet is permitted to have its ‘Terror Tuesdays’, it is difficult to see why the leaders of nondemocratic nations and dissenting factions might refrain from doing the same. The apparent short-term tactical success of the Predator drone program is likely to prove illusory and may well lead to longterm strategic failure, just as has happened in Israel, where targeted killing was also normalized by the government. Without formal declarations of war, the targeted killings perpetrated in several different lands could not have taken place in the twentieth century – at least not according to the official story of what the US government does. Assassinations of leaders regarded as hostile to US interests were attempted before the drone age, but under a cloak of secrecy in deniable missions or black ops. The rebranding of assassination as a standard military practice has resulted in untoward side effects far transcending the execution without trial of persons mistakenly believed by their killers to be guilty of capital crimes. In Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and other countries with which the United States is not officially at war, the lives of other people, known to be innocent, have been ruined – the so-called collateral damage inevitable during wartime – despite the fact that they do not inhabit declared war zones.

The category of collateral damage has been at once expanded and contracted by a technological development conjoined with linguistic artifice. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on, and ‘highvalue targets’ became more and more scarce, the drone program executors began working with yet another new definition. This time, civilian was defined to exclude males from the ages of sixteen to fifty. The very fact that the killers themselves should redefine a term integral to the concept of collateral damage so as to exculpate themselves from wrongdoing suggests that the concept of collateral damage, invoked in military reports of the deaths of innocent people, may itself have been suspect all along.

In reality, there are two forms of collateral damage: first-order collateral damage, which destroys innocent people; and second-order collateral damage, which is the resultant harm to survivors on the ground.(150) The Predator drone killing program is said by its promoters to ‘project power without projecting vulnerability’, but the true price paid in blood spilled can be measured in the perspectives of those who survive the drone attacks but are deprived of their loved ones and community members. By 2012, 74 percent of Pakistanis surveyed described the United States as their enemy.(151) The northwestern provinces have been beset by hundreds of missiles delivered by drones which lurk menacingly above the homes of suspects and innocent persons alike.

In terms of their deleterious psychological effects, Predator drones offer the same pseudo-discrimination as other weapons of war. According to Usama Khilji:

Drones produce a monotonous buzz, almost like the sound of a generator, which together with the uncertainty that comes with the perpetual fear of missile strikes have had an immense psychological impact on the population … Local doctors have
declared many adults mentally unfit due to the effect drones have had on them.(152)

Even if they are not eventually going to be killed by them, all of the people on the ground are terrorized by drones. Some among the survivors will find violent outlets for their sorrow, fear and rage. The case of Pakistan is in some ways even more perplexing than Afghanistan and Iraq, because there are no US troops on the ground (wrongly or not) who can be said to require the protection provided by weaponized Predator drones. There appears to be no recognition among US leaders (whether military or political, which were conflated in both the Bush and the Obama administrations) that what supposedly made killing in war, including collateral damage, permissible was that it had become – or at the very least seemed to be – a last resort. Killing men in possession of firearms in lands far away, men who pose no direct threat to US citizens and who in fact share the American belief in the right to bear arms, is hypocritical to say the least.

The Trayvon Martin–George Zimmerman case is relevant in this regard as well. Far from strengthening potential victims’ state of security, ‘Stand Your Ground’ policies expand what is said to be the reasonable use of deadly force in every case where a gun is present and the person who fires the weapon feels in some sense threatened. The policy ends by inverting the burden of proof while simultaneously endangering unarmed and innocent people. Rather than having to demonstrate that he was justified in wielding deadly force, the defendant needs only to demonstrate that he lacked the intention to murder his victim. The burden of proof favors the killer, since it is much more difficult to establish an intention to murder than to prove that the use of deadly force was not unreasonable from the shooter’s perspective, invariably skewed by the state of fear in which he was laboring, as evidenced by the very fact that he drew his gun.

Policies such as ‘Stand Your Ground’ reveal that the military’s lethal centrism has seeped into domestic law, transforming the criteria for what constitutes the justifiable use of deadly force even within civil society. Any doubts about what might be termed the ‘military turn’ in law enforcement were put to rest by the events in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of another young black male, Michael Brown, by a white police officer on 9 August 2014. Massive protests were met by a police force empirically indistinguishable from a military corps.(153) Police departments all over the United States have been the recipients of equipment fit for the ‘boots on the ground’ battles so unpalatable to Americans, including President Obama. With drones at the commander in chief’s disposal, and a willingness to dispatch suspects anywhere at any time, the hardware of ground warfare, such as armored tanks and grenade launchers, has become less and less necessary, if not irrelevant, to most conflicts abroad. As a result, much of this battle-ready equipment has been transferred to local police departments for their use in maintaining law and order in the homeland. Martial law is very different from domestic criminal law.

