Welcome Medea Benjamin (GlobalExchange.org) (CodePink) and Host John Feffer (JohnFeffer.com)(ForeignPolicyInFocus)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control

Drone warfare, as global activist Medea Benjamin persuasively explains in her new book on the subject, is a quantum leap in military affairs. It has reshaped the day-to-day waging of war in ways more profound even than the last great technological leap in warfighting, nuclear weapons. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles has transformed not only the techniques of war but also the ethical, political, and psychological context of war. And it has done so largely by stealth. Drones have snuck up on us, and we’ve barely had a chance to discuss their implications. Benjamin, who is the cofounder of both Code Pink and Global Exchange, has done us a great service by writing a book that focuses this discussion.

Consider, for instance, the strategy of the Obama administration. It has moved away from the conventional war started by its predecessor in Iraq and is drawing down the conflict in Afghanistan. But drones enable this reduction of boots on the ground. Our soldiers leave, but we leave our eyes behind.

At the same time, the president has authorized a dramatic increase in the use of drones in places where the United States has not declared war, the “overseas contingency operations” that have substituted for the Bush administration’s “global war on terrorism.” In Pakistan, as Benjamin points out, the number of drone attacks has increased more than four-fold over the last administration. Moreover, the president has increased drone attacks in other countries such as Yemen and Somalia.

Indeed, the drone threatens to replace the air force altogether for the Pentagon reckons them to be cheaper, more maneuverable and safer (for American soldiers at least) than manned jet fighters. Drone Warfare itemizes the new arsenal of drones from the long-endurance, high-altitude Reaper and its Hellfire missiles at $68,000 a shot to the little Hummingbird that weighs no more than two AA batteries.

The Pentagon pitches drones as the perfect surgical strike weapon that takes out the “bad guys” and little else. But Benjamin gives the lie to this assertion by surveying the various estimates of civilian casualties and giving heart-wrenching sketches of the victims of these strikes.

But even if drones were as surgical as billed, their use would still be highly problematic. The Obama administration, after all, is engaging in assassination when the president or the CIA serves as the judge, jury, and executioner. The administration has also largely dispensed with extraordinary rendition – moving terrorist suspects to a third country for interrogation and torture – in favor of targeted assassinations by drone. As Benjamin argues, this move dispenses with many of the legal problems of rendition. But it has raised a host of ethical questions about U.S. conduct overseas, particularly when the victims of drone attacks are U.S. citizens as was the case with Anwar al-Awlaki, the cleric killed by drone in Yemen, not to mention his 16-year-old son killed in a subsequent drone attack.

The administration argues that it abides by international law because it is fighting a war and targeting combatants. But Benjamin quotes Mary Ellen O’Connell, professor at Notre Dame Law School: “Drones are not lawful for use outside combat zones. Outside such zones, police are the proper law enforcement agents and police are generally required to warn before using lethal force.” Moreover, as Benjamin points out, the CIA agents and contractors operating the drones qualify as unlawful combatants.

For the moment, unmanned drones still need human operators. Benjamin points out that it takes 168 people to keep a Predator aloft, compared to fewer than 100 for the F-16. Then there are all the people who have to view the surveillance footage. As the use of drones multiplies, so does the number of people needed for the program. These drone personnel have a fundamentally different relationship to war. “While the pilots who dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, they did not see the effects firsthand,” Benjamin writes. “By contrast, those who pilot Predator and Reaper drones see almost everything when they fire a missile.” The psychological impact of fighting a drone war is not yet fully understood.

These humans are, of course, fallible. Benjamin recounts a terrifying conversation that takes place during a drone surveillance as the pilot, the screeners, and the cameraman all try to interpret what they see. By the time they make their decision to launch a missile, they’ve managed to see weapons that don’t exist and not see children who do. Surgical strike this certainly wasn’t.

Ultimately, however, the Pentagon envisions automating the process. However fallible, humans at least bring a certain amount of compassion to war, Benjamin notes. To deputize robots to conduct war on our behalf opens an entirely different Pandora’s Box of potential evils.

For the moment, drones are by and large operating in distant lands. But as Drone Warfare details, U.S. law enforcement is just now beginning to adapt drones to domestic missions. Moreover, the United States has established a dangerous precedent by defying sovereign borders and assassinating alleged terrorists at will. Any country could make the same argument in going after alleged terrorists on U.S. soil. As with nuclear weapons, the United States is creating a new world of warfare that ultimately will make everyone unsafe everywhere.

141 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Medea Benjamin, Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control”

BevW June 2nd, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Medea, Welcome back to the Lake.

