Drone warfare’s mounting civilian death toll

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zainab Cheema

Dhu al-Qa'dah 14, 1433 2012-10-01

Special Reports

by Zainab Cheema (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1433)

Drone attacks have killed thousands of innocent people in such places as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Zainab Cheema reviews a book on Drone warfare by Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt.

Drones are the new face of push-button destruction and civil society devastation. Zainab Cheema reviews Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001–2050 by Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt (Dispatch Books, 2012, 179 pages, $12.99).

Even as representatives from Pentagon Inc. engross themselves in debates on whether shaved-off millions here and there from the Department of Defense’s leviathan budget would equal a national security catastrophe, it becomes clear that the Pentagon has no interest in downscaling its global military empire. The turf battles are being waged on outdated military hardware which military contractors harvest as lucrative cash cows. But as Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt illuminate in their 2012 book, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001–2050, Pentagon Inc. is actually expanding its empire from an aerial vantage point, through UAVS (unmanned aerial vehicals), affectionately known as drones.

Drones are perhaps best known to us for their strikes on the northwestern province of Pakistan, reaping the deaths of numerous civilians. This book is invaluable, for peeling back the newsprint on the intermittent bursts of human agony, to look at the global system churning out the drones. Drones are being churned out by the vast network of military contractors, equipped with ever more sophisticated technology through which the Pentagon pretends to gain the eyes of God. Along with Hellfire missiles, and other delivery systems of death, drones can be equipped with as many as twelve video cameras that can scan a 2½ mile radius and beam back the videos to the long distance team at the controls. These teams can even see transmitted, the expressions on the faces of the people as the missiles strike them. As Turse and Englehardt point out, drones have ushered in the age of remote-controlled warfare.

Drone series include the Predator; the Reaper; and the still mid-production Taranis, being developed by BAE Systems to be completely automatic. Pentagon Inc.’s dream is computerized warfare, where the war on terror (that is, war on Islam) can be entirely contracted to artificial intelligence. The Defense Department is financing studies of autonomous, or self-governing, armed robots that could find and destroy targets on their own,” Robert Boyd of McClatchy reported. “On-board computer programs, not flesh-and-blood people, would decide whether to fire their weapons.” This aerial empire, governing global death through the robotic processes of a computer, underscores that the US has no intention of downsizing its global military operations anytime soon.

Terminator Planet is an attractive package — it is slim, and an engrossing read, written in a journalistic style that manages to be conversational and erudite at the same time. Turse and Englehardt have adapted the book from a series of articles devoted to drone warfare on their online newsjournal, Tom Disptach. The book’s postscript notes that there is no bibliography, instead printing links to the original articles where the sources are listed. Not only is the book’s content vital for any consumer of global journalism, it illustrates the newest model of publishing — the symbiosis of print and electronic journalism, where book content can be adapted to websites, and online articles can be collected into book form.

There is of course, a crazy quilt of hidden bases all over Pakistan and Afghanistan supporting the drone bombardments in the two countries.

Drone warfare is not simply limited to Pakistan’s borderlands, its best known example. In Chapter 6, “America’s Secret Base of Drone Bases,” we learn about the scope of the drone bases from which the robots are launched. In a September 2009 report, the Wall Street Journal reported that missile-armed drones had been stationed on the island of Seychelles, from where attacks on “al-Qaeda affiliates” in Somalia, Yemen, and other locations were being launched. There is of course, a crazy quilt of hidden bases all over Pakistan and Afghanistan supporting the drone bombardments in the two countries. Predator bases for attacks in Iraq and other Persian Gulf states are housed in card-carrying NATO member, Turkey. In a macabre footnote, the video streams from drones received in Langley, Virginia, where CIA officers send text-messages and info-tel in response to the Af-Pak teams, is dubbed “Death TV.” Then there are drone bases under construction in an “unnamed Middle Eastern country,” widely rumored to be Saudi Arabia. These examples are the dressing on the salad.

To give Pentagon Inc. credit, its bureaucracy is nothing if not long-sighted in planning the manufacture of their toys. As the Pentagon invests in the production schedules of its drone lines, the date to watch is 2047, when it expects to deliver hyper-sonic drones that do anything from assassination, missile defense, to traditional air-craft dog-fighting. “Propulsion technology and materials… will likely take 20 years to develop,” reads the Airforce’s 2009–2047 UAS Flight Plan, “This technology will be the next generation air game-changer.” The globalization of war has outsourced fighting itself to machines, a predictable solution for Pentagon Inc. to reach, given its exasperation with skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in its demoralized Army.

Turse and Englehardt’s writing is edgy and pop-culture-savvy — there are numerous references to James Cameron’s Terminator movie trilogy, from which the book derives its name. Apart from launching Arnold Schwarzenegger into stardom, the films widely broadcasted into popular culture, the themes of cybernetic warfare gone-amok and nuclear wastelands resulting from robotic assassins that epitomize their civilization’s moral bankruptcy. The comparison is especially apt, for as the authors point out, air-power assaults end up catalyzing their own demise. Germany’s air-power assaults during WWII had the paradoxical effect of uniting England’s population against Hitler. The same goes for the 2012 Muslim East negotiating the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The furious protests against the anti-Prophet (pbuh) film shouldn’t be examined in a vacuum — they are occurring in popular outrage in the airpower (and ground power) violence launched against Muslims around the globe.

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