UPDATE (6/10/2012): Slate has an interesting interactive graphic indicating the scope of the drone bombing campaign in Pakistan and how it has intensified under Obama here. Unfortunately, this map is deeply deceptive. It refers to deaths in categories of “non-militants” and “militants,” which we now know is a completely dishonest category. If we classify all dead military-aged males as militants, by definition we assume that no men in these areas are civilian and therefore all such men are legitimate targets. This assumption is completely untenable and therefore, of course, many of them are simply innocent by-standers. And again, given our arrest, detention and torture of minors on the battlefield, one wonders what “miltary-aged male” means: 18? 14? 12? ( This article discusses how NATO troops in Afghanistan note children as young as three (?!) as combatants. As always, it is the enemy that has no respect for human life, not the guys sending Hellfire missiles into adobe compounds) Moreover, this definition of “militant=male” makes the drone campaign a war crime since turning entire districts into “kill boxes” and targeting all groups of men as legitimate “militant targets” (i.e., “signature strikes” or as one wry anonymous official put it, “three guys doing jumping jacks is a terrorist training camp”), than these targeting policies are a form of collective punishment. The supporters of drones as a “humanitarian” weapon such as Newsweek’s wretched Daniel Klaidman, are deeply delusional on this point. Drones have evolved into a typical weapon of counter-insurgency terrorism–a form of collective punishment by “free-fire zone” of suspects in ”bandit country.” Just because they are a fancy new technology of death does not conceal this essential function, not unlike that of the infamous Mi-24 “HiND” in Afghanistan during the “Russian War.” Look at the map. Either there’s more terrorists than NATO could possibly handle in Pakistan’s tribal areas, or NATO is simply terrorizing Pakistan’s tribal populations. That’s certainly the assessment the Pakistani government has reached.
ORIGINAL STORY (6/9/2012): Over the course of the last week, the news media (especially the international news media) has been abuzz with new revelations concerning the Obama administration’s targeted killing campaign using weaponized drones (can we call them “a flying death squad” yet). These reports have been more confirmatory than revelatory on many levels. First off, senior administration sources (I’m looking at you John Brennan) confirmed anonymously (well, that’s convenient) that we have two drone killing programs (a shady one run out of the Pentagon and a shady-as-hell one run out of the CIA), something this administration has vigorously refused to admit in a court of law. Chew on that last Kafka-esque line as commentators like Glenn Greenwald have over the past week. So, while government lawyers move to squash any access to the courts for victims of the government’s assassination program by vigorously denying it, the White House hides behind the cloak of anonymity and a largely supine media to boast about the effectiveness of its targeted assassination program. Yes, and I mean supine (you know, I don’t really think even Vladimir Putin would try to get away with such a rank piece of fluffery disguised as journalism as the “straight reporter” Klaidman pulls in that clip). And make no mistakes on this being coordinated at the highest levels–despite Obama’s angry denials that his administration leaks for political advantage (although the appointment of prosecutors to investigate–largely due to pressure from various senators–may or may not signal that someone went off the reservation). For various reasons, this denial does not pass the giggle test. Obama’s administration has conducted an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and persecuted journalists who report stories that embarrass or reveal the corruption of the national security state. Reporters who uncritically convey what the government wants conveyed (yeah, you can call it propagated information–you know, propaganda), get plum access and juicy book contracts. Greenwald notes that investigative reporters are getting the message:
Matt Apuzzo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for Associated Press, explained the obvious lesson being taught by this episode:
“Sanger writes on successful Iran operation, gets wide access. Risen writes on botched Iranian operation, gets subpoenaed.”
In fact, the White House has gone so far as to allow access to the very same “national security secrets” to Hollywood film makers that they swear are state secrets in court. Seems even official Washington is noting the rank politicization this involves, thus Holder’s investigation.
Admitted in these drone reports is that civilian deaths are minimal because the Administration defines any military-aged male (16-64? 12-82? Who knows?!) as a “militant” unless posthumously found to be innocent (and no, the military and CIA do precious little to determine who exactly any of their hellfire missile strikes kills). This revelation has led to a good deal of mordant commentary on “collateral murder” (and the American military and CIA’s habit of conducting “signature strikes”–i.e., you might be a terrorist from the way you strut, so we’re “taking you out” (that would be “murdering you” for those of us who don’t speak Beltway faux-macho)–and the undoubted war crime of targeting rescuers and funerals), but the deeper point has been lost. These drones, declared “precision targeted weapons,” are only “precision” after the fact. If we simply classify the dead as enemies, by definition only enemies are killed. But aerial bombardment has had a long history of stiffening resistance and in Yemen and Pakistan, especially, the growing pile of innocent corpses (who are known to be innocent by their friends and family, no matter how we define them) is producing precisely that effect.
But all of this is fun-and-games until it’s a major land war on the Asian continent.
