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Collateral Damage

A recent document released under the official information act in the US reveals how using drones for killing anyone deemed an enemy is officially authorised, but more ominously the risk of any civilians being “accidentally” killed in these actions is also officially accepted.

The Obama administration fought for years to keep the memo from becoming public which seems to indicate that it realises the contents aren’t acceptable. Of course, killing off a few (or a few hundred thousand) innocent foreigners has never been a major issue to the US government and to a lot of American people as well, so there is only a certain section of the population who would have a problem with this.

Actually, I think it would increase some groups’ admiration for the current administration, although I can’t help but think that most of those would never vote for Obama, or any other Democratic candidate, so maybe it would have been better for them to keep it secret after all.

But even if you think the policy is justified (and there are some reasonable justifications which I will mention later) there are some major problems with it.

First, it sets a precedent for others to follow. Only 3 countries (the US, UK, and Israel) are known to have killer drones at this point but their use will inevitable increase in the future. And when that happens the US has already shown that they can be used relatively indiscriminately for any military or political purpose and without too much regard for collateral damage.

Second, it shows that the US who has appointed itself as the global peace-keeper and fixer of all difficult military and political global issues isn’t really a lot more moral than some of the people they choose to label as “terrorists”.

Third, there is a disturbing attitude of secrecy regarding this activity. I can accept that some operational details should be kept secret but the general policy should surely be made public so that the people can judge it. Or more likely, that is exactly what they don’t want.

And finally, killing combatants is one thing (and that itself is often unjustified) but having such a casual attitude to killing civilians is just encouraging further anti-American militant extremist activity (or call it terrorism if you really must).

Like many articles I see on the internet some of the most interesting points were made in the comments, so let’s look at a few of those…

Comment: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss”

My thoughts: Exactly. I know I shouldn’t have had any real expectations, but Obama is really a huge disappointment. Of course, no matter how bad he is he is still better than many other presidents and, to be fair, many of the issues he has had to deal with have been inherited from previous administrations. But in the US they really have a choice between a conservative, far right, pro-corporate party, and the Republicans who are so far off the political spectrum I really don’t know how to even classify them any more!

Comment: “Exactly when will we declare The War on Terrorism is over?”

My thoughts: Never. This fake war is just an open-ended excuse for the US to use military force in other countries to affect politics and economics primarily for the benefit of the ruling elite of corporate America. Yes, I know. Sounds like a conspiracy, but this one is real.

Comment: “So far in the ‘War on Terror’, we’ve killed on average 50 civilians for every terrorist. And all they’re doing is driving up terrorist recruitment.”

My thoughts: My point exactly. I’m not sure if those numbers are strictly accurate, but I thought the ratio might actually be higher. It depends a lot on your definitions.

Comments: “So do I vote for the party that established the policy, or the one that continued it? Decisions, decisions.” and “Aren’t those the same at this point?”

My thoughts: As I have already said, the Democrats are terrible, but compared with the Republicans, well… I guess you just choose the least bad of two terrible choices.

Comment: “Regardless of whether that American is aiding the terrorist or just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, he is a citizen and is entitled to a fair trial under the constitution. Actually, even non-US citizens are supposed to be entitled to a fair trial.”

My thoughts: Actually, no. Because America has conveniently labelled any murders it wants to carry out anywhere in the world as part of a “war” it can do whatever it likes without any referral to inconvenient laws. Even the rules of war seem to be forgotten in many cases, but these victims are terrorists, so they don’t count.

Comment: “Drone attacks in Pakistan have killed: 2,291 militants, 286 civilians, 274 unknown. So worst case, if all ‘unknown’ were civilians, still 80% effective (for drone attacks in one country), versus your claim of 2% effective rate (overall). Again, not claiming 20% collateral damage is acceptable, but if your number is accurate then it shows that drone attacks are much more successful than whatever else has been done.”

My thoughts: This was in response to a comment claiming that 98% of victims of drone attacks were innocent bystanders. In fact that is highly unlikely but the official figures are probably biased in the opposite direction. In fact drone attacks are a relatively efficient way to eliminate enemy leaders with far less extra death and damage so I guess we should be happy about that. The real question is: is there justification for these interventions at all?

Comment: “I’m confused. How is using a drone to kill targets, and innocent civilians around that target, any different from a suicide bombing? Other than the suicide bomber having the brass to die for what he believes in, that is.”

My thoughts: Good question. I guess you could say “they started it” but did they? You could say “they are terrorists, we are a legal military operation” but that is just a matter of perspective. And in fact the comment is true: the American military are cowards compared with the (very badly motivated) courage of the enemy.

Comment: “Perhaps it is time to declare the “war on terror” over and simply protect our global interests like we have always done, at least that is clearly defined and can be regulated properly.”

My thoughts: What a ridiculous idea. That would involve honesty!

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