Police officers dressed and equipped as combat soldiers may come to conduct themselves as though fighting on a battlefield, not protecting the citizenry – and all the more when some among the force happen also to be veterans, as they often are. Just as in drone strikes, in a domestic case such as that of Trayvon Martin, what comes to matter is not the reality of who the person was, but the perception of him by his killer. Zimmerman accosted Martin under the assumption that he was a criminal, when in fact he was nothing of the kind. But because this was Zimmerman’s belief at the time when he fired his gun, he was acquitted of wrongful killing. His legal team succeeded in persuading the jury that the defendant had acted not with malicious intent but out of fear for his own life. True, he might have shot Martin in the foot, not the chest, but the fearful state in which Zimmerman acted is said to explain that faulty judgment, too.

A wave of anger spread across the United States in response to the not guilty verdict in Zimmerman’s trial because Trayvon Martin was not a robber at all, nor was he armed. Had Martin been engaged in violent criminal activities, then any death caused, including his own, would have been his fault, following the felony murder rule. Instead, Trayvon Martin was just a teenager walking peacefully down the street. In the absence of witnesses with competing narratives, the survivor’s, not the victim’s, version of the story prevails, just as in warfare: the victors write history. A neighborhood watch program which results in the slaughter of innocent residents has reflections also in the deaths of civilians caused by blowback retaliation against military practices abroad, such as occurred on 11 September 2001. It can be reasonably predicted that further such crimes will arrive later on down the line as a direct result of the Predator drone program applied with such ruthlessness and zeal in places thousands of miles away from the US homeland.

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The Army *really* wants YOU to become a government contract killer!

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One might have thought, with the advent of remote-control killing and combatant-free warfare, that it would be the easiest thing in the world to lure new recruits into the military in the twenty-first century, especially given the rapidity with which entire professions continue to disappear. Where in the world can a young person find a well-paying, salaried position with good benefits, a pension package—and even healthcare? Where else can one find a job guaranteed NEVER to disappear, no matter what future technology may bring?

All of those perks, and the progressive removal of soldierly risk from the war equation, have still not sufficed to fill the ranks, even as the Iraq fiasco fades fast from popular cultural memory. Witness the British Army’s recently launched, bold marketing campaign, which targets, well, anyone! You may be the Class Clown, a Me-Me-Me Millennial, an i-phone Zombie, a Selfie Addict, a Binge Gamer, or even a Snowflake! Sure, the personality traits often corresponding to those types–irresponsibility, narcissism, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), ADHD (attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder), and excessive sensitivity–may have disqualified prospective enlistees in the twentieth century. But no more!

What used to be vices have become, in the Drone Age, reimagined as virtues!

 

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It comes as no surprise, of course, that military recruiters are targeting gamers and I-phone zombies. What the twenty-first century warrior needs, above all, is the ability to stare at a screen in a small, dark room, for many hours a day. Binge Gamers have the added credential of having already spent thousands of hours of their life attempting to “light up” icons on their computer screens. Why not put this skill to work in lighting up real live human beings????

 

But there is room in the technologically advanced, twenty-first-century Killing Machine military for Me-Me-Me Millennials and Selfie Addicts, too! Who better to recruit to erase other people–designated by someone somewhere as “evil”–from existence? Why it’s a dream come true for any self-respecting narcissist: you can play God Almighty, possessing the power to wipe other people from the face of the planet with the push of a button!

 

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And it’s always good to have someone on hand with a sense of humor–as “towel heads” and “Hadjis”, “rats”, “mice”, “rabbits”, and “bugs” are systematically snuffed out, or “splashed”–to remind stodgier types present that “This wasn’t a bake sale,” and “You know what’s going on in the BadaBing!” Hooaah!

 

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The surest sign that things are not going so well in the recruitment departments of modern military institutions is that they are now reaching out, improbably, to Snowflakes as well! But there is an explanation for this, too. First, Snowflakes like safe spaces. What could be safer than a hermetically sealed metal shipping container located in a desert thousands of miles away from the battlefield? And should the Snowflake experience any compunction whatsoever about what he or she has done, that will be remedied immediately with a liberal dose of some of the latest and greatest pharmaceutical developments being lavished upon modern soldiers, both on and off “the battlefield”: antidepressants, anti-anxiety antidotes, antipsychotic meds used for off-label conditions such as insomnia, the sky is the limit–the list goes on and on!

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Sin-eaters or Sociopaths? Thoughts on watching The Bourne Legacy again

 

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I believe that I have now watched The Bourne Legacy (dir. Tony Gilroy, 2012) four times. I have undoubtedly watched the other entries in the Jason Bourne series at least that many times as well, but the opening scenes of The Bourne Legacy, in particular, are rich in lethal drone content and invariably impel me to begin formulating the plan to compose an essay, though it usually gets shunted down my list of things to make and do for a later date. Not this time.