John, Welcome to the Lake and Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Thanks, Beverly and welcome to the Book Salon. Medea, you were at a drone protest in front of the White House yesterday. Can you give us a report from the front lines of the anti-drone movement?

dakine01 June 2nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Medea and welcome back to FDL this afternoon.

Good afternoon John

Medea, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but find it a bit interesting that the current admin (and presumably the previous as well) argue that drone usage is legal since we are at war yet it seems both admins have gone out of their way to claim that the folks ‘captured’ are not entitled to Geneva Convention coverage. Seems like they truly do want it all ways and just ignore the illogical inconsistencies in their arguments.

bluewombat June 2nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Medea, congratulations on your gutsy and creative work with Code Pink. I have two questions: When do you think they’ll start using drones in the U.S. against dissidents and crowds of protesters? And which companies make the most money off drones?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hello all. Ready to start talking about drones???

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 2

Yeah, we had a great protest, with a “kill list” that included the Constitution and rule of law. We also had a great big drone. I’ll find a pic

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 6

That’s great, thanks. Your book has a section on the anti-drone movement in the US and also around the world. If you have a lull between questions, it would be great if you could give readers here 1-2 things they can do to participate in this anti-drone movement.

bluewombat June 2nd, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 5

Yes, but we’ll try not to drone on about it (pls. excuse a little drone humor; it helps to relieve the tension from a very serious subject).

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Are drones being used to patrol the US-Canadian border?
Who has (or will have) access to the surveillance?

BevW June 2nd, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Medea’s Picture

BevW June 2nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm
Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

yes, you got it. They want it both ways. Either we’re at war or we’re not at war. And with the program in the hands of the CIA, they are not a party that is permitted to operate drones, under the rules of war, since they are not the military. So they would be “unlawful combatants.”

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 12

It’s one of the perks of a superpower, isn’t it, to have it both ways? The United States only follows those international laws that don’t significantly undercut its military and economic power.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 4

Some of the companies making the most drones are General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, a small company Aeroenvironment, Raytheon.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 14

And, as you point out in your book, Israel has emerged as a leading exporter of drones. So the U.S. has lost its monopoly, with other major players entering the market.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 4

in terms of using drones in the united states, they are already being used in the US experimentally, and will be used in a much broader fashion in 2015 when the permitting process is opened up.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to hpschd @ 9

yes, drones are being used on the northern and southern borders by Border Control and they have access to the info. Who knows with whom they same it??! But we do know that the Border Patrol on the north has already shared their DRONE with local police!

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 16

In terms of using surveillance on protestors in the U.S., drones are used in particular where there are few or no “boots on the ground.” The police and FBI have plenty of boots on the ground at demonstrations in the United States and have gone under cover in various dissident movements, so drones become less important for intelligence-gathering. Of course, that doesn’t preclude the use of drones at some point in the future….

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 15

yes, check out the website negednegek.org to see the chart of all the places where Israel has sold drones. 50 countries!!!

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 18

yes, but I think police want to use drones to spy on protesters, and to surveil their protests.

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 2:19 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 17

Do they share the information with Canadian government agencies? Perhaps in return for some cross-border snooping.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 20

yes, that’s one of the malign effects of drones — they are the latest “toy” and everyone wants one — police, Homeland Security, and so on.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 7

some things folks can do: Join in protests at military bases and company headquarters, join campaigns to divest from companies involved in lethal drone production, send my book to friends :)
Support the Kucinich effort demanding accountability
Join CODEPINK campaign to get drones out of hands of CIA
pass local ordinance regulating drones (sample at http://www.knowdrones.org)

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 22

yes, and homeland security is giving grants (our money) to police departments to buy drones

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Are drones visible to observers on the ground? Can you see them?

dakine01 June 2nd, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 24

I can just the effects of some sheriffs (like Arpaio) with access to drones. The question then becomes how soon before he creates another international incident…

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 19

No result for negednegek.org (Rogers cable in Toronto)

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Another question for a lull: there’s been a lot of press recently about the blowback against drone attacks in Yemen. There’s been similar blowback in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Is there a point at which the Pentagon or the State Department realizes that drones — or at least this particular use of drones — is counter-productive even according to the narrow definitions of national security that the Obama administration holds to? Or is the administration simply blowback-resistant?

tighebarry June 2nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm

does the US have the right to kill people in the FATA region of Pakistan? if not why not?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm

sometimes yes, sometimes no. They can fly at different altitudes. People in Gaza and in No. Pakistan now have words to refer to the buzzing of the drones, which they hear and say “spells death.”

