The Selective Service-Drone Assassination Connection

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Drone warriors have been redefining words from the very beginning, and they have sadly persuaded a fair portion of the populace to accept that the formerly taboo practice of assassination is now legal, provided only that it be labeled “targeted killing”. It’s supposed to be perfectly permissible for the US president (Obama) or UK prime minister (Cameron) to annihilate some of their compatriots without indictment or trial, much less conviction of capital crimes, so long as the hired guns use missiles rather than bullets to dispatch targets on the government’s hit list. Everyone knows that missiles are weapons of war. Ergo, drone strikes are acts of war. As sophomoric as that little piece of reasoning may be, far too many people have fallen for it, including political elites.

In the United States, 9/11 appears to have induced an effect on citizens’ capacity for criticism akin to the concussion caused by a blunt blow to the cranium. That was fifteen years ago, Osama bin Laden was slain five years ago, and yet the damage to US citizens’ critical faculties appears in some cases to have been permanent. Most politicians continue to line up to support any- and everything labeled “national defense”, even when it obviously degrades the security of the people paying for it. Arming ISIS? Deposing more dictators to create power vacuums perfect for the flourishing of terrorists? Really?

The thousands of targets taken out by drone strikes have been denied all rights under international law. The governing assumption among US administrators has been that suspects are always and everywhere evil terrorists à la Osama bin Laden. Guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around, as Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires. As difficult to believe as it may be, the drone warriors have succeeded in rolling back “justice” to pre-Magna Carta times. But the false analogies, faulty reasoning and linguistic léger-de-main certainly do not stop there.

Article 51 of the UN Charter has been interpreted by the drone warriors to mean that they (anyone?) may fire missiles anywhere in the world they want. All that is needed is to define “hostile” areas as “battlefields” and claim that killing this particular tribesman, whose identity is unknown, who does not even possess a passport, and who inhabits a hut in a remote region of a Third World country, is an imminent threat to the existence of the United States. I have to wonder what historians will say about all of this in a hundred years or so…

Take the battle to the enemy! the drone warfare enthusiasts cheer each time they read another headline regurgitating the Pentagon’s latest report of having attempted to take out another suspected militant. It does not even appear to matter to the cheerleaders for lethal drones that the vast majority of strikes have been undertaken against persons of unknown identity. What matters is that the pile of ashes formerly known as a human being and identified as potentially (not immediately!) threatening by savvy analysts at the CIA (or their private military company (PMC) affiliates) will never make it to US shores.

So what if the Middle East is a morass of murder and mayhem? So what if radical Islamic jihadist franchises continue to proliferate and spread to new territories? So what if the lives of millions of human beings have been destroyed or severely degraded? So what if no one on the planet but the self-deluded warriors themselves believes that they have been selected to do God’s will?

Safe and smug in their belief that none of this could harm them, and might even be keeping them safe, Americans have gone about their shopping as usual, as though they had nothing to worry about, their blithe state of complacency punctuated only by the occasional lunatic mass killing in the homeland. But those nutcases have nothing whatsoever to do with the US government’s ever-more lethal policy. Do as we say, not as we do!  The current Democratic party leadership insists that we need to implement strict background checks before selling guns to people on the terrorist watch list in the homeland. Meanwhile, they continue to condone President Obama’s record levels of weapons exports to the rest of the world. It’s the American way.

A recent development, the vote by the US senate to require women in the United States to register for the Selective Service and be prepared to step forward to defend the nation, should the need be said by politicians to arise, represents another instance of the fallacious reasoning and linguistic sleight of hand so deftly deployed by the drone warriors up to now. How did it come about? As usual, the first steps were highly surreptitious and sneaky. Under Obama, light footprints abound, invariably leaving deep pools of blood on the ground.

About the time that the drone operator recruitment crisis began to worsen, with enlisted persons abandoning the profession in droves once their initial contract term had elapsed, the Pentagon suddenly announced that all combat positions would henceforth be open to women. Feminists naturally rejoiced. Hurrah! What a victory! Shouldn’t women who are ready and willing to fight alongside men be permitted to do so, if they choose? The key word was of course ‘choose’. Women in the military were thrilled that they could now ascend to the heights of the top brass, able to break that pesky glass ceiling at last. So far, so good.

The next step was to transform the “choice” of some women to become combat troops, probably a very small minority even of those already enlisted, into a “responsibility” to defend the nation. If the government is willing to grant women the privilege of being able to fight alongside men, then shouldn’t women correlatively shoulder the responsibility of defending the nation, when called upon to do so?

If you are scratching your head about now, that’s because you have knocked into a serious non sequitur. From ‘may’ no ‘must’ follows. (David Hume would be appalled.) Stated simply for any non-philosophers who may be reading this post:

Permission does not imply obligation.

The fact that the small number of women who would in fact choose to serve as combat soldiers may now do so in no way implies that all of the rest of the “military age” women in the United States must present themselves on the battlefield when called up to serve.

This instance of fallacious reasoning fits right in with the rest of the drone warriors’ Orwellian approach to foreign policy, pseudo-morality and so-called justice. Let us be as clear and unequivocal as possible:

No one has a duty to serve as a government assassin.

No one. Neither men nor women can be compelled to act in ways which flagrantly violate the Geneva Conventions, even setting aside for a moment all of the other protocols being ignored or creatively reinterpreted. The targets of drone strikes are usually unarmed and not directly threatening any other person with harm, least of all the operator who incinerates them.

The suspects (I repeat, suspects) are not warned that they are about to be killed, and they are denied the opportunity to surrender or to explain how their phone number ended up in the contact list of another suspected terrorist’s cell phone. These homicides are, therefore, violations of international law, and no US citizen is obliged to follow illegal orders. As the many brave veterans who have spoken out against “targeted killing” continue to protest, it is a violation of the “laws of war” to follow unlawful orders.

All drone operators firing on targets residing in countries not at war (except in the minds of the drone warriors), should immediately cease and desist from following these unlawful orders. Mark my words: the drone assassination of thousands of suspects and their “associates” will eventually go down in history along with the Nuremberg trials. I regret that it is taking so long for the rest of the international community to awaken to the acrid scent of the charred flesh of so many innocent persons presumed guilty until proven innocent before being hunted down and killed with impunity by the drone warriors.

Young women and men alike: do not be fooled. You have no obligation to serve as a hired assassin for your government. Save your soul: just say “no”.

 

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2016 paperback edition with a new foreword available for pre-order at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Kill-Because-Can-Soldiering-Assassination/dp/1783605472?ie=UTF8&qid=&ref_=tmm_pap_swatch_0&sr=

All Smoke, No Mirrors: Appearance vs Reality in Drone Strikes

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In 2009, a reported 27,000 people were employed in the public relations wing of the Pentagon (AP). I presume that there are even more today. Their job, as is true of every state-funded Ministry of Propaganda, is to win over “hearts and minds”, while the rest of the institution focuses on homicide.

Only the extraordinary number of persons working in the capacity of propagandists for the US government can explain odd news reports such as the recent announcement that the Department of Defense attempted to kill Somalian Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, said to be a senior member of Al-Shabaab. The Washington Post’s Pentagon-parroting report then proceeds to clarify that the killers do not actually know whom they killed:

The United States carried out a drone strike last week in Somalia, targeting Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, a senior leader in the al-Shabab militant group, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

The Defense Department is still assessing whether the May 27 strike killed Da’ud.

Remarkably, the report continues on to tout the drone strike as a victory, under the provisional hypothesis that the strike did in fact kill the intended target:

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement that, if confirmed, his [Abdullahi Haji Da’ud’s] death “will disrupt near-term attack planning, potentially saving many innocent lives.”

The reason why this is remarkable is because, as Reprieve has documented, in strikes aimed at 41 named targets, 1,147 people were killed. Given the shocking findings of that study, it seems safe to conclude that it’s easier said than done to eliminate named terrorist suspects (who, as a reminder, are suspects).

Most of the victims of US drone strikes—both intended and unintended—have likely been military-age males, whom the US government defines as guilty until proven innocent. This is how the myth among the populace that targeted killing using drones is “smart war” continues to prevail. The categorization as “evil terrorists” of all military-age males in the remote tribal regions where missiles are fired (the “suspect” part appears to be elided by most people’s minds), is blithely accepted by everyone who praises the drone program. The only true requirement for conviction of “guilt” by the drone warriors is that a man be located in a zone where drone strikes are targeting suspected terrorists, whether named or unnamed. More often than not, the victims are brown-skinned Muslims.

Needless to say, there is no discussion in the article about the consequence of the drone strike intended for Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, if in fact it killed someone else altogether. What if it killed a child, who has a father? What if it killed a male adolescent’s teenage brother? What would be the consequences then?

As though the consequences of collateral damage had no strategic relevance whatsoever, the US government proceeds to kill suspects as fast as they can “finger” them in at least seven different countries, denying all of the inhabitants of those lands any rights, in a flagrant violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It’s hard for most Westerners to grasp exactly how scandalous this situation is for people on the ground, but we can begin to understand the ever-more vexing quagmire in the Middle East by taking a look at this short video of a protest in Pakistan, where many “military-age males” have gathered to vow to fight back against the United States if they do not cease killing Pakistanis using lethal drones:

It’s not as though this sort of reaction to US military aggression is somehow new or unexpected. What is amazing is that no lessons appear to have been learned by the warriors from the fiascoes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, the drone campaigns have expanded, spreading across several different lands, terrorizing countless innocent people and inspiring the very same kind of outrage which was witnessed during the occupations when innocent persons were slain by US military personnel and private contractors.

Is it supposed to be wrong for a person to be incensed by the slaughter of his child or neighbors’ children because some analyst at the Pentagon has concluded on the basis of cellphone data that someone in their neighborhood was in cahoots with a radical Islamic group? Are all of the people depicted in the above video now on the US government’s hit list?

What is beyond doubt is that the direct connection between cause and effect in drone strikes—a catalyst to radicalization—continues to be ignored, as though the failure of the killing machine to secure Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Syria somehow implies that it needs only to be cranked into high gear to kill even more.

The above sort of report, exulting over a victory where there is none, when in fact the strike may have galvanized even more men to join forces with radical extremist groups to fight back, demonstrates that the Pentagon needs to halt the public relations machine, which serves only to deceive Americans into believing that they are being kept safe, and start engaging in some serious strategic analysis. (Better late than never!)

Drone strikes are a tactic which has failed to solve the problem for which UCAVs are allegedly being deployed. Even worse, they have exacerbated the problem of factional terrorism. Witness the proliferation of Al Qaeda franchises throughout the Middle East.

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The False Dichotomies of Drone Warfare: Drone Strike (2013), directed by Chris Richmond

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I have long believed that well-made films offer a rich source of moral insight, and Drone Strike, directed by Chris Richmond, is no exception to the rule. It’s a very short film, less than twenty minutes long, but like a carefully crafted short-story, it packs a mighty punch. The primary means of conveying its message is to switch back and forth between two families in two very different contexts: a white-skinned family living amidst all of the modern conveniences in the United Kingdom, and a brown-skinned family living with hardly any modern conveniences in Afghanistan.

The father and husband in the UK, Will Brydon, is a Royal Air Force (RAF) drone operator. He dons a uniform, grabs a quick breakfast with his family, kisses his wife goodbye, and drives his car off to work, dropping his son off at school along the way.

Brydon’s office is a trailer, not unlike those at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Like his analogues in the United States, he spends his day sitting before a screen, joystick in hand, ready to “engage” targets as orders are transmitted to him by a radio dispatcher. Brydon has no direct access to the intelligence being used by analysts and commanders to determine whom to kill, but he is able to see the targets before firing on them. When he and his comrade, the laser operator, are given clearance to eliminate a target, they go through a series of steps to lock on with a laser before taking the shot.

The father and husband in Afghanistan is a brown-skinned adult male, empirically indistinguishable from an “evil terrorist”, as far as the drone program analysts are concerned, although they have no idea who he really is. He is about to be made the victim of the latest “signature strike”, the targeting of a brown-skinned male of military age whose behavior coincides with a “disposition matrix” of known terrorist behaviors.

On the fated day depicted, the “suspicious-looking” man has driven his truck to a place thought to be frequented by “evil terrorists” and is on his way home. What was he doing, rubbing elbows with suspected terrorists? He was filling up the bed of his truck with rocks to use back at his dirt-floored home. Judging by their somewhat surly exchange, he was not on particularly good terms with the men from whom he was buying the rocks. Clearly his “association” with these people involved no more than a simple business transaction.

On his way home, the loud sound of a missile strike off in the distance disrupts his concentration, causing him to drive over a gaping hole in the road. As a result, one of his tires goes flat, and he needs to fix it in order to continue his journey.

The rest of the story is all too familiar to anyone who has read NGO and human rights reports on the drone campaigns: the British father and husband uses the latest and greatest military technology to obliterate the Afghanistan father and husband, who is out in the middle of nowhere fixing a flat tire. He had the misfortune of being spotted by analysts behind the scenes whose job it is to locate suspected terrorists to kill. To do their job well, they must deliver. Better safe than sorry! they decide on the basis of their drone footage, in some cases supplemented by the bribed testimony of locals.

The RAF drone operator initially questions the identification of this man as a terrorist, and vocalizes his impression that it just looks like a guy with a broken-down truck. The laser operator scoffs at his comrade, crowing “Guilty as Charged!” and seems excited about the opportunity to “get some”. Together the two soldiers fire on the suspect, and the laser operator cheers when the missile obliterates the target, calling him a “mother fucker”.

Later, after returning home to his family, Bryson begins to reflect upon what he may have done, as doubts are bubbling up again in his mind. Perhaps the man by the truck really was an innocent husband and father out gathering rocks to shore up the walls of his crumbling home. The naggings of conscience begin to creep into Bryson’s consciousness, likely never to be fully expunged. Over time, his skepticism may develop into regret and feelings of guilt and shame about the day when an innocent man’s life was ended because he capitulated to peer pressure and suppressed his skepticism in the moments prior to launching the missile.

The British family has no idea what the soldier has done, but the survivors in Afghanistan are plunged into grief upon the loss of the head of their household. If the drone operator continues on in this profession, he may eventually develop PTSD.

In the final shot of the film, the young son of the slain father is shown in a visible state of rage, his face illuminated by light on one side, and shrouded by darkness on the other. The implication is clear: this is precisely how fledgling terrorists are made. They are reacting to their own experience or witness of crimes by the enemy against which they vow to retaliate.

A car destroyed by a US drone strike in Yemen

The power of Drone Strike inheres in its ability graphically to display a number of undeniable truths which are violated by the drone warriors each and every day:

  1. “Signature strikes” involve explicit racial profiling. If the man with the flat tire had been white-skinned, he likely would not have been killed.
  2. White-skinned people are not more valuable than brown-skinned people. To sacrifice a brown-skinned person in order to save a white-skinned person is racism pure and simple.
  3. Wearing a uniform and following orders does not preclude a soldier’s commission of crimes. Orders in violation of the Geneva Conventions should not be followed. Unarmed persons do not pose an immediate and direct threat to anyone.
  4. Following the orders handed down by an anonymous authority does not absolve the agent from responsibility for what he has done.
  5. Following even legal orders does not insulate a soldier from the psychological trauma of having to live with the memory of what he has done for the rest of his life.
  6. If suspects are innocent until proven guilty, then this applies no less to brown-skinned persons in Third World countries than it does to white-skinned persons in First World countries.
  7. Brown-skinned fathers and husbands are no less important to their children and spouses than are white-skinned fathers to theirs.