Last night I watched The Bourne Legacy again and recalled why the film seems so important to me. It depicts a very frightening world, not unlike that of You Can Leave, where the US government has grown several layers of shadow bureaucracies beyond the ability of any individual to attempt to penetrate and expose without paying the ultimate price–and in all likelihood for naught, given the fail-safe security mechanisms firmly in place.

DroneOperatorsBourneLegacyThe reason why this film is so important in the Drone Age is not merely the obvious fact that drones are used in the early part of the story to home in on and extrajudicially incinerate people in the US homeland. The eerily clinical demeanor of the drone operators depicted and the assiduousness with which they hunt down their human targets in not just double-tap but triple-tap strikes are certainly a cause for pause–wherever the victims happen to be located. But even granting that unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) have as much (or little) legitimacy as manned aerial combat vehicles, drones do seem to possess a peculiar potential for abuse, given that they can be deployed without implicating the killers–or those who hire them to kill.

It has already been established that persons in the position to nominate targets to US government “kill lists” (of which there are at least three) are fully prepared to include Americans among their quarry, denying them not only their right to life but all of their civil rights as well. Anwar al-Awlaki may or may not have deserved to die, but those on high who killed him believed that he did, and that alone sufficed for them to be able to take his life with little protest from the citizens who paid for the hit. We still do not know why his son, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, was also killed by a drone, for the story was effectively buried under a thick blanket of “State Secrets Privilege”.

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It is beyond dispute that the US government has covert doings underway, as evidenced by the very existence of the CIA and also the Black Budget, about which many US citizens appear to be ignorant. Generously funded covert programs, being conducted in near total secrecy, with participants apprised only of information on a “need to know” basis, effectively furnish a small group of zealous bureaucrats with the ability to commit murder and mayhem at their behest, and according to their caprice, eliminating anyone anywhere who strikes them as threatening–in any sense. The Bourne Legacy, along with all of the other Jason Bourne films, underscores how such programs can remain in the shadows, metastasizing in pernicious ways because they are not subject to oversight and are completely opaque, impenetrably protected by a pretext of national security.

Once established, such programs easily elude any possible control, because those who run the programs–invariably self-proclaimed “patriots”–regard themselves as defending the institution qua organ of the US government. They do not seem to recognize that, in fact, kill squads and assassinations painted as suicides, heart attacks, strokes, and accidents of various sorts have no place in any government which claims to be a constitutional republic with democratic underpinnings. Instead, these are the means and methods of autocrats, despots and degenerates, and they come to be wielded by banality of evil-types who appear actually to believe that “Everything is permitted,” for they are, as the Edward Norton character explains, self-styled “sin-eaters” and regard themselves as doing what is “morally indefensible” but “absolutely necessary”. Of course, they are deeply mired in self-delusion, but who in the world could convince them of that?
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Anyone who attempts to criticize such systems is painted as a traitor, which is precisely why the plight of whistleblowers in recent times has been dire. The inevitable corruption of such systems makes matters even worse, given the fallible nature of human beings, who are easily lured into complicity and then forever shackled to the crimes of their past, which the perpetrators will commit further crimes in order to cover up. When “Everything is permitted,” in the mind of a person empowered to act in secrecy and with absolute impunity, there are no limits to what can and will be done, all on the taxpayer’s dime. It’s really quite remarkable.

All of the Jason Bourne movies offer trenchant criticisms of the CIA and the types of persons who rise to lead such an organization (torturers, pathological liars, and despicable human beings more generally), but The Bourne Legacy presents an especially unsettling scenario because the people being eliminated have not in fact posed any threat to the system of which they are a part. They have given no indication whatsoever of any potential for whistleblowing or other forms of what may be regarded as “treachery” but are considered dangerous in virtue of their knowledge alone, despite its compartmentalized nature. Even when there seems little likelihood that they would divulge any of what they do know to anyone, they are determined by the powers that be to require “elimination” in order to preclude that possibility in the future.

This approach, the preemptive thwarting of potential future threats is highly relevant to the Drone Age. In the US drone program, thousands of suspects have been killed preemptively in order to fend off the very possibility that they might perpetrate terrorist acts in the future. Meanwhile, all of the bereft and maimed survivors–millions of persons living under lethal drones–have been terrorized not potentially but actually, in reality, by the US killing machine.

In The Bourne Legacy, the corrupt administrators, like those in all of the earlier Jason Bourne films, view themselves as “tying off” programs with the potential for implicating themselves in  malfeasance. They opt to whack everyone involved rather than take the chance that any one of the participants might decide to testify before Congress about the latest executive branch overreach. As shocking as such an idea may seem, in fact, combat soldiers are regularly sacrificed in similar ways for wars which never needed to be waged.