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to hpschd @ 27
Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 28

good question. I have no idea. It seems like if they were rational actors, they would have seen the terrible results in Pakistan, especially of the broader “signature strikes” and would not be spreading them to Yemen.

dakine01 June 2nd, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to hpschd @ 27

Looks like there might be a typo, try negedneshek.org

bludog June 2nd, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi Medea and thanks for all your great work. Are you aware of any efforts to prosecute for war crimes against any of our home-grown war criminals related to drones?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to tighebarry @ 29

The US doesn’t have the right to violate the sovereignty of other nations. The Pakistani government (and people) have been asking them to stop, but that has not deterred the CIA. The strikes continue.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 33

yes, thanks.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to bludog @ 35

There are lawyers in Pakistan and the UK who are trying to do this. In the US the laws make it impossible.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Pakistani lawyers are suing the local CIA and even the US ambassador to Pakistan.

bluewombat June 2nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 14

oops, never mind

mzchief June 2nd, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Welcome everyone!

Drones are one more reason why Canadians should not allow the elimination of the independent inspector general– among many other important institutional checks and balances being aggressively cut right now in Canada.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Hard to say. You know that drones have been used to kill US citizens overseas. The head of the FBI was asked at a congressional hearing if drones could be used to kill Americans here at home. He hesitated and said he wasn’t sure about that! Scary!

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 39

It’s one of the reasons why the United States is so reluctant to ratify the International Criminal Court treaty — the prospect of seeing U.S. citizens brought up on charges of war crimes

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Since drones are flown remotely – can the control signals be blocked or jammed? (at either end – transmission or reception)

I have flown Radio-Controlled model airplanes – even one with a camera. Signal interference is a big problem.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:35 pm

You know that Canada has purchased Israeli drones for use in Afghanistan?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 43

Exactly, the US likes to see other war criminals at the ICC, but not “our own.”

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to hpschd @ 44

yes, they can be blocked and jammed. This is what the Iranians said they did to down the US spy plane (the one they now say that they have replicated). As nations and non-state groups get more sophisticated with cyberwar, this will be more of a problem.

bluewombat June 2nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 19

I entered negednegek and negednegek.org into a search engine (Ixquick, actually). Both came up blank.

EDITED TO ADD: OK, got it.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Another question for a lull: is it possible at this point to ban drones in the same way that the land mines campaign has worked hard to eliminate that particular weapon? Or are drones too lucrative a business — and too hotly sought after by so many countries — to launch a campaign to ban them? And, if the latter, what are the most likely ways of restricting their growth or constraining their use?

BeachPopulist June 2nd, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 43

With all due respect, I suggest that the unwillingness to ratify the ICC treaty is that US officials don’t want to see THEMSELVES tried for war crimes.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Landmines basically have one use: to kill or maim. Drones have lots of uses (fighting forest fires, surveying land) and an infinite number of potential uses. And yes, they are so lucrative and widespread they will not be banned. But there can–and should be–both international and domestic rules regulating their use.

bluewombat June 2nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to BeachPopulist @ 51

Give the man a kewpie doll.

BevW June 2nd, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 48

Website – http://www.negedneshek.org/

Neged Neshek

Try this – bev

Kevin Gosztola June 2nd, 2012 at 2:43 pm

The book is a very good read. Thank you for exploring all these aspects of drone warfare that have not really received too much attention at all.

What do you think is the most profound myth people believe about drones right now?

Phoenix Woman June 2nd, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to BeachPopulist @ 51

Eggzacktly.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 55

Biggest myth? That drones are making us safer.
What do you think, Kevin (and thanks for your great work on this issue)

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to BeachPopulist @ 51

Yes — but remember: Clinton signed the ICC treaty. It was Bush that “unsigned” it. There were also various bills in Congress that offered work-arounds: scenarios in which the U.S. would withhold military aid to countries that didn’t shelter U.S. citizens from ICC prosecution and even a bill that would authorize the president to use force to free U.S. citizens held in The Hague.

mzchief June 2nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 45

This transcript has been Twitter-fied (linked for reference by Tweet readers) …

Just saw this hours ago in the wee AM from Aussie sources that got my attention:

SBS News ‏@SBSNews
The US plans to move 60 per cent of its navy fleet to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020 http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1655533/US-to-shift-most-war-ships-to-Asia-Pacific
Details

Muzz Ray ‏@Muzzray
@SBSNews the US is planning to build a Nuclear Naval Base on the Brisbane River frm the lecture UQ last night the ABC recorded it ‪#UQUSBases‬
7:54 PM – 1 Jun 12 via Twitter for iPhone · Details

I need to go through to see if the ABC in Australia has reported the story as this is the first I had heard. Also, is this a base for drones and how are these drones powered? Are they nuclear? Will they have nukes arms? So many questions, so few answers.

juliania June 2nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

It is an honor to have you here, Ms. Benjamin. Thank you for all you do.

