Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Jane Mayer has an article in the October 26th issue of The New Yorker which will chill your blood. It's about the attacks on Taliban and others in Pakistan the CIA is conducting by means of Predator drones. We hear about these attacks occasionally, usually when a target has been hit. A few bystanders are usually killed, too. Strangely, the concept of "collateral damage," used to widespread indignation by Cheney and Rumsfield during the invasion of Iraq, isn't invoked. It seems not to be necessary. No defense is given at all. And these attacks are on the rise in the Obama administration.

During his first nine and a half months in office, he has authorized as many C. I. A. aerial attacks in Pakistan as George W. Bush did in his final three years in office. ... a rate of approximately one bombing a week. So far this year, various estimates suggest, the C. I. A. attacks have killed between three hundred and twenty-six and six hundred and thirty-eight people. Critics say that many of the victims have been innocent bystanders, including children. (37)

Let me put that in numbers you'll understand: between 326 and 638. (Presumably the New Yorker's style sheet discourages the use of numbers.) Just this year. And don't imagine they at least always hit their target. For the most celebrated hit, Baitullah Mehsud, it appears to have taken sixteen missile strikes, and fourteen months, before the C. I. A. succeeded in killing him. During this hunt, between two hundred and seven and three hundred and twenty-one additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon. (45)

I translate again: between 207 and 321. Mayer shows the many issues raised by this program, from the unaccountability of the CIA (and its civilian subcontractors) to the unreliability of information about targets, from to the violations of Pakistani sovereignty to the anger such attacks generate among its innocent victims and how the Taliban benefit from it, from the US government's supposed opposition to assassinations to the moral and psychological implications of the fact that the drone over Pakistan is guided from the distance and safety of Langley, VA. How did this pass under our radar?

Those numbers again: between 326 and 638. This year alone. And With public disenchantment mounting over the U. S. troop deployment in Afghanistan, and the Obama Administration divided over whether to escalate the American military presence there, many in Washington support an even greater reliance on Predator strikes - from George Will to Joe Biden. It has indeed occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force (38). It's almost as if it's not really killing - the Predator's kin have innocuous names like Gnat.

Were it still the Bush administration, we'd all be up in arms. This article would be as necessary reading as the articles by Seymour Hersh in whose footsteps Mayer walks.

(By the way, the regularization of drone warfare is one more way in which the remarkable Mexican sci-fi film "Sleep Dealer"- which will be screened November 12th at the upcoming Digital Labor conference - has proved prophetic.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could have told you this before Nov. 2008. But you'd think I sound arrogant and without hope. My thoughts had nothing to do with arrogance and everything to do with hope. I am so sorry that I was right. Truly sorry!