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A terrifying array of crimes are committed under the aegis of the US government in The Bourne Legacy: the distribution of lethal “supplements” to operatives who suddenly and “inexplicably” die shortly thereafter; the planting of stories in the mainstream media to discredit possible future whistleblowers; the attempted “suiciding” of a research scientist who has worked in an innocuous capacity, measuring operatives’ bodily changes as they are “redesigned” using drugs and viral modifications of DNA; the commandeering of one member of the research group to “go postal” and kill all of the rest of the members of the group (himself included) in what is made to seem to be some sort of equally “inexplicable” psychotic break from reality (though it was obviously drug-induced or otherwise provoked). All of these crimes are made possible by the government’s techniques of mass surveillance.

The Bourne Legacy is a work of fiction, but all of these appalling ploys are available options to persons in high places with access to covert means and a black budget, and who are, in virtue of the fact that they agree to run such programs, apparently of the opinion that they occupy a space “beyond the pale” of morality. As more and more persons of conscience and integrity decline to participate in such morally unsavory institutions, we should expect the percentage of sociopaths at the highest levels of government to continue on its ascendant path, making the world not more but less safe for everyone else.

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Der Standard (Austria) interview: Are lethal drones tools of ¨smart war¨?

predatorMuzayen Al-Youssef of Der Standard (in Austria) recently interviewed Laurie Calhoun about the use of lethal drones. Here is a link to the resultant article. A lively debate (auf Deutsch) ensues in the comments forum…

https://derstandard.at/2000073001821/Drohnen-Kriegsfuehrung-vom-anderen-Ende-der-Welt#forumstart

Interview: The Moral Horror of Our Times. A discussion of issues raised in You Can Leave

Jeff Schechtman of Who.What.Why recently interviewed Laurie Calhoun about You Can Leave. An array of topics were covered, ranging from chemical warfare to drones to citizens’ complacency, government bureaucrats’ desire to hold onto and expand their power, and the mysterious disappearance of effective dissidents. Click here to listen to the 33-minute conversation.

 

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Obedience to Authority: The Relevance of the Milgram Experiments in the Drone Age

Why do people ever agree to torture? A propos of the Gina Haspel nomination, you should watch this film.

We Kill Because We Can

Experimenter

I recently watched Experimenter (2015), a film directed by Michael Almereyda, which relays the story of social psychologist Stanley Milgram and his quest to understand how human beings could be brought to do things which they would never have thought to do, left to their own devices. Being Jewish, Milgram was keen to comprehend what happened in the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. What was it that made possible the establishment of concentration camps under the Third Reich, and the slaughter of millions of human beings?

The rationalization that “I did as I was told” was given all along the chain of command, or what would be called the “kill chain” in the Drone Age. Even high-level Nazi officials such as Adolf Eichmann claimed that they were doing their duty in facilitating the extermination of millions of people. Ordinary Germans from all walks of life helped to build the camps…

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You Can Leave audiobook now available

The audiobook for You Can Leave is now live and available for sampling and purchase. Be among the first to listen to this harrowing tale of struggle and survival in a world gone morally mad and bureaucratically bad.

You Can Listen to a 5 minute sample or download the entire recording free with a trial membership to Audible:

https://mobile.audible.co.uk/pd/Crime-Thrillers/You-Can-Leave-Audiobook/B07BLJL4BW?ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=c6e316b8-14da-418d-8f91-b3cad83c5183&pf_rd_r=D87S21BRZJTFTPT2Y26T&

National Bird: A Cautionary Tale

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National Bird, a film directed by Sonia Kennebeck, received much less attention than Eye in the Sky, though both had US releases in 2016. One reason for this is that Eye in the Sky paints drone warfare as a positive development in human history, and its perpetrators as somehow noble, despite the risk of killing civilians which invariably attends this new practice. Another reason for the relative lack of attention received by National Bird is simply that documentary films, which tend to be more critical of their subject matter and far less entertaining, rarely get much coverage in the media, and those about drone warfare are no exception to the rule. Several films highly critical of the US drone program have been released, but unfortunately they have quickly fallen by the wayside and failed effectively to penetrate the collective consciousness of the citizens who fund the practice, new to the twenty-first century, of hunting down and killing persons suspected of complicity in terrorism, or of being in association with persons suspected of complicity in terrorism.

The administrators of the US drone program have succeeded resplendently in their promotion campaigns by persuading politicians and the populace to accept the official story, according to which assassinations carried out by uniformed soldiers stationed in trailers in the desert thousands of miles away from “the battlefield”, using remote-control launched missiles, are really “targeted killings” and legitimate acts of war. National Bird, like the documentaries which preceded it, calls into question this reigning dogma, and disputes some of the most basic “facts” being reported by the US administration. All of the documentaries produced to date on the topic of targeted killing examine some of the seldom-mentioned negative effects of the drone program upon not only the victims abroad, but also the young American recruits enlisted to serve as paid assassins under a guise of defending the homeland.