It is hard to think of an appropriate question on such a terrible subject. Obama appears to think that his role in the use of drones will win him increased support this election round. Maybe I am too optimistic, but I think the NYT article, your book, and all the discussions here and elsewhere give the lie to that assessment.

How would you compare the assertions in the Times article to the claims made by Bush advocates concerning torture?

We seem to have set aside even the need for lawyerly opinions on the use of drones. Now consultation and executive decision is the only guidance we have. It is most depressing.

pastfedup June 2nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Thanks BevW and John Feffer,for making this book salon possible. Welcome, Medea, and thank you for this book and for your tireless efforts.

2 Questions: do you know in which cities of the USA that drones are manufactured and shipped from? And where are the control centers?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

The Australian government has already agreed to allow the US to have a drone base on the Cocos Islands!

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Re the nuclear question,
Drones like the Predator and Reaper are big enough to carry nuclear warheads but most ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads over long distances would be too heavy. If you look up the payload capacities of various drones and the launch weights of various missiles, you can see which ones could theoretically be carried on which drones.

The US is considering replacing the B-2 with a drone of some type that could carry nuclear weapons. A ban on any such “nuclear-armed

robot” is one of the basic principles proposed by a group of scientists called the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.

A related issue is the one of nuclear-powered drones. There are plans in the works for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions for months on end without refueling. But the danger of a crash that would turn the drone into a “dirty bomb” or the danger of having its nuclear propulsion system fall into the hands of unfriendly forces, these have not been operationalized.

Kevin Gosztola June 2nd, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 57

I’ll put what I think is the biggest myth into the form of a question.

I don’t think that the only two options we have to choose from to address the issue of terrorism (small or large) are military occupations or targeted drone operations. The Obama administration has essentially claimed the American people only have these two options.

What do you think? How powerful is this myth and what would you say to shatter it?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to juliania @ 60

It’s amazing all the hue and cry in the liberal community when Bush was using torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, but at least people’s lives were spared. Now Obama is simply killing people, and there is little outcry.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to mzchief @ 59

The base in Brisbane is being expanded for Marines relocated from the Futenma base in Okinawa. According to the latest news report, based on a letter from Kevin Rudd, Brisbane is being considered as a possible port for U.S. nuclear submarines. That would take some time to construct, if indeed it gets the go-ahead.

The “Pacific pivot” being executed by the Obama administration is indeed a shift in U.S. military attention away from the Middle East. But whether it will represent a significant increase in U.S. forces in the region — as opposed to simply a reorganization of U.S. forces in the region — depends a great deal on the battle over the U.S. military budget and whether we see a $500 billion reduction in national security spending over the next decade (Obama plan) or a cut of more than $1 trillion (sequestration plan) or even more than that (what the U.S. public wants, according to virtually all polls)

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 64

I’d say the best thing we can do to stop terrorism is to stop occupying other lands and killing innocent people, and to use our police/military to protect us here at home. I saw an interesting interview today with the Yemeni woman, Tawakul Karman, who won the Nobel Peace prize. She said that the former President Saleh was using terrorism as a way to convince the US to back him, but was really working with Al Qaeda, and now that he is gone, the Yemenis can fight Al Qaeda themselves.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 65

A significant part of the liberal community supported Bush’s wars and bought the argument about bending rules and principles in order to expedite the overall war on terrorism. We’ve seen some “second thoughts” from people like Peter Beinart, but I think this earlier support for “empire lite” (to use Michael Ignatieff’s phrase) has compromised the critical ability to challenge what the Obama administration is currently doing.

bluewombat June 2nd, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 65

It’s amazing all the hue and cry in the liberal community when Bush was using torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, but at least people’s lives were spared. Now Obama is simply killing people, and there is little outcry.

It’s a question of branding, I think. The Democratic brand is supposed to be the “good” brand. Plus, he’s black, and who didn’t find it touching that a black man made it to the Oval Office. Thirdly, he has such an inspiring life story.

I think people can’t process the fact that the wheel is rigged and we have no good options within the system.

mzchief June 2nd, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 66

I earlier saw complaints of US drone operations in the Philippines (can get Twitter cite if you like). Is there more on that? How is the Japanese government involved in this besides joining with US and European interests in pushing nuke plants in China?

juliania June 2nd, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 62

New Zealand is my native land. I am very worried about the new NAFTA (forgot the initials, think it is TPP) which is causing that government to shift markedly (and marketly) into lockstep with the neoliberal agenda. I am so hoping they will see the light before it is too late.

Drones across the Pacific, oh boy.

Is there any light at the end of this very dark, dark tunnel?

realitychecker June 2nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 65

Well, Medea, if you’re dead, at least you aren’t suffering./s Thanks for all you do.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 61

Drones, and drone parts, are made all over the US. The manufacturers love to spread it out so they can buy more congresspeople (and convince them to support drones because they create jobs). Likewise, there are Air Force bases all over the US that are now involved in training or operating or testing drones. Some of the best known are Creech (outside Las Vegas) and Hancock in upstate NY, the Holloman base in New Mexico

Phoenix Woman June 2nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 69

Fourth, I think there are a lot of people who find “clean deaths” less, especially done in the context of war, a lot less objectionable than torturing the helpless. Then again, one can argue that drone victims are helpless too.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 68

yes, that and partisan politics!

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Another question for a lull: What has the UN done about drones? You talk about the report of special rapporteur Philip Alston condemning the use of drones for extrajudicial killing. Did that report have any impact? Have any countries pushed this issue within the UN?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to mzchief @ 70

Re drones in the Philippines, this is something I’ve been trying to find out about. John, perhaps you know. I’ve seen credible report by Akbar Ahmed (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/03/20123574732969894.html) of a drone attack in the Philippines, but so little reporting on this…

realitychecker June 2nd, 2012 at 3:07 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 74

That would be a particularly revolting example of moral relativism, IMO. Wonder what the victims would have preferred?

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Hi Medea. I’d like your comment on this by Andrew Bacevich from a 9/27/09 oped in WaPo:

In confronting this conflict, the goal of U.S. national security strategy ought to be limited but specific: to insulate Americans from the fallout. Rather than setting out to clear, hold and build thousands of tiny, primitive villages scattered across the Afghan countryside, such a strategy should emphasize three principles: decapitate, contain and compete. An approach based on these principles cannot guarantee perpetual peace. But it is likely to be more effective, affordable and sustainable than a strategy based on open-ended war.

Decapitation — targeting leaders for elimination — provides the means to suppress immediate threats to our safety. The violent jihadists who pose those threats are vicious but relatively few in number. They possess limited capabilities. Their aspirations of uniting the world’s Muslims into a new caliphate are akin to Sarah Palin’s or Dennis Kucinich’s presidential ambitions — unworthy of serious attention. They are rank fantasies.

Without effective leadership, the jihadists are nothing. The aim of decapitation is twofold. At a minimum it will oblige jihadist chieftains to devote enormous attention to ensuring their own survival, giving them less time to plot against the West. Optimally, it will confront jihadist networks with never-ending succession crises, consuming organizational energies that might otherwise find external expression. Decapitation won’t eliminate the threat — Hamas and Hezbollah have survived the Israeli government’s targeted assassination campaign — but it can reduce it to manageable levels.

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to mzchief @ 41

Eliminating the Inspector-General for CSIS is truly horrifying. Thanks for the link.

Canada spent $125 million in 2008 for an unknown number of drones for use by the military in Afghanistan.
http://www.negedneshek.org/exports/uavs/uav-exports/

Where are the drones now? CSIS?

pastfedup June 2nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 73

thank you. I neglected to say that the reason I asked was in the interests of protesting, especially the manufacturers. Local activists in each town where manufacturing takes place could get involved with educating the public and organizing protests. Won’t necessarily stop it, but public awareness would be a positive thing.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to mzchief @ 70

I’d very much like to see whatever citations you have of drone use in the Asia/Pacific region. I’m not familiar with any Japanese involvement in drone production (other than for non-military purposes: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-10/video-japans-new-ball-shaped-drone-wows-crowds-tokyo)

That said, Japanese conservatives have been pushing for years to change the constitution so that Japan can field an authentically offensive military. It recently changed its rules on military exports and is participating in missile defense with the United States. So, it could very well decide to get into the military drone business.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 74

yes, many of the drone victims are innocent. Check out the cite: Bureau of Investigative Journalism (tbij.org). Did you check the tidbit in the NYT piece about how all men of military age in the target area were considered militants, unless they could be proven otherwise “posthumously”???

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Did you check the tidbit in the NYT piece about how all men of military age in the target area were considered militants, unless they could be proven otherwise “posthumously”???

And when did it become okay to kill those who militate. Had Barack Obama lived up to his campaign promise to agressively pursue change in Washington, he himself would be a militant.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to wigwam @ 79

wow, I usually like Bacevich, but this section is terrible. Especially when he is putting this horrible military terms like decapitation together with his disparaging remarks about Dennis Kucinich! I would hate for Dennis to be decapitated :(

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 77

Yes, the U.S. has definitely used drones in the Philippines earlier this year. It’s a very trouble development…

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 85

Did you check the tidbit in the NYT piece about how all men of military age in the target area were considered militants, unless they could be proven otherwise “posthumously”???

I agree on both points. ;-)

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to wigwam @ 84

I think they used the word “combatants”, which I should have used. Sorry.

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:15 pm

What new dimension of droning do you think Aerovironment mechanical humming birds will introduce? I doesn’t take a lot of imagination think up a lot of evil they could do.

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 88

No. You got it right the first time. “Militant” is exactly the word they used.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 81

yes, we have to do more protests at the places where drones (and drone components) are being made. I give lots of examples in my book, including a professor who used FOIA to get a list of entities in his state (Indiana) that are involved in drone research and production.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to wigwam @ 89

Mostly surveillance, for now, but it’s so sad how they are mimicking the beauty of the natural world–insects, birds, etc.–to come up with more sophisticated ways of spying and killing.

juliania June 2nd, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Medea, you stated that It is not possible to prosecute in this country because the laws do not permit such, and that the US hasn’t agreed to abide under the International Court’s jurisdiction, but isn’t it true that in both areas there are ways to bring a case forward?

I am thinking both of the assumption of executive decisionmaking in extralegal assassinations without any court saying it can be done – we had the example of warrantless wiretapping under Bush, and cases objecting to Patriot Act provisions, plus more that I don’t have in mind – even if these are not able to succeed, do you know of any that are trying with respect to drones? It would be important to bring to public attention what a terrible thing this is.

Also, the disclosure that all males of a certain age in proximity to the hit are classified as combatants – wouldn’t that be an area the International Court could independently consider? That seems to be against all the rules of war, and indicative that the appropriate care is not and cannot be taken even if one subscribes to the ‘war on terror’ designation.

I continue to hopefully feel that these revelations are huge. Thank you so much for your book. There is still time for us on this forum to really focus on this outrage. I think it merits impeachment, and also war crimes consideration. Not to mention it is putting us deeply at risk as a rogue nation with empirical fantasies.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to wigwam @ 90

just reread it, said combatants. Whatever. the point is the same. PROFILING on a massive scale, and disgusting.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to juliania @ 71

The TPP is not a done deal. There’s considerable resistance within Japan and South Korea to joining the nine-member arrangement. And without Japan and South Korea, the TPP would not get very far. In terms of the sales of drones across the Pacific, that’s a tougher question. The UN will be taking up the Arms Trade Treaty later this month. It’s an important first step in establishing limits on arms transfers, but it’s very modest in scope.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:22 pm
In response to juliania @ 93

yes, I think there are all sorts of way to use the courts. We have been working with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU and the UK group Reprieve on some of these. But it is easier in other places where the courts are not so confining in terms of “standing.”

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:24 pm

not sure if you saw this question, Medea What has the UN done about drones? You talk about the report of special rapporteur Philip Alston condemning the use of drones for extrajudicial killing. Did that report have any impact? Have any countries pushed this issue within the UN?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:25 pm

where drones are really started to be used and based now is in Africa. I’m glad Foreign Policy in Focus (particularly Emira Woods) is taking up this aspect.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I have been told that the present special rapporteur is not nearly as good and is not pushing this.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:27 pm

The UN report was brought up at a congressional hearing, but didn’t seem to have any impact. You know how impressed most Republicans are by the UN!

juliania June 2nd, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 96

Thank you, John; thank you Medea. I do know that there is much about the courts that leaves a lot to be desired as well. Strength to you both, and our blessings, I know, go with you.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:28 pm

we do, John, have to find allies overseas who can push this at the UN. The ICRAC group is mostly working with the arms control folks in Geneva.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 98

Absolutely. She’s been key in organizing Resist AFRICOM, the Pentagon’s Africa Command that is in charge of the new drone activity in Africa. People who are interested can find more info here: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1552/t/5717/signUp.jsp?key=3094

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Do you know if drones have been used yet in Nigeria? Brennan talked about it being the next place.

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm

What sort of track record do drones have in terms of reliability and failure rates? 168 people per Predator UAV seems outrageous. How many just go wandering off?

You probably cover this in the book, but the library doesn’t have it yet. I put in a request.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm

How about resistance within the ranks of the U.S. military? Some retired military — Ann Wright, for instance — have worked tirelessly against drones. But are we seeing any active service expressing reservations about drones?

