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Depraved Indifference: Drone Wars, Whack Jobs and Imperial Terror

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Reprinted from Empire Burlesque

I have often admired Jane Mayer's reportage. She has helped expose several elements of "the dark side" of America's worldwide Terror War. Her latest article in the New Yorker outlines the CIA's use of "Predator" drones to kill people by remote control in Pakistan. As the magazine notes, the Obama Administration is relying on these covert drone killers more and more, as it escalates America's military attacks in Pakistan -- ostensibly a sovereign nation allied to the United States.

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Mayer's article relates a chilling story of suburban killers -- many of them stateside, firing their missiles from comfortable cubicles before heading home for dinner with the family -- operating in a secret program outside all traditional lines of legality and accountability. (Even the extremely low levels of legality and accountability that weakly adhere to the business of wholesale slaughter and destruction known as war.) For example, part of the program has been "outsourced" to private companies, who are killing people -- including hundreds of innocent civilians -- for profit, with American tax money.

The New Yorker's website has now published an interview with Mayer expanding on the original story. It too is chilling -- but not only for the further details of this state murder program. What is equally disturbing is the bloodless consideration of this bloody enterprise, based on the assumption that there is nothing essentially wrong with such an assassination program (with its inevitable "collateral damage"), as long it is more transparent, with the "legal, ethical and political boundaries" of the death squads clearly drawn.

The very first question gives us a glimpse into the bizarre, depraved moral universe of the American establishment:

How has the use of Predator drones by the United States changed the situation in Pakistan?

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Well, there's good news and bad news. According to the C.I.A., they've killed more than half of the twenty most wanted Al Qaeda terrorist suspects. The bad news is that they've inflamed anti-American sentiment, because they've also killed hundreds of civilians.

What is astonishing about this is that the interview doesn't end there, in a roar of outrage from Mayer and her interviewer: "They've killed hundreds of civilians!" Hundreds of Pakistani civilians, men, women and children with no involvement whatsoever in war or terrorism; just ordinary people living their lives as best they can -- just like your neighbor, just like your mother, just like you...or just like the people killed on September 11, whose deaths are used as an eternal justification for war and bloodshed on a global scale by the American state.

But these drone-murdered Pakistanis -- these human beings, these fathers and mothers, these grandparents, these toddlers, these brothers and sisters -- their lives are just statistics to be coldly weighed in the calibrations of imperial policy. The "bad news" about their deaths is not that they were murdered, not that these utterly defenseless men, women and children were blown to shreds without warning, without the slightest chance of escape, by flying robots controlled by unseen hands a world away; no, the "bad news" is that these that these killing might possibly hamper America's "counterinsurgency program":

How does the continued collateral damage from Predator drones square with General Stanley McChrystal's order to the military to lay off the air strikes in Afghanistan and avoid civilian deaths?

Well, you could argue it either way. There is less collateral damage from a drone strike than there is from an F-16. According to intelligence officials, drones are more surgical in the way they kill--they usually use Hellfire missiles and do less damage than a fighter jet might.

At the same time, the fact that they kill civilians at all raises the same problem that McChrystal is trying to combat, which is that they incite people on the ground against the United States. When you're trying to win a battle of hearts and minds, trying to win over civilian populations against terrorists, it can be counterproductive.

It can be counterproductive. When you kill hundreds of innocent people, it can be counterproductive. "Say, boys, how's my campaign shaping up these days?" "Well, Mr. Mayor, we're getting some negative feedback in the polls about your habit of machine-gunning people to death on the street every week. We've talked to some of our top PR people, and they say this kind of thing can be counterproductive."

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And of course, this little passage also highlights the absurd hero-worship of our major "liberal" media toward the military chieftains who are increasingly dominating American policy, with increasing openness. Once again, as with the simpering hagiography offered up by the New York Times recently, we see the saintly image of noble Stanley McChrystal trying his darndest to avoid civilian casualties -- as he calls for 40,000 more troops (or "warfighters" as the Pentagon likes to call soldiers these days) to pour into the occupied land, spreading through the countryside and cities with bristling ordnance, backed always with close air support to provide "force protection."

This is the same General McChrystal who ran death squads and torture chambers in Iraq. As Fred Kaplan noted in Slate earlier this year:

McChrystal's command also provided the personnel for Task Force 6-26, an elite unit of 1,000 special-ops forces that engaged in harsh interrogation of detainees in Camp Nama as far back as 2003. The interrogations were so harsh that five Army officers were convicted on charges of abuse. (McChrystal himself was not implicated in the excesses, but the unit's slogan, which set the tone for its practices, was "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it.")

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Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)
 

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