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What is unique about National Bird is its deft illumination of three key aspects of the drone program, beginning with what is in effect the racial profiling of the unnamed persons being intentionally killed. The US administration has killed thousands of persons on suspicion of complicity in terrorism—or suspicion of association with persons suspected of complicity in terrorism—simply assuming all along the way that the military-age males killed are guilty until proven innocent. Such an inversion of the burden of proof is preposterous on its face, implying, among other things, that many of the journalists on the ground investigating these cases are themselves, by the same criterion, fair game for targeting.MilitaryAgeMale2

National Bird homes in on some of the actual victims in Afghanistan, both mothers and fathers who have lost their children, and military-age males who have lost their limbs in US drone strikes. The men interviewed are obviously not terrorists, but if they had been killed rather than maimed, they would have been reported to the US populace as Enemy Killed in Action, or EKIA, along with the thousands of other unnamed persons killed by the drone “warriors” all over the Middle East.

MilitaryAgeMaleVictimThe three former drone program analysts who share their experience in National Bird—Heather, Daniel, and Lisa—all insist that claims such as that by former President Barack Obama that strikes are not taken unless there is “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed, are in fact false. As they have worked within the program, they can confidently assert that this follows straightforwardly from the fact that the persons being killed are, in most cases, of unknown identity. When missiles are launched, the persons being targeted are thought by someone in the kill chain to be legitimate targets, but it is only in the aftermath of strikes that anyone can confirm who was or was not killed. In most cases, no effective confirmation is carried out at all.

Of course, demonstrating that an intended target was killed in a strike would not in any case establish the target’s guilt, only that the person suspected of being in complicity or in association with terrorists is now dead. The suggestion that state execution of a suspect suffices to demonstrate his guilt is a highly disturbing development in history, a huge step backwards in procedural justice to pre-Magna Carta times. But such concerns are ignored by the drone warriors, as they continually vaunt the success of their killing campaigns, even as the Global War on Terror (GWOT) expands like an amoeba to new and larger “battlefields”, a sure indication that terrorism is not in decline but on the rise. The angry survivors of drone attacks—fathers, sons, brothers, and friends of those killed—sometimes join forces with groups such as ISIS to fight back against the Westerners who continue to slaughter people throughout the Middle East with impunity.

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Lisa Ling, one of the former analysts interviewed in National Bird, expresses concern that this new paradigm, which involves vacuuming up information from all possible sources in order to locate people to kill, implies that there are no limits to killing anyone anywhere at anytime, because there are no effective constraints on the killers.

Heather, a former image analyst, whose job involved distinguishing allegedly bad actors from HeatherNationalBirdobvious civilians such as women and children, laments that the push-button killers are trigger-happy, always seeking out opportunities to eliminate potential threats, even when concern has been aired that there might be civilians present. Heather explicitly articulates an extremely disturbing truth which drives the drone program forward: the killers are rewarded professionally for killing more, not fewer persons, because all of the dead are simply assumed to be dangerous terrorists until proven otherwise, which is rarely ever done.

DanielNationalBirdDaniel, also a former analyst, points out that the lack of any sort of disciplinary consequences in the event of faulty strikes, when it later emerges that scores of civilians have died, makes it easier and easier for those in charge to approve the strikes. They are gambling with human lives, as happens in warfare more generally, but the difference in this case is that nothing will happen to the killers themselves when they make mistakes.

Ironically, the only persons in the kill chain who seem to be truly endangered by the drone program are the former operators and analysts who dare to speak out about what they have been lured into doing. They are investigated for possible violations of the Espionage Act, and even when they are not charged with crimes for boldly proclaiming that many civilians have died, and that claims by the administration about minimal collateral damage have in fact been lies, they are nonetheless quite effectively threatened by the specter of possible future prosecution.

JesselynRadackNationalBirdJesselyn Radack, an attorney with several whistleblowers numbering among her clients, points out that the persons pursued by the Department of Justice are often blacklisted from employment and ruined financially in the process of defending themselves from charges that they are spies, when, in fact, they have attempted only to expose what is wrong with the systems in which they were employed.

By looking at the plight of both bereft survivors on the ground and traumatized former drone program analysts, National Bird manages to highlight a third problem with the ongoing industry of remote-control killing. It is a matter of no small irony that both civilians on the ground and whistleblowers who attempt to speak out about what they believe to have been crimes are effectively terrorized by the very existence of the drone program, which was erected in order to fight terrorism. The threat of possible prosecution most likely has a chilling effect upon other former operators, who may decide not to talk for fear of the personal consequences of doing so.

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At the same time, persons living under threat of death by lethal drones hovering above their heads have in some cases come to avoid public functions such as weddings and funerals, and they refrain from associating with people in other public places as well, for fear that they will somehow be pegged as “associates” of persons suspected of complicity in terrorism. It seems likely also that male journalists of military age may well avoid drone strike sites for fear that they might die next, while attempting to uncover the truth about previous drone strikes.