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 94

just reread it, said combatants.

Hmmm. It turns out that they used both terms.

‘They Must All Be Militants’

[...]

It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
[...]

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

Also, in what I read, “militant” was the operative charge against Anwar Al-Awlaki. The problem with that is that most of the people here are “militant” under the ordinary use of the term.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Yes, they crash all the time, and I give lots of examples in the book. This is the main reason the FAA has been so reluctant to open up US airspace to drones. And yes, they also go wandering off, called “going rogue.”

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I think it’s just talk at this point: http://huhuonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3401:us-contemplates-drone-strikes-in-nigeria-as-al-qaeda-now-trains-boko-haram&catid=103

But the discussion of Boko Haram’s links to AQIM seems to prepare the ground for drone use there.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to wigwam @ 107

yes, our lawyer friend in Pakistan says that the US thinks anyone who has a beard, a turban and carries a gun is a militant, but that this is the description of almost all the men in Waziristan.

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 106

How about resistance within the ranks of the U.S. military?

I’m told by a former vice president of Northrup that the industry has been trying to sell drones to the military for decades. The problem was that the Air Force and Naval Aviation are both run by pilots, the “silk-scarf boys” as he call them. And they hate the notion of drones. He told me of one key person in Air Force procurement who had a sign on his wall with the word DRONES and a large red line through it. Sigh!

mzchief June 2nd, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 82

Other than the Al Jazeera piece, I saw this regarding drones and the Philippines (online paper ["About Us"] in English, Russian and Serbian):

US drones begin to kill in Philippines” | Strategic Culture Foundation, Jan. 3, 2012

I am seeing discussion among Japanese speakers just about nuke plants (doesn’t mean the other topics aren’t being discussed as this would be a “spin off” business in robotics, etc. and I would try to get a bead on that ASAP) and, right now, the forced re-opening of the Oi nuke plant in complete opposition to the Japanese public. These discussed get translated into French, Chinese and English with the help of many others. I just lost track of one important Japanese alternative media person. The Japanese government apparently is making more Plutonium when they are sitting on tons of it already. It’s hare-brained and sinister all at the same time. I have quite a bit I posted in English at my Twitter thread, @mz_chief. Some of the folks I follow, top level, are @DrHCaldicott, @R_Cherwick, @MaliVirtually and Physicians for Social Responsibilities web sources plus individual vocal Japanese as civil engineer, @Angama_Market. @BiancaJagger is monitoring too now plus no one wants nuke drones in the hands of the Chinese government for all the really obvious reasons including in the increasingly nuke contaminated Tibetan Plateau (water source for 1 B people including India).

I hope this helps. Obviously this is big, ugly and a lot of folks are scrambling around. Of course, having more good folks pitch in is always welcome.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 106

when drones were first being used in the US, there was a lot of resistance within the air force. Old fashioned pilots were really not happy about being replaced by kids sitting at playstations. But I think it was more of a macho thing and they seem to have conformed to the changing times.
I have heard, however, that there is a lot of dissent in other militaries, like the French, and some of our European friends are trying to get their support for a UN convention on drone use.

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 3:41 pm

What is the controller setup like? How many operators per UAV?

If they can’t tell a wedding party from armed militants and shoot anyway – it’s like a “shoot anything that moves” video game.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to mzchief @ 113

another good source for critical articles on Japan and the Asia-Pacific region more generally is the Asia-Pacific Journal: http://www.japanfocus.org/

It includes a great deal of translated material from Japan.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to wigwam @ 112

I love it, the “silk scarf boys.” The problem with Northrop Grumman is that their drone–the Global Hawk–has had MASSIVE overruns, multiple crashes, high operating costs, and lousy performance. That’s why the Air Force cancelled it.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to wigwam @ 112

Drones are indeed “writing on the wall” for the air force; the f-35 will likely be the last jet fighter in production

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:46 pm

BTW, Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post today about this blatant misuse of the word “militant”:

Saturday, Jun 2, 2012 02:36 AM PDT

Deliberate media propaganda

The media now knows that “militant” is a term of official propaganda, yet still use it for America’s drone victims

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to hpschd @ 115

there is one “pilot” and one sensor operator. They are trying to make one operator operate more than one drone but the real labor issue is not the number of pilots but the number of support staff to analyze the massive amount of data.

BearCountry June 2nd, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I was away today, but I hope I got back in time to thank you, Ms. Benjamin for all you do and all you stand for. You are truly a hero for the times.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to wigwam @ 119

yes, Glenn has been fabulous on this. Where are all the constitutional lawyers, I want to know???

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm

that’s good news about the Europeans. The NATO’s new emphasis on “smart defense” in an age of austerity, however, may push European countries toward “low-cost” alternatives like drones, especially if U.S. drone manufacturers are offering sweet deals facilitated by an administration committed to doubling U.S. military exports by 2015.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Oh, one is in the white house…

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Yes, that’s true, and new NATO $1 billion drone deal shows that NATO loves these new toys as well. But they are supposed to be for surveillance, and the resistance is the expanded use of lethal drones.

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm

There are rumors that there’s one in the White House, but I’ve seen no evidence of it.

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm

one last question from me: is the budget pressure on the Pentagon going to push it toward “fast, cheap, and out of control” systems like drones? Are drones really a low-cost alternative?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:51 pm

lol. yes, and it seems he’s managed to mute most of the other constitutional lawyers around the country, cause I don’t hear much of an outcry.

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 3:53 pm

When operators blow up wedding parties and funerals, are there investigations and repercussions for their fatal errors?

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 127

Some drones are relatively cheap, like the Predator and Reaper, and lots of the small drones. They will survive the budget cuts and be used more and more. But the expensive ones, like the Global Hawk, are being cut by the Air Force, but not by the Navy. But yes, Panetta calls drones the “only game in town” and certainly wants to see the US rely more and more on them. Lots of work for us to do!!!

BevW June 2nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this lively Book Salon discussion,

Medea, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and drone warfare in the US and the world.

John, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Medea’s website(s) (GlobalExchange.org) (CodePink) and book (Drone Warfare)

John’s website(s) (JohnFeffer.com)(ForeignPolicyInFocus) and new book (Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Gar Alperovitz – America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy; Hosted by Mike Konczal

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

bigbrother June 2nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Medea Benjamin @ 85

I wrote in Dennis Kuccinich for president on my ballot today.

BearCountry June 2nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to wigwam @ 119

In 1776 the colonists that rebelled – Adams, Washington, etc – were the insurgents of the time. They were doing the same thing that the Afghan ‘militants’ are doing today. It is certainly presumptuous of us to label as ‘militants’ people that don’t want us to occupy their land militarily. Then to kill civilians and claim that this was a ‘surgical’ strike that killed only militants is retch inducing. The ‘collateral damage’ dead are somehow less dead and their families are thankful to our troops. We are losing and the problem is to get out saving face and not losing the election in Nov.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to hpschd @ 129

There are lots of internal reviews, but no one is held liable. This is a secretive program, especially the part run by the CIA, with no accountability and no transparency.

Medea Benjamin June 2nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks John, Bev and all who participated. It was a great discussion and I learned a lot of you all!

John Feffer June 2nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to BevW @ 131

Thank you, Beverly. And thank you, Medea! Your book is essential reading — and your activism is just as essential! I just want to join with others in this chat in thanking you for all that you’re doing.

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 127

There are lots of economies to drones. For example, I’m told that the U.S. spends many billions per year training pilots. Drones don’t need to be trained.

wigwam June 2nd, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to hpschd @ 129

I read somewhere (within the past month) that the targeting of funerals is deliberate (i.e., not an error), on the theory that when we kill a militant/terrorist, other militants will show up at his funeral.

mzchief June 2nd, 2012 at 4:04 pm
In response to John Feffer @ 116

Excellent and thank you! I got keyed into this from several perspectives including the petrochem industrial infrastructure/wealthcare, medical and environmental angles but it really cinched me when I saw individual Japanese on Twitter SOSing for intervention with their government especially with regard to the unresolved Fukushima disaster and its cover up. The governments-created nuclear industries and cooperative resource extraction interests (uranium, coal, shale, bitumen, rare earth, silver, gold, etc.) are up to their eyeballs in pushing this Frankenstein.

P.S. David Swanson also has placed on his plate battling the nuts uranium open pit mine in historic S. Virginia:

Uranium Safe to Eat With a Spoon! | By: David Swanson Tuesday August 9, 2011 8:33 am

I’ve placed data and citations here at FireDogLake.Com under this nome de blog that sit in the FDL archives now.

hpschd June 2nd, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Thank you, Medea and John and Bev, for an excellent book salon. Great comments too, thanks all.

Thank you Medea for showing us the way in the streets.
We were out on Wednesday banging on pots for Casseroles Night in Toronto. The racket was glorious, but I suspect the police will soon declare saucepans and wooden spoons to be deadly weapons.

You are an inspiration for us.

mzchief June 2nd, 2012 at 4:06 pm

An excellent and lively discussion! Thank you, everyone, for whatever you are doing!!

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