When I first learned of the United States’ use of drone warfare, I thought it a good thing: saves lives of U.S. troops and seems to be precise. However, when I heard reports of targeted insurgents being killed on the sixth, 12th or 15th drone attack, I was shocked that there were no reports about who was killed in the first five and other, unreported attacks, and I began to research drone warfare. What I found saddened and outraged me.
One good source of research material was the book Drone Warfare by Medea Benjamin, a human-rights activist of 30 years.
Many human-rights groups and church communities are questioning the moral, legal and human-rights issues associated with drone warfare. Activists include the ACLU, lawyers, scientists and military personnel, including a “pilot without a cockpit.” Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich said that drone strikes raise the risk of innocent civilians or individuals who have, “… no relationship to attacks on the U.S. ... being killed.” Kucinich is calling on members of Congress “...to demand transparency and accountability for our U.S. drone program abroad” and that “Congress be provided with information on the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command use of ‘signature’ strikes.”
This activism is fueled by reports as the one from the U.K. Bureau of Investigation. From 2004 to 2011, “… between 2,372 and 2,997 individuals were killed. Of those, between 391 and 780 were civilians, 175 of them children.”
After the use of drone warfare was initiated after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, a Wall Street Journal editorial said: “Never before in the history of warfare have we been able to distinguish as well between combatants and civilians as we can with drones.”
The Los Angeles Times has a different view: “The Khan family never heard it. They had been sleeping for an hour when a Hellfire missile pierced their mud hut. Black smoke and dust choked the villagers as they dug through the rubble. Four-year-old Zeerak’s legs were severed. His sister Maria, 3, was badly scorched. Both were dead. When their cousin, Irfan, 16, saw them, he gently curled them into his arms, squeezed the rumpled bodies to his chest, kissed their faces and slid into a stupor.”
In his book, The Predator, drone pilot Matt Martin expressed his anguish when he ended up killing civilians.
He planned to blow up a group of supposed rebels who were standing around a truck. “Suddenly, two kids on a bicycle appeared on the screen, a boy, about 10, and a younger boy on the handlebars. They were laughing, talking and riding alongside the truck.” Panicking, Martin wanted to stop the missile, but it was too late, the sensor operator had already released it. “When the screens cleared, I saw the bicycle blown 20 feet away. One of the tires was still spinning. The bodies of the two boys lay bent and broken among the bodies of the insurgents.”
Every time a drone strike kills civilians, women and children, more and more nonmilitary men join the insurgents. Drone strikes actually promote civilians to join the Taliban out of anger and sorrow for deaths of the innocent people.
Martin wrote that sitting at a computer staring at the screen for hours raises paranoia and suspicion in drone pilots, and they sometimes “wish for action” just to have something to do.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon in drone pilots. The CIA’s answer to this is to consider replacing the human drone pilots with robots. Benjamin says, “autonomous weapons won’t suffer from PTSD. And that’s why – ethical or not – the military will most likely be expanding its dependency on machines that do not possess the troublesome emotions and consciences of its human pilots.”
In 2012, The New York Times filed a bid in federal court to force the U.S. government to disclose more information about its targeted killing of people it believes have ties to terrorism, including American citizens.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan ruled that the Obama administration did not violate the law by refusing the Times’ request for the legal justifications for targeted killings. MSN News reported that McMahon seemed to be reluctant to rule as she did, noting that disclosure could help the public understand the vast and ever-growing exercise the United States has been engaged in for over a decade, at great cost of lives, treasure, and (to some) personal liberty.
The New York Times is planning to appeal McMahon’s decision.
Drone warfare is good for business, if the business is Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Atomics or other aerospace industry. According to Benjamin, the Pentagon currently has a $5 billion budget for building drones. This is at a time when we have not yet recovered from, “The worst recession since the Great Depression.” American people have lost jobs, homes, and many struggle just for the bare necessities. One analyst who monitors the aerospace industry said drone research and manufacture is expected to total $94 billion from now to 2020. Some of America’s brightest scientists are not working on curing cancer, better energy sources, climate change or fighting hunger, they are busy creating more and more powerful weapons.
We should heed the words of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who more than half a century ago said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. Is there no other way the world may live?”
At 1 p.m. Feb. 17, there will be a viewing of the film “Remote Control War” at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango, 419 San Juan Drive. The film was aired on PBS in 2011 and is distributed by PBS. There will be a discussion after the one-hour film, and the public is invited.
Susana Jones has been a peace and human-rights activist for 35 years. She is active in Durango with the Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Committee. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.