And frankly, what has happened over the last two weeks between the United States and Pakistan is extremely disturbing. It indicates considerable slippage in the use of drones, which the United States is now clearly using to exert pressure on a long-time (if inconstant) ally. Simply put, the Obama Administration is angry with Islamabad over its refusal to open supply lines to its army of occupation in Afghanistan and engaged in an open and rather juvenile snub of Pakistan’s President Zadari. For Zadari, the main point is America’s continued drone attacks on its citizens (I’m sorry, I mean “militants”–although now the whole world knows a “militant” is someone else’s male citizen we killed). In fact, the American US deputy ambassador in Islamabad was given an unprecedented dressing-down for the uptick in drone attacks in Pakistan, such as the one that killed the al-Qaida commander al-Libi. Pakistan considers drone attacks a “clear red line” but Washington has signaled it does not give a rat’s ass about Pakistani concerns. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made the amazing statement that bombing Pakistani territory without its consent was going to continue.
“We have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves,” he said. “This is about our sovereignty as well.”
What an extraordinary statement of imperial hubris: “our sovereignty is our sovereignty and your sovereignty is our sovereignty, too.” One can well imagine Henry Kissinger explaining the same concept to the Cambodians in 1970. Moreover, this is not simply a campaign directed at “defense.” Following an extraordinarily bloody attack on a Pakistan army outpost that killed 23 of its soldiers (to say nothing of the bin Laden raid six months earlier), Islamabad made it clear it was withholding its co-operation in our Afghan occupation unless it received assurances of better targeting (oh yes, and an apology). Washington largely ignored that request–launching eleven such airstrikes in the last six months. Since the demonstrative snub of Zadari in Chicago, America nearly doubled that bloody count in the last two weeks alone. That this was a campaign of political intimidation, not military necessity has been admitted to by Time again–and of course, anonymous senior administration sources:
A senior U.S. official acknowledged Thursday that the recent increase in drone strikes on insurgents in Pakistan — targeting mostly al-Qaeda but other militants as well — is partly a result of frustration with Islamabad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.
We all now know what “other militants” means–guys in the wrong place at the wrong time. As if this wasn’t enough of a “screw you!” to the Pakistanis, Panetta traveled to both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s long-time enemy, India, last week and made some extremely provocative remarks, in particular that America’s patience for Pakistani “safe havens” is running out and India must “take a larger role” in Afghanistan and build closer military ties with the United States. Simply put, no government in Islamabad can look on India involvement in Afghanistan (where, by the way, it has been involved for decades, especially with the Northern Alliance) with equinanimity. The Pakistanis strongly rejected the charge they were providing “safe havens” for the Taliban (as well they should–the bombing of “safe havens” was why 800,000 Cambodians died in another American “secret war). For its part, India is not willing to be used as such an obvious pawn in America’s imperial games–it has been extremely wary of providing more than a humanitarian presence in Afghanistan.
One can hardly blame the Indians for being cool, given the flustercluck that is Afghanistan. Panetta’s own secret trip to Kabul was marred by spectacular violence as the Taliban shows no sign of defeat. Moreover, the commander of US Marine General John Allen, commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, was forced to apologize, yet again, for a NATO airstrike that killed 18 women and children in Logar Province–a drone strike which was earlier reported to have killed only “militants” (instead it killed tribal elders, women and children, but mostly children–there’s your “surgical” strike for you). It is rare that the victims, excuse me, I mean “militant targets,” of US airstrikes have a say in the American press but here they do speak and their words make clear just how effective air strikes are in mobilizing support against U.S. and western interests.
“The faces of the people were very sad,” Stanekzai said. “We told the people to stay relaxed, calm and to just talk with the general. They told him ‘These incidents don’t just happen once, but two, three, four times and they keep happening.’”
Stanekzai said the people demanded that those responsible be put on trial.
It seems the people being bombed certainly see it as a crime and not an “oops”–maybe Western publics should as well?
Whatever one thinks about Obama’s drone bombings, they are hardly the precision miracle weapon they have been portrayed as and have deeply destabilized the countries where they have been used. Pakistan is using measured language in response to Panetta’s provocations (Zadari has an upcoming election to deal with). Not so Washington. As one (again!) anonymous administration official confided,
Now, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in discussing sensitive issues, the administration’s attitude is, “What do we have to lose?”
What do you have to lose? Well, besides your diseased and corrupted soul, you moron? I’d say you have to lose any support at all from Pakistan and its malign neglect could be very, very costly to your troops in Afghanistan. Not that this coward (anonymously commenting) cares about more dead NATO troops or Afghan civilians, but he (and you know it’s a “he” with this fake tough guy talk) might, just might, want to consider the debacle he’s setting up of trying to evacuate a failed occupation through Uzbekistan (yeah, good luck with that–maybe you can retreat over the same bridge Gorbachev left by) while Pakistan unleashes the Haqqani network.
Whatever drones are for, they are not about killing terrorists. Not anymore. The spat with Pakistan has indicated that like the B-52s of old (and now!) they are weapons of reckless power projection. And that is how this strutting and arrogant administration is using them.