Astounding, might be the appropriate way to describe the first thought that springs to mind when reading that the Pentagon is considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to these drone operators. Medals are to be awarded to drone pilots wearing the same green flight suits as fighter pilots, even though they never get in a plane. Their operating stations look like dashboards in a cockpit while they sit safely ensconced in a bunker or air-conditioned war room, launching bombs by stealth on human beings thousands of kilometres away.
The Lethal American Presidency
July 24th, 2012
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), used in drone warfare, have over the last three years, become the weapon of choice for the Obama Administration in the global war against terror. Unlike traditional pilots, who physically fly into the combat zone, drone operators, or pilots, as they prefer to be called, kill at the touch of a button.
As human rights lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, so aptly observes, “this PlayStation warfare is only risk-free for operators of these remote-controlled killers.” To describe a victim of a drone strike as “bug splat” (since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed) is according to Robinson, “deliberately employed as a psychological tactic to dehumanise targets so operatives overcome their inhibition to kill; and so the public remains apathetic and unmoved to act.”
One of the most striking anomalies of the Obama presidency is its preference for using drones despite all the many ethical, moral and legal questions it raises.
Originally used for surveillance, drones soon transformed into lethal weapons. Reaper and Predator drones are indiscriminately causing death and destruction in many places in the unrelenting “search and destroy” action against those whose names appear on the White House-sanctioned kill list because they are under suspicion of wanting to do the US harm.
First employed by the Bush administration, the use of drones against identified targets increased rapidly and dramatically under president Obama. Since taking office, Obama has unleashed five times more drone strikes than Bush authorised during his second term in the White House.
Obama has transformed drone attacks from a rarely used tactic that killed dozens each year to an onslaught that has killed thousands in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.
The preference for UAVs has earned the Obama administration the unflattering title of the “Lethal Presidency” and even less flattering he is also referred to as “Bush on steroids” – ironically while being accused by his Republican opponents as being soft on terror.
In January 2009, when Barack Obama took office and signed presidential executive orders that banned harsh interrogations, closed the CIA's "black sites" and called for the closing of the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, drones were killing innocent people in Pakistan. Newspaper reports suggested that none of the senior members of Al Qaeda that were the real targets were killed.
Obama is blamed for being, “the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our (US) military operations, of our intelligence, of our national security strategy and, some argue, of our foreign policy.” This is a feeling shared by a growing number of Americans.
More than any other president Obama has made the killing rather than the capture of individuals the option of first resort, and has killed them both from the sky, with drones, and on the ground, with "night time" raids.
One thing is certain - the US will not stay the sole proprietor of UAV’s. It is just a question of time before other nations, including America’s enemies, possess similar weapons. This was also the message of US drone manufacturers exhibiting at this year’s Farnborough International Air Show.
To date the US has been very selective, providing drones under strict conditions to a few allies including Britain, Italy and Turkey. It seems, however, that the technology is about to be provided more readily.
There is interest from the Middle East and Latin America with the affordability of making drones a highly sought-after commodity.
Ironically US drone manufacturers, keen to sell their products, are hampered by Washington’s commitments to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a non-binding international agreement designed to limit the spread of long-range precision weaponry.
Russia and China have also announced plans to develop their own drone arsenals as has Iran in light of its growing international isolation. Iran sits with the advantage of a prototype after a US drone recently crashed on Iranian soil.
An arms race involving drones would be very different from an arms race involving nuclear arms, because to use nuclear arms is recognised as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Nuclear weapons should therefore never be used.
Drone warfare turns this argument on its head. The “beauty” of drone warfare is the opportunity it provides to select the time and place of the attack in order to surprise the enemy and supposedly to minimise civilian casualties with no loss to own forces.
John Brennan, Obama’s chief counter-Terrorism adviser and the man who, according to US press reports,is entrusted with the authority to decide which “terrorists” will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, acknowledged as much when he said: "Many more nations are seeking it, and more will succeed in acquiring it” but then self-righteously assures, “President Obama and those of us on his national-security team are very mindful that as our nation uses this technology, we are establishing precedents that other nations may follow, and not all of them will be nations that share our interests or the premium we put on protecting human life, including innocent civilians."
It is not difficult to imagine that the survivors in the six countries that have experienced drone attacks will disagree.
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