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All of this shows that the targeted killing program is a gross affront to the very idea of democracy, causing people to fear for their life and well-being if they do what human beings have a right to do: to associate in groups, and to speak their mind and stand up for what they believe. These longer-term cultural effects of the drone program will play out only over decades, but they do not bode well for the future of civilization, and they certainly will not contribute to the democratization of lands where central government authorities are provided with the means to dispatch their political (and personal) enemies with the push of a button.

The moral turpitude of the drone program is so pervasive and so wide-ranging that it is difficult to know where to begin in criticizing it. But National Bird does a good job of highlighting some of the worst consequences of the highly regrettable normalization of assassination with impunity by persons with financial incentives to kill as many people as they can. In the process, young American soldiers are being transformed into assassins, having been lured into this profession in some cases only because they needed a job. Those who drop out of the program must suffer with their conscience for the rest of their lives. Those who stay in will rise in the ranks to become administrators who will follow the typical trajectory of lethal creep characteristic of corrupt actors more generally. The more they kill, the more they will seek out opportunities to kill, in order to prove to themselves that they were right to have done what they already did.

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War and Delusion on sale at Palgrave Macmillan…

At this time in history, people are understandably more worried about the spectre of nuclear war than about drone assassination. Palgrave Macmillan is having a sale, so the ebook of War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, can be purchased through August 30, 2017, for 40% off. (use promo code PB2S17).

In War and Delusion, first published in 2013 and reissued  as a paperback in 2016, I consider questions such as whether wars abroad can be construed as acts of self-defense and what we can infer from the treatment of veterans in the United States. The primary thesis of the book is that, in the modern world, just war theory has served primarily as a tool of pro-war propaganda.

http://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9781137294623#

Eye in the Sky: Where Nihilism and Hegemony Coincide

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Eye in the Sky (2015) is the first feature-length film about drone warfare to have received a decent amount of mainstream attention. This no doubt has something to do with the high-caliber cast, including lead roles by Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, and Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson. Big names imply big budgets. But there’s another reason why this movie, directed by Gavin Hood, has been discussed more than National Bird (2016), Good Kill (2015), Drone (2014), Drones (2013), Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars (2013), or Dirty Wars (2013).

None of these films is entertaining. Eye in the Sky, like some of the others in this growing genre, presents itself as a work of historical fiction, grounded in what is supposed to be a realistic portrayal of the contemporary practice of drone warfare against persons suspected of association with radical jihadist groups. But rather than condemning the remote-control killers, as the other films unequivocally do, Eye in the Sky portrays the protagonists wrestling with the complexities of morality before launching missiles and then congratulating one another on their success.

The “evil enemy” here, in Nairobi, Kenya, is Al Shabaab, and the fate of one of their cells is the subject of lengthy and sophistic “just war” debate among the drone warriors. A contingent of US and British military and civilian officials communicate with one another from different parts of the world over Skype-like video feed, and after arguing over the course of the workday, they ultimately decide to execute the suspects, who appear to be preparing to carry out a suicide attack in the proximate future or, as the drone warriors would say, “imminently”.

One of the suspects is a US citizen, recently recruited from Minnesota, and two are British nationals. The white woman, Susan Danford—nom de guerre Ayesha Al Hady—has been tracked by Colonel Powell for a remarkable six years. Powell is keen to kill Danford, even after having summarized her life’s story as that of a person who came from a troubled household, married a terrorist, and was converted to the jihadist cause as a result of her vulnerability.

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The mission is supposed to culminate in capture, not killing, but when the group of suspects convenes at a house where a suicide vest is being assembled and a video message filmed, the military officials immediately call for a missile strike, to the initial protests of the civilian political officials in attendance, who insist that they are there to witness a capture, not a targeted assassination.

The rest of the film is essentially an extended consideration of a version of what professional analytic philosophers call “The Trolley Problem,” a thought experiment wherein people are persuaded that they must kill some people in order to save others. Such hypothetical scenarios—like the proverbial ticking bomb, which is said by some to illustrate the necessity of torture under certain circumstances—involve an eerie desire on the part of some thinkers to persuade others to condone what, left to their own devices, they would never have agreed to do. As David Swanson has correctly observed, there is no known case in reality of drone warriors who kill a person and his entourage as they strap a suicide vest onto the martyr’s chest. That is why singling out this wildly implausible and entirely hypothetical scenario as representative of drone warfare in general is a consummate expression of pro-military propaganda.

eyeintheskydroneoperatorsEye in the Sky attempts to portray the dilemmas involved in drone warfare but ultimately serves to promote the drone warriors’ all-too-sophistic modes of reasoning. Rather than ask deep and important questions such as how Al-Shabaab became such a powerful force in, first, Somalia and, later, places such as Kenya, the film allows the viewer steeped in New York Times headlines touting “Six Suspected Militants Slain” to float along blissfully in his or her state of ignorance regarding what precisely the US and British governments have been doing in the Middle East for the past sixteen years.

No indication is made of the fact—and frankly I’d be surprised if Director Hood himself were aware—that the US-backed 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia led directly to a massive increase in local support for Al-Shabaab. It’s all-too-easy and comforting to swallow the official line that the members of local militias being targeted by drone strikes are “bad guys” who need to be extirpated from the face of the earth, even when it is likely that many of the people intentionally destroyed have been dissidents (or their “associates”) seeking to challenge the central government authority. (See Yemen for another example.)

It is abundantly clear from the very fact that new recruits from the United States and Britain—indeed, the very targets of the mission in this story—have been primarily either troubled youths or persons outraged at the Western devastation of the Middle East, and now Africa. Yet the film blithely allows the viewer to persist in puzzlement over the perennial question: Why do they hate us?

eyeintheskyhouseColonel Powell wants to kill people, as is obvious by her calling for a missile strike even before explosives are seen at the meeting place. (Do the director and screenwriter win points from feminists for making the most ruthless military killer and her radical jihadist quarry both women? Or from progressives for making them white?)

Both Colonel Powell and General Benson consider Susan Danford’s allegiance with Al-Shabaab to be, essentially, a capital offense. They don’t bother with niceties such as the fact that capital punishment has been outlawed in the United Kingdom. Instead, the military personnel seek refuge in and parrot the simpleminded terms of just war theory which they learned in first-year ethics class at the military academy.

The missile strike is said to be a military necessity, proportional, and a last resort. It has furthermore been authorized by the legitimate authority, aka the US president, to whom the British continue to defer, even after the scathing Chilcot report in which Prime Minister Tony Blair was taken to task for embroiling Britain in the ill-fated 2003 invasion of Iraq. As though none of that ever happened, when President Barack Obama normalized the targeted assassination of anyone in any place on the planet where radical jihadist terrorists are said by some anonymous analyst to reside, Prime Minister David Cameron, too, followed suit. In August 2015, he authorized missile strikes from drones against British nationals in Syria, despite the Parliament’s having voted down his call for war in 2013.

Perhaps Cameron was impressed by Barack Obama and drone killing czar John Brennan’s oft-flaunted fluency in just war rhetoric. Unfortunately, in Eye in the Sky, the sophomoric facility of the assassins with the terms of just war theory may, too, be taken as evidence to ignorant viewers that these people in uniform know what they are talking about and should be trusted with the delicate decision of where, when, and why to summarily execute human beings who have not been charged with crimes, much less permitted to stand trial.

The question how a missile strike in a country not at war can be conceived of as a military necessity is altogether ignored in this film, as though it were already a settled matter. Someone in the US government (President Obama under the advisement of John Brennan, former president and CEO of The Analysis Corporation, the business of which is terrorist targeting analysis) decreed that the entire world was a battlefield, and this opened up every place and other governments to the delusive casuistry of just war theorists, including their most strident advocates for war, the self-styled “humanitarian hawks”.

eyeintheskylocalNo matter that in this case there are no military soldiers from either the United States or Britain on the ground to be harmed. No matter that their collaborators are local spies who do in fact commit acts of treachery against their compatriots and are indeed brutally executed when this is discovered. Despite the complete absence of any of the aspects of a war which might warrant a missile strike as a military necessity—above all, that soldiers on the ground will otherwise die—the itchy trigger drone warriors point to their version of the dreaded Trolley Problem and a false and misleading application of utilitarianism to convince the naysayers that they must approve the launch of a missile in order to avert an even worse tragedy.

The military personnel are more persuasive than the sole civilian dissenter, and no one seems to be bothered in the least by questions of strategy. The word ‘blowback’ is never even mentioned in this film. But judging by the growth of ISIS and Al-Shabaab over the past decade, and the testimony of suicide bombers such as Humam Al-Balawi (the Jordanian doctor who blew up a group of CIA personnel at Camp Chapman in 2009—in direct retaliation to US missile strikes on Pakistan), the tactic of drone assassination can reasonably be expected to cause the ranks of jihadists to continue to swell. No one denies that during the occupation of Iraq, an effective recruiting tactic of factional groups was to point to the civilians harmed by the Western infidels as confirmation that they were indeed the evil enemy. Knowing all of this, it does not seem unfair to ask: Is “military necessity” now conceived by the remote-control killers as whatever will ensure the continuation of a war?

eyeintheskybreadIn Eye in the Sky, the drone warriors are more than willing to risk the life of a little girl who has set up a table where she is selling loaves of bread because, they say, if they do not act immediately then perhaps eighty little children just like her will be killed instead. No mention is made of the psychological trauma suffered by the people who do not die in drone strikes, but witness what has transpired. (When was the last time one of your neighbors’ houses was cratered by a Hellfire missile?) Instead, the collateral damage estimate (CDE) so conscientiously calculated by a hapless soldier pressured by Colonel Powell to produce an estimated likelihood of the girl’s death at less than 50% altogether ignores the 100% probability that she and everyone in the neighborhood will be terrorized.

