Change We Can Believe In, XXXI
Change We Can Believe In: Bug Splat
I’ve written what may seem to be more than my share of posts on US drone warfare, including one a week ago. Then again, can there be too many? Here we are, waging undeclared war around the world, killing people without warrant based on the argument that they are on the battlefield (this being an easy argument to make when you claim that the whole world is a battlefield). We can thank the Bush administration for this claim, but Obama and his enablers in the Justice Department have eagerly stuck by it. Obama won’t release full details on drone warfare or its legal justification on the grounds that that would jeopardize our security. So we continue down the path of lawlessness, making it the norm and ensuring that our security is indeed jeopardized. Some change!
But I’m no expert. For more, Michael Hastings’ article The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret in the current Rolling Stone is essential reading. Here’s a passage from early in the article:
During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the military conducted only a handful of drone missions. Today, the Pentagon deploys a fleet of 19,000 drones, relying on them for classified missions that once belonged exclusively to Special Forces units or covert operatives on the ground. American drones have been sent to spy on or kill targets in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya. Drones routinely patrol the Mexican border, and they provided aerial surveillance over Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens. In the process, according to human rights groups, they have also claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians. Obama’s drone program, in fact, amounts to the largest unmanned aerial offensive ever conducted in military history; never have so few killed so many by remote control.
For a new generation of young guns, the experience of piloting a drone is not unlike the video games they grew up on. Unlike traditional pilots, who physically fly their payloads to a target, drone operators kill at the touch of a button, without ever leaving their base – a remove that only serves to further desensitize the taking of human life. (The military slang for a man killed by a drone strike is “bug splat,” since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.) As drone pilot Lt. Col. Matt Martin recounts in his book Predator, operating a drone is “almost like playing the computer game Civilization” – something straight out of “a sci-fi novel.” After one mission, in which he navigated a drone to target a technical college being occupied by insurgents in Iraq, Martin felt “electrified” and “adrenalized,” exulting that “we had shot the technical college full of holes, destroying large portions of it and killing only God knew how many people.”
Only later did the reality of what he had done sink in. “I had yet to realize the horror,” Martin recalls.
This is the warfare that Obama has embraced.