The super-villain waits in a secret hideout, while his invulnerable robots pick off his enemies, is a science fiction standard. But in the world of drone wars, the “villain” is Barack Obama and his “hideout” an air force base in Nevada.
In Drone Warfare, American anti-war activist Medea Benjamin has written a guide to how murder is committed by remote control, something all too familiar in Pakistan and other parts of the world.
These drones are a scaled-up (and deadly) version of the radio-controlled small aircraft sold in high street toy and model shops. The Predator (the name says it all), has a 48 foot wingspan, a range of 600 miles and is armed by two Hellfire missiles with high explosive warheads. Its high resolution video system enables its operators to watch individuals on the ground from a mile high. Launched from 60 US bases around the world, they are “piloted” at a distance from Creech Air force Base, Nevada.
Drone manufacture is a multi-million dollar business. One firm, General Atomics of San Diego, had revenues of $662 million in 2010, mostly from selling to the Pentagon. But the murder business has been privatised with the dirty work carried out by the mercenary firm Blackwater (now renamed the more “fluffy” Academi) and others. Drones are also exported to many countries. And the next generation of drones will be able to attack targets at long range without even the control of a human operator.
Most US drones have targeted Afghanistan and Pakistan, aimed at “beheading” Taliban and Al-Qa’ida groups. But despite US denials, most of those killed have been innocent civilians, women and children. It is estimated that between 2,600 and 3,400 Pakistani people have been murdered in this way since 2004.
Leaving aside this terrible statistic, it is shocking that the ‘liberal’ Obama has publicly stated his belief that the US has the right to use drones anywhere in the world to assassinate any “enemy” of the US, with no requirement for evidence or legal process. Benjamin gives many examples of people utterly unconnected with any “militants” murdered in this way. US ally Israel, which also considers itself exempt from international law, uses the same argument to murder women and children in Gaza.
The advantage of this form of warfare is clear. The killing happens far from international observers or media. No US troops are in harm’s way. It’s a “clean” form of warfare – with the nice collateral gain of big profits for companies closely linked to government agencies. But on the ground in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere, things are very different. Living under the threat of invulnerable drones must surely kindle in people an abiding hatred of those preaching about “democratic values” while reserving the right to wipe out whole families without warning.
There is no way that the strategy pursued by the US and their client governments can ensure stability, let alone growth and development in those areas.
The way to defeat reactionary forces in these countries will come from the people themselves like Asif Iqbal, a schoolteacher who had defied the Taliban to keep his school open in Waziristan, killed by a drone strike in 2010 and Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old, shot by the Taliban for demanding an education (thankfully she survived).
So the next time Obama proudly announces the death of an Al-Qa’ida ‘leader’, ask, was he actually a leader or just a mistake by a bored operator in Nevada? Who gave the US government the right to kill him without trial? And how many of his family, children or neighbours’ children were killed with him?