But even focusing solely on the likely lethality of the strike, the drone warriors in Eye in the Sky display what is in reality a lethal lack of imagination, an utter failure to conceive of counter measures such as warning the people in nearby markets and public places of the impending danger. That is because, in the minds of the drone warriors, if one terrorist attack is thwarted, then another will surely be carried out later on down the line. By this mode of reasoning, they have arrived at the depressing and nihilistic conclusion that they must kill all of the suspects. What would be the point of doing anything else?

Recruits from Western societies, young people such as Junaid Hussain, Reyaad Khan, and Ruhul Amin, are assumed to be beyond the reach of reason, despite the glaring fact that their recent conversion to the jihadist cause itself reveals that they have changed their view before and could, in principle, change it again. Nonetheless, the drone warriors persist in their worship of death as the be-all and end-all of foreign policy. They are literally trapped in the lethality box, because they cannot conceive of any other way of dealing with factional terrorism than by killing people. When obviously innocent persons are destroyed, maimed, terrorized and left bereft by Western missiles, these acts of so-called military necessity end by galvanizing support for the Anti-Western jihadist cause, both near the strike site and in lands far away.

Realistically, what self-respecting father would not wish to avenge the death of his young child at the hands of the murderous drone warriors who are so despicable as to kill without risking any danger to themselves? Instead of thinking through the likely implications of what they are doing, the drone warriors persist in invoking delusive just war rhetoric to promote what they want to do: kill the evil enemy. But the use of lethal drones in what has been successfully marketed to taxpayers as “smart war”, eliminates soldierly risk only by transferring it to civilians on the ground. No matter that new recruits continue to flock to the jihadist cause, seems to be the thinking of our great military minds, missiles are in ample supply.

It is a depressing view of humanity indeed which sees homicide as the solution to conflict when in fact it is its primary cause. But the delusion of the drone assassins is even worse than the corruption of criminal contract killers because they emetically congratulate each other, as in this film, for pushing buttons to eliminate their fellow human beings from the face of the earth, as though this were some kind of accomplishment, rather than the worst of all possible crimes.

New recruits such as Susan Danford will never stop arising from the ashes of drone strike sites until the drone strikes have come to a halt. Indulging in a false and Manichean division of people into black and white categories of good and evil, the killers corrupt more and more young people to collaborate with them, both informants and drone operators. Those who perform well in their jobs rise in the ranks to become the commanders of future killers, until at last the entire society is filled with people who upon watching a film such as Eye in the Sky end by sympathizing not with the victims but with those who destroyed them.

eyeintheskybeetledroneFocused as they will be upon this simpleminded “Trolley Problem” portrayal of drone warfare, Western viewers will likely miss altogether the obscene hegemonic presumptions of the killers who use beetle- and bird-sized drones to penetrate the private homes of people in order to stop them from wreaking havoc in countries where there are no US or British soldiers on the ground to harm. To pretend that all of this killing is for the benefit of the locals is delusional to the point of insanity.

If serial Western military interventions had not destroyed country after country across the Middle East, beginning with Iraq in 1991, then there would be no “evil enemy” to confront in the first place. To continue to ignore the words of jihadists themselves when they rail against the savage butchery of millions of Muslim people by the US military and its poodles is but the most flagrant expression of this smug hegemony. No, I am afraid, they do not hate us for our freedom.

In Eye in the Sky, anyone who opposes the use of military weapons against people living in their own civil society thousands of miles away is painted as a coward and a fool, as though there were some sort of moral obligation to launch missiles to save a hypothetical group of eighty people. The very same killers do not feel any obligation whatsoever to provide food, shelter, and potable water to the people living in such societies, even when the $70K cost of a single missile could be repurposed to save many more than eighty lives, in addition to winning over “hearts and minds”.

Here is the ugly truth shining through the willingness to kill but not to save lives in nonhomicidal ways: Peace does not pay. The drone killing machine is the latest and most lucrative instantiation of the military-industrial-congressional-media-academic-pharmaceutical-logistics complex. That Westerners continue to be taken in by this hoax is tragic for the people of Africa and the Middle East mercilessly terrorized (when they are not maimed or incinerated) while the killers gloat over what they take to be their moral courage.

eyeintheskybensonNear the end of the film, Lieutenant Colonel Benson sanctimoniously admonishes the sole remaining dissenter among the witnesses to the mission, which she has denounced as “disgraceful”. He smugly retorts to her suggestion that he is a coward: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.” But the cost of the remote-control elimination of persons suspected of complicity in terrorism is not merely the tragic loss of human life. It is the destruction of such killers’ souls and the concomitant creation of even more killers who feel the need to retaliate in turn. It is the fact that they have rolled back all of the moral progress in procedural justice made by human societies since the 1215 Magna Carta. It is the fact that their dogged insistence on perpetuating and spreading this practice to the darkest and least democratic corners of the planet represents a categorical denial of human rights.