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This short but thought-provoking film can be watched through Amazon Prime. It might also be on YouTube somewhere, but I was unable to find it, given the preponderance of videos which come up upon searching for “Drone Strike”…

 

Is Germany Still a Member of the European Union? The Case of Ramstein Air Force Base

Germany houses Ramstein Air Force Base, from which lethal drone strikes have been and continue to be carried out by the US government in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, among other places. Why is this problematic? First, because Hellfire missiles launched from drones are being used to eliminate persons in lands where war was never waged, in violation of the United Nations Charter, which requires that member states secure the approval of the Security Council before penetrating the territory of a sovereign nation with the weapons of war.

Until the recent coup in Yemen and the resultant chaos—arguably precipitated by the US drone program—most of the missiles there were being fired at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), an ostensibly civilian, not military organization. Only this past weekend, four more unnamed “suspected Al Qaeda members” were taken out by a US drone in Jawf province, in the southern part of Yemen. The deaths in such cases—whether of suspects or so-called collateral damage—are by all appearances extrajudicial executions, what in the twentieth-century would have been carried out covertly, in black ops. Only in the Drone Age has assassination been rebranded as an act of war, in an unfortunate frenzy on the part of US policy makers to appear strong in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

We now know that many of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay were innocent. They were rounded up as terrorist suspects, but later determined not to have been terrorists at all. The Bush administration “tortured some folks,” as Obama put it, and he vowed to call a halt to the mistreatment of detainees. This was accomplished, remarkably, by ceasing altogether to take any prisoners in territories deemed hostile, opting instead to kill them all. US administrators infamously decreed that due process and judicial process are not one and the same and proceeded to act according to a new principle, “kill don’t capture”, under the obviously erroneous assumption (given the findings at Guantánamo Bay) that all terrorist suspects are in fact terrorists.

In none of the drone killings have the suspects been granted, as is required by Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the opportunity to defend themselves against the determination by the reigning “kill committee” that they deserve to die. According to the Department of Justice White Paper, US citizens intentionally killed in drone strikes, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, who was annihilated in Yemen on September 30, 2011, are not denied “due process”, even when they have never been indicted for crimes, much less allowed to stand trial.

US officials have also insisted that the strikes are permitted under Article 51, the self-defense clause, of the UN Charter. However, that the strikes in Yemen have been acts of self-defense is belied by the fact that, until 2015, the US government sought the permission of the central government before killing on Yemen soil. No political leader can grant or withhold an inherent right to self-defense.

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The complicity of Germany in such extrajudicial executions bears special scrutiny. Even if the executions from Ramstein Air Force Base had been carried out at the conclusion of a robust judicial process, fully respecting the rights of the suspects, the European Union prohibits its members from imposing the death penalty even on convicted murderers. In other words, Germany, by permitting such acts of killing to be carried out from German soil, would seem to be violating the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which clearly states in Chapter 1, Article 2(2):

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.

The statement is categorical. There are no exceptions. It does not say

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed, except by remote-control.

or

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed, except when deemed worthy of death by the US government.

or

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed, except when accidentally killed by the US government as they attempt to kill somebody else.

Three plaintiffs recently filed a suit alleging Germany’s culpability in the drone killing in Yemen of two innocent men, Salim bin Ali Jaber and Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber. The plaintiffs argued that Ramstein Air Force Base, located on German soil, is an integral part of the US “kill chain”, without which the victims would not have been slain.

The judge sided with the German government, which argued that it cannot control what other sovereign nations do. But is this true? Is it right? If Germany has granted the US government to operate on German soil, does this imply that within the space where they operate “Everything is permitted”? That sounds like a non sequitur to me. The judge in the case, Hildegund Caspari-Wierzoch, stated that the plaintiffs are welcome to appeal the case, and it appears that they intend to do so.

If the United States has committed war crimes in Yemen, and they were perpetrated from German soil, then the German government was a culpable collaborator. The only way to avoid such complicity would be to expel the wrongdoers or prohibit them from violating international law while operating in Germany.

Does anyone deny that the Vichy regime was complicit in the crimes committed on French soil by the Third Reich? The cases are not so very different, it seems to me.

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For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 2: From Black Ops to Standard Operating Procedure; Chapter 3: The Logic of Targeted Killing; and Chapter 12: Tyrants Are As Tyrants Do