Spain Wants in on the Drone Killing Game: Has Franco Been Forgotten?

FranciscoFranco

It was recently reported that the government of Spain will be acquiring four MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along with one ground control station (GCS) from the US firm General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The US company won out over the competitor, Israel Aerospace Industries, which was ready to furnish its Hero TP to the Spanish government as well. Maybe they’ll secure a contract from Spain later on down the line. Never say never: there’s always room for another shiny new implement of homicide in a political leader’s arsenal, particularly when one of its crowning virtues can be said to be to make it possible to spare soldiers’ lives. That Spanish soldiers would never have been deployed to the drone zones anyway is a nicety best brushed aside.

The Reapers will eventually be weaponized, but for now the Spanish Air Force will simply play around with them, familiarize themselves with the advanced technology, and prepare for the day when they, too, will be able to dispatch human beings by remote control, just as the US and the UK governments have been doing for some time, and Italy is preparing to do as well.

The Spanish Air Force may be thrilled about what will be their enhanced capacity to execute suspects without trial, but one can only wonder what Pablo Q Pueblo, the average citizen in Spain, thinks about this development. Perhaps the Spanish public would rather forget their twentieth-century history, but was not Spain ruled by a brutal dictator, Generalísimo Francisco Franco, from 1936 until his death in 1975? His longevity was assured by the US government’s support, rationalized by the tried and true maxim of US foreign policy, that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend.” That’s right: the only thing Franco hated more than republicanism was communism.  

To the dismay and peril of liberty-loving Spaniards, Franco became a dreaded “president for life” through brute force and the elimination, by hook or by crook, of an estimated 200,000-400,000 Spanish citizens. Let us be perfectly frank: weaponized drones would have been right up Franco’s alley: the capacity to vaporize political enemies with no due process and no provision for appeal. All those pesky dissidents could be perfunctorily written off as enemies of the state.

I think that it is fair to say that congratulations are in order once again to US President Barack Obama for having ushered in a new era of secrecy and opacity along with the capacity to draw up hit lists through the use of advanced surveillance techniques (such as the mining of cellphone data) against any- and everyone one who might be potentially dangerous in the future. These Obama-era practices have gained wide acceptance among politicians and will surely lead to summary executions by governments the world over, including now Spain, both at home and abroad.

Who needs republicanism when every government’s leader will soon be able to squelch dissent and eliminate “annoying” adversaries with the push of a button while watching the targets “splashed” on high-definition television screens? Of course, the technology alone was not enough to herald in the full-fledged, robust Drone Age. The practice of summary execution without trial needed also to be normalized by the leader of the greatest nation on the earth, which President Barack Obama in fact did. In a self-serving effort to convey an image of strength, remote-control killing became drone warrior Obama’s claim to fame and will be his lasting legacy, to the detriment of liberty-loving people the world over.

WeKillBecauseWeCanLaurieCalhoun

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 9: Death and Politics; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do

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Why does Italy Need 156 Hellfire Missiles? Or: Lethal Creep 5.0

Italy

The latest beneficiary of DARPA’s ingeniousness and US taxpayer largesse appears to be the government of Italy, which has been clamoring for lethal drones since 2012, and was recently reported to be next in line to receive a cache of some of the latest and greatest implements of homicide developed by the United States. These munitions were produced for use in what the killers continue to refer to as “war”, despite the fact that drone operators run no risk of physical harm when they dispatch suspects in lands far away.

Yes, the US government has acceded to the Italian government’s request and will be furnishing them with 156 Hellfire missiles, which can be attached to their two Reaper drones (UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles) to realize the potential implied by the very name ‘Reaper’. Yes, now Italy, too, along with the United States and Britain, will be among the Western states “blessed” with lethal drones and prepared for … what exactly?

One has to ask: why does Italy need to have 156 Hellfire missiles ready to deploy by Reaper drones? Is Italy at war with any other nation? Or will the Italian government be using these slick implements of homicide to follow the examples of US President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who eliminated countrymen deemed by their analysts behind closed doors “evil terrorists” and “high-value targets”? No need to capture, contain, indict and try suspects for treasonous crimes in the Drone Age. Due process and the separation of government powers are so twentieth century!

By the fall of 2011, President Obama had authorized the execution by lethal drone of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (among others) located in Yemen. By August 2015, Prime Minister Cameron had authorized the execution of British citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin, located in Syria, despite the fact that capital punishment is prohibited by British law and the EU Charter. Not that Cameron had much to worry about, with the US government standing by his side (remember the bond of brothers Tony Blair and George W. Bush?) and praising the fact that Cameron, too, had now effaced the line formerly distinguishing blacks ops from “just war”.

These days it’s simple to transform an illegal act of assassination—undertaken by deniable operators before the Drone Age—into what politicians the world over are willing to call an act of war. It suffices to deploy a missile rather than a strangulation wire, an exploding cigar, a poisoned meal, or a good old-fashioned pistol! One must own that this has been quite a feat of political léger-de-main.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once asked Colin Powell (a top military official at that time): “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” It’s an incontestable maxim of practical rationality that one not squander large sums of money on useless stuff. In the case of munitions, there’s no point in having them at all unless one is ready and willing to use them, particularly when they have no power to deter anyone from doing anything—as in the case of nuclear warheads, at least according to advocates of their development throughout the Cold War.

Weaponized drones do not and cannot deter anyone from doing anything—aside from talking with other community members or perhaps associating in groups for public events such as weddings and jirgas—because they are deployed at the culmination of secretive deliberations wholly immune from critique. Virtually anyone could be on the hit lists generated by government-contracted analysts and based on hearsay from shady, bribed informants and circumstantial evidence derived from cell phone data and SIM cards, etc. As Ernest Hemingway once said about cats: “One [associate] just leads to another…”

So what will Italy do with its Hellfire-missile-equipped Reapers? No doubt they will do their best to find some Italians holed up somewhere in a tribal region of some hotbed of conflict—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Egypt, … the list continues to lengthen—and seize this historical opportunity to do what in centuries past was deemed illegal: to execute citizens without trial and without even charging them with crimes. In the Drone Age, political leaders are capitalizing on the latest military-industrial-congressional-media-academic-pharmaceutical-logistics complex boom: the creation of lethal drones which must be used in order to rationalize their purchase.

Political leaders with access to lethal drones kill because they can, and also because this form of homicide has been christened “smart war” by the first Drone Nation, the United States of America. The members of the once small club of nations whose leaders succumb to the temptation to dispatch annoying dissidents with no judicial process whatsoever can be expected to continue on until nearly everyone in the Western world is complicit. Ximena Ortiz has incisively termed this strange twenty-first-century phenomenon “the Third Worldization of America”, and it is has already infected Britain. Italy is next in line.

The more nations complicit, the more difficult it will become—reaching eventually the point of being impossible—to bring any of the lot before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for violating international law. Among the protocols essentially abandoned by the self-styled drone warriors are the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which persons suspected of wrongdoing must be provided with the opportunity to defend themselves against the claims made by persons in positions of power that they deserve to die.

It’s a slippery slope, and the Italian government, which admirably took to task the CIA for their illegal rendering and torture of Osama Mustafa Hussan, finding the perpetrators guilty as charged back in 2009, appears poised to let bygones be bygones in the case of summary execution without trial. Surely someone in Italy recognizes that the remote-control killing of suspects is infinitely worse than prolonged detention without charges and “enhanced interrogation”. The persons detained at Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba were horribly wronged, but they were not whacked with impunity by “drone warriors” under the preposterous presumption that all suspects are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone, maintained by the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, is ready for take off at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan in this June 29, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files

REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 1: Drone Nation; Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; Chapter 10: Death and Taxes; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants do