Archive for the 'aerial warfare' Category

21
Oct
10

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar”

Your tax dollars at work. This drone strike killed 0.4 jihadis!— and only 19.6 innocent people. (AP Photo/Hasbunallah Khan)

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar.”
—Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands

The murderous rocket attacks by remote-controlled drones being carried out on a nearly daily basis in Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somaila) should be cause for mass revulsion, shame, protests in the streets. But no. Try hard to find a candidate for office from either party criticizing them. Even the scary crazy Tea Party people are down with Obama on this one!

And, in a recent poll, only 3 percent even mention Afghanistan or “the war” (which war?)—at all— as one of America’s most important problems. So drone attacks are not exactly a red-button issue with the American voter. But … just imagine it happening to you, or to your family. Johann Hari puts it into perspective well with this simple little thought exercise:

Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don’t even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don’t know, and there are no appeals against the robot.

Now imagine it doesn’t end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named “Predators”, or “Reapers” – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won’t stop. What do you do?

You, as a typical American, even a highly educated one, say well, that is crazy.  Sure, mistakes happen in war. Heh. The United States armed forces are the best trained and most moral soldiers in the world. You know it is a fact that we are taking Every Precaution to Minimize Collateral Damage.

Are we?

That doesn’t exactly jibe with a number mentioned by Hari here, or more accurately, a ratio. Although old news, it really jumped out at me. Fifty to one.  That is the ratio cited by David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus from 2006 to 2008, in a New York Times op-ed last year. According to Pakistani sources, wrote Kilcullen, the drone strikes kill “50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent–hardly ‘precision.'”

The Pentagon of course doesn’t agree with these numbers, but hmm, who to believe? (And remember Tommy Franks’ “We don’t do body counts”?) Maybe it’s 2 percent or ten or twenty percent “precision,” but any way you look at it, these drone attacks leave  a lot of bodies, and body parts, littering the ground. And you can’t blame Bush for this anymore. The drone attacks are very much the current administration’s baby.

Remember these?

Apparently, the president rarely mentions the drone attacks at all. Except on one occasion, when he cracked a joke about them. The Pakistan Daily reports on the White House Correspondents Dinner in May:

“[The] Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”

What a card. Nice one, President Peace Prize! He might have mentioned that statistically, the drones would not only have taken out Kevin, Joe and Nick, but 150 members of their family and entourage, and whoever else might have been in the neighborhood.

Kilcullen’s point, and Hari’s, is still to my mind a little obtuse. Hari again:

I detest jihadism. Their ideology is everything I oppose: their ideal society is my Hell. It is precisely because I want to really undermine them – rather than pose as macho – that I am against this robot-slaughter. It enlarges the threat. It drags us into a terrible feedback loop, where the US launches more drone attacks to deal with jihadism, which makes jihadism worse, which prompts more drone attacks, which makes jihadism worse – and on and on.

I would suggest these attacks are counterproductive only if you take at face value the idea that America’s mission in its wars is to wipe out this jihadism. (I would side with Robert Pape, who has demonstrated pretty well that “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”)

Chris Floyd, who brought Hari’s piece to my attention, thinks the creation of more terrorists is not an accidental byproduct. Seizing on the offhand remark by a “senior figure” in the CIA that the drone targeting can be pretty arbitrary, he wonders if maybe the randomness of the attacks is a feature, not a bug:

“Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa’ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money.”

That’s right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That’s why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.

And of course, it’s not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap ‘so they could make money’ — for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and ‘security’ stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society — by killing innocent people all over the world.

I woke up this morning thinking I would be writing about the horrible fact that Americans in general, and Kentuckians in particular, are appallingly blase about the ongoing destruction and desecration of irreplaceable mountains and streams via the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. And how sad (really, that’s the only word) it is that there are no political candidates in this state willing to confront the coal industry over this. The parallels to the drone attacks are obvious and dispiriting. Only three percent of Americans are concerned about a metastasizing war entering its second decade. The most awful aspects of our American lives are a bipartisan effort.

27
Jan
10

Howard Zinn

A bad week for my personal heroes. First, Kate McGarrigle, and now Howard Zinn.

Here is a basic obit from the AP, which is all that we find on the New York Times web edition. (Which I find odd. I mean, he was 87, and there was no canned obit ready to go?)

By now, there are tons of tributes online, so I’ll just offer one memorable interview. Here he speaks of the fact that he did horrible things in the waning days of World War II. As part of a bomber crew, he dropped napalm on a tiny French village as a kind of experiment (the flight crews were not told), but he stood up to what he had done.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about your final bombing run, not over Japan, not over Germany, but over France?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. Well, we thought bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945, and remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them. 1,200 heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm—first use of napalm in the European theater. And we didn’t know how many people were killed, how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s okay. And only afterward, only really after the war when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.

In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all of the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of a hundred thousand people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We are seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.

Zinn goes on to say that ten years later he visited the village and spoke to survivors, and relatives of those killed by the napalm bombing:

And they were very bitter about the bombing, and you know, they attributed it to all sorts of things, the desire to try out a new weapon. It’s amazing how many things are done in a war just to try out new weapons. You know, maybe the—one of the reasons for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to see what this does to human beings. Human beings become sacrifices in the desire to develop new military technology. And I think that was one of those instances.

27
Jan
10

“relapses into barbarism”

Another precision operation

Glenn Greenwald notices that now the Obama Administration doesn’t distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens when it comes to targeting them for assassination. From the Post (italics are Greenwald’s):

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

I almost always agree with Greenwald but I don’t quite share the outrage over the U.S. citizen part.

I mean, really, once the President declares he has the right to order someone killed, without anything resembling due process, in a country with which we may or may not be “at war”, the citizenship of that poor misfortunate bastard (or the equally misfortunate bastards who happen to be in the vicinity when the Hellfire missiles come screaming down) seems like a quibble.

The issue is that the President and some anonymous spooks can, as a matter of everyday routine business, get together and say “Today, we are going to smoke some guy in Yemen,  who may be what we call a terrorist, and anyone standing near him. And if we miss him this time, we will keep trying to kill him WITH ROCKETS until we do.” Also, if you’re a major drug lord, but NOT one of OUR major drug lords, you’re on the list, too. Got that?

According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article last October there are ten–ten!–collateral damage kills for every successful murder of an intended target, and that’s taking the Government’s word that the target was indeed worth targeting. (Imagine a SWAT team blowing away ten women and children in a gunfight with a suspected terrorist, and then high-fives all around because they got the guy. Actually, not that hard to imagine….)

This has not always been OK. You can go back to Ronald Reagan, that high-minded man of peace, or even further to Abraham Lincoln. Targeted assassinations, extrajudicial murders, have always been forbidden (at least officially).

A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

These days, such relapses into barbarism aren’t hidden from the public eye. They’re bragged about.  In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said,  “Many [suspected terrorists] have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the United States.” He gave that weird chortle, and there was thunderous applause. Obama has not only continued targeted assassinations, he has expanded them, via a surge in missiles fired from those newfangled drones, and quainter methods such as dragging schoolchildren hardened terrorists from their beds, tying their hands, and shooting them.

He’ll probably have the decency not to chortle about that in his State of the Union address tonight, though.

18
Jan
10

Not so secret history of Haiti: dive-bombers, occupations, deforestation

President Obama has once again demonstrated, in the pages of Newsweek, that he’s capable of uplifting but ultimately empty rhetoric, this time on behalf of “the Haitian people who have been stricken with a tragic history.” Which would be nice, but…. Obama doesn’t once mention our government’s role in that tragic history.

In “No, Mister! You cannot share my pain!” Jamaican columnist John Maxwell offers a brief lesson in the history of Haiti from a perspective we’re unaccustomed to hearing.

Besides offering a withering account of Aristide’s disgraceful 2004 ouster, Maxwell offers some eye-opening angles about earlier Haitian-American relations. The first was that Haiti, along with Nicaragua, was a crucial testing ground for U.S. bombers between the first and second world wars.

Long before Franco bombed Guernica, exciting the horror and revulsion of civilised people, the Americans perfected their dive-bombing techniques against unarmed Haitian peasants, many of whom had never seen aircraft before.

Might I suggest this as a thesis subject for a grad student in history: the role of the people of colonized nations as target practice? The Brits, for example, favored “experimental” bombing of their subject nations. Just one of the myriad revelations in A History of Bombing, Sven Lindqvist’s masterpiece, was that Churchill  himself was an early and eager advocate of the bombing of savages in Iraq. He saw it as a “cheaper form of control” and declared himself to be “strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” Man of the Century? That’s about right.

The second interesting angle: the central role played by war hero-turned-antiwar-crusader General Smedley Butler in Haiti, who looked back late in his life to describe his activities in uniform thus:

“I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long….. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. … My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical in the military service.” [That’s a pretty good line!]

Butler was a fascinating character, who in 1934 claimed that he was approached by a cabal of businessmen to lead a Fascist march and to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Congressional committees looked into the allegations, found they were credible … and did nothing. I have always wondered why left-leaning wealthy young actors with clout–Affleck, Damon, Cusack, Penn–haven’t produced a biopic of the life of Smedley….

The third angle Maxwell explores, the purposeful deforestation of Haiti, featured FDR in another role. Under the Dessalines constitution, written in the early years of the 19th century, “only officially certified ‘blacks’ could own land in Haiti.” That inconvenient rule was deleted from the new constitution written for the Haitians by the occupying American regime who had swept in during World War I. Opening up Haiti to foreign ownership was …. drum roll … FDR himself, who was then assistant secretary of the Navy. After FDR opened the door, “the lumberjacks [became] busy, felling old growth Mahogany and Caribbean Pine for carved doors for the rich and mahogany speedboats, boardroom tables seating 40, etc. The devastated land was put to produce rubber, sisal for ropes and all sorts of pie in the sky plantations.”

And let’s not forget religion. Maxwell quotes Haitian performer Marguerite Laurent’s vivid description of Catholic Church collaboration with colonial terror. It evokes echoes of Avatar:

“Don’t expect to learn how a people with a Vodun culture that reveres nature and especially the Mapou (oak-like or ceiba pendantra/bombax) trees, and other such big trees as the abode of living entities and therefore as sacred things, were forced to watch the Catholic Church, during Rejete – the violent anti-Vodun crusade – gather whole communities at gunpoint into public squares, and forced them to watch their agents burn Haitian trees in order to teach Haitians their Vodun Gods were not in nature, that the trees were the “houses of Satan”.

Yup, that kinda stuff doesn’t just happen to blue people on distant planets.

14
Jan
10

“This is pure ‘lord of the flies’ stuff”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Facts are getting in the way of the idea that Afghan corruption is hindering America’s noble efforts to rob, kill and destroy save that poor, benighted country.

According to the AP:

The U.S. agency overseeing the multibillion dollar Afghanistan reconstruction effort is investigating 38 criminal cases ranging from contract fraud to theft – most involving non-Afghans, officials said Tuesday…Just 10 of the criminal cases under the microscope involve Afghans only, while the rest involve U.S. and other foreigners, according to Raymond DiNunzio, the agency’s assistant inspector general for inspections.

And in not unrelated news, the President is asking Congress for another “$33 billion to fight unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, on top of a record request for $708 billion for the Defense Department next year.”

And this is yet another must-read piece from Tomdispatch about “a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and that bears little relationship to the Afghan War as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.”

We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately. Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces. Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the U.S. was involved in. In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story. There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the U.S. that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy.

… Today, in Afghanistan, a militarized mix of CIA operatives and ex-military mercenaries as well as native recruits and robot aircraft is fighting a war “in the shadows” (as they used to say in the Cold War era). This is no longer “intelligence” as anyone imagines it, nor is it “military” as military was once defined, not when U.S. operations have gone mercenary and native in such a big way. This is pure “lord of the flies” stuff — beyond oversight, beyond any law, including the laws of war. And worse yet, from all available evidence, despite claims that the drone war is knocking off mid-level enemies, it seems remarkably ineffective. All it may be doing is spreading the war farther and digging it in deeper.

Talk about “counterinsurgency” as much as you want, but this is another kind of battlefield, and “protecting the people” plays no part in it. And of course, this is only what can be gleaned from afar about a semi-secret war that is being poorly reported. Who knows what it costs when you include the U.S. hired guns, the Afghan contractors, the bases, the drones, and the rest of the personnel and infrastructure? Nor do we know what else, or who else, is involved, and what else is being done. Clearly, however, all those billions of “intelligence” dollars are going into the blackest of black holes.

14
Dec
09

another phrase from hell: “collateral damage estimate”

29 more of these and we're talking major paperwork



Megan Carpentier notices
that reports on U.S. and NATO air strikes in Afghanistan consistently claim the strikes kill exactly 30 people every time!

Well, why? Because 30 is “the magic number.” From a July L.A. Times article:

In a grisly calculus known as the “collateral damage estimate,” U.S. military commanders and lawyers often work together in advance of a military strike, using very specific, Pentagon-imposed protocols to determine whether the good that will come of it outweighs the cost.

We don’t know much about how it works, but in 2007, Marc Garlasco, the Pentagon’s former chief of high-value targeting, offered a glimpse when he told Salon magazine that in 2003, “the magic number was 30.” That meant that if an attack was anticipated to kill more than 30 civilians, it needed the explicit approval of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or President George W. Bush. If the expected civilian death toll was less than 30, the strike could be OKd by the legal and military commanders on the ground.

And pause for a minute to let that soak  in. LEGAL commanders on the ground. Whose job involves calibrating the number of innocent lives that can be snuffed out without raising any eyebrows back home….. And pause for another minute to realize we can no longer pin this on Rumsfeld and Bush.

28
Oct
09

Killing hundreds of innocent civilians, with robots, in a country we’re not at war with

child bombing victim

I realize that in the “Chair Force” post below I might have lost some of the moral perspective Chris Floyd lends in this piece:

Again, the point here is that a truly serious and sophisticated analysis of the situation would have stopped at the very beginning: “We are killing hundreds of innocent civilians, with robots, in a country we’re not at war with — one of our allies, in fact. What in the name of all that’s holy – and all that’s human – is driving our nation to commit these monstrous crimes, and how can we stop it?” That would be the issue under discussion. A truly serious and sophisticated analysis would not accept the hideous assertions and assumptions of state terrorists at face value, would not concern itself with the “process” by which imperial factions fight it out for the honor of perpetrating these atrocities – and would certainly not offer as its conclusion the earnest hope that the authors of these war crimes will find some way of doing them better….

In fact, losing moral perspective is the one thing Floyd finds wanting in Mayer’s piece. But would she be staff writer for the New Yorker with all the access that implies if she screamed out the obvious? Probably not….

Yet here she is blatantly contradicting her own reportