Killing machines have no conscience

Is there irony in America’s rush to deploy drones and remote controlled weaponry around the world?

From Joseph Nevins at the Boston Review, Robocop:

In September 2010 the House Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) Caucus held a technology fair. In the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, dozens of people hovered around tables covered with literature, video screens showing images of the earth’s surface, and models of UAVs—popularly known as “drones.” The crowd was almost exclusively male. Most were conservatively dressed in the dark suits and ties that dominate Capitol Hill, though a handful wore the desert-brown jumpsuits of UAV pilots.

In his opening remarks to the gathering, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, the California Republican who co-chairs and cofounded the bipartisan caucus, spoke of its mission: “To advocate for unmanned systems and ensure we continue to invest in the future…”

From Tom Engelhardt at Tomgram, Sex and the Single Drone:

In the world of weaponry, they are the sexiest things around. Others countries are desperate to have them. Almost anyone who writes about them becomes a groupie. Reporters exploring their onrushing future swoon at their potentially wondrous techno-talents. They are, of course, the pilotless drones, our grimly named Predators and Reapers.

As CIA Director, Leon Panetta called them “the only game in town.” As Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates pushed hard to up their numbers and increase their funding drastically. The U.S. Air Force is already training more personnel to become drone “pilots” than to pilot actual planes. You don’t need it in skywriting to know that, as icons of American-style war, they are clearly in our future — and they’re even heading for the homeland as police departments clamor for them.

They are relatively cheap. When they “hunt,” no one dies (at least on our side). They are capable of roaming the world. Someday, they will land on the decks of aircraft carriers or, tiny as hummingbirds, drop onto a windowsill, maybe even yours, or in their hundreds, the size of bees, swarm to targets and, if all goes well, coordinate their actions using the artificial intelligence version of “hive minds.”

“The drone,” writes Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, “has increasingly become the [Obama] administration’s ‘weapon of choice’ in its efforts to subdue al-Qaeda and its affiliates.” In hundreds of attacks over the last years in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, they have killed thousands, including al-Qaeda figures, Taliban militants, and civilians. They have played a significant and growing role in the skies over Afghanistan. They are now loosing their missiles ever more often over Yemen, sometimes over Libya, and less often over Somalia. Their bases are spreading. No one in Congress will be able to resist them. They are defining the new world of war for the twenty-first century — and many of the humans who theoretically command and control them can hardly keep up.

From Brian Montopoli, Political Hotsheet, Ron Paul, ACLU condemn Anwar al-Awlaki killing:

White House hopeful Ron Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union each condemned the United States’ killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who has never been charged with any crime.

Al Qaeda’s Anwar al-Awlaki killed in Yemen

Paul, a staunch Libertarian, said in New Hampshire Friday that it’s “sad” if “the American people accept this blindly and casually,” adding that “nobody knows if he ever killed anybody,” According to the Wall Street Journal. the Texas Republican lawmaker said United States officials “have never been specific about the crime.”

The ACLU said the killing was a violation of both U.S. and international law…

From the Christian Science Monitor:

“A terrorist attack on the nation’s capital using remote-control model airplanes to deliver bombs, as an American Al Qaeda sympathizer arrested in Massachusetts this week is alleged to have planned, may seem far-fetched or silly.

“But perhaps not for long. The US, after all, has already been using unmanned planes to attack Al Qaeda targets with deadly accuracy for years.

“And now the emerging international market for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, is exploding, bringing down the cost and expanding the availability of highly capable drone aircraft that could be rigged to deliver explosives, biological or chemical weapons with extreme accuracy – and be difficult or impossible to stop, experts on the subject say…”

Recommended reading:
ACLU, CCR seek to have Obama enjoined from killing Awlaki without due process, by Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Ralph Nader,, As the Drone Flies…

Peter Finn, Washington Post, Justice Dept. Memo Sanctioned Killings, But Officials Avoid ‘Due Process’ Concerns

Categories: International, Justice

8 replies »

  1. This could be the only way for allied forces to strike at the invisible guerrilla forces that handed them their asses in Vietnam and the Russians faced in Afghanistan. Fighting fire with fire, but superior fire! Could have been handy at the Vancouver riot in June.


  2. The world has always been an unsafe place in terms of human history. We are inherently a violent, destructive species and that will never change. Recorded history shows no peace at any time, there is always some conflict somewhere in the world where innocents die and evil lives. Just make sure you are on the side of the most powerful evil.


  3. Great people are often great precisely because they oppose evil, even at the risk of paying the ultimate price for doing so. They stand out because most of us are too cowed or apathetic to actively oppose wrongdoing instead of rejecting it where ever it occurs. Yes, “evil” is out there and always will be, but that is mostly because most people tend to stand by and tolerate it even if they don't actively participate in it.

    But drones are machines and therefore completely amoral. They know not, nor care not what they do. I don't see how they make the world a better place. I do see that they have the capacity to cause great harm. They are stupid and dangerous and we would all be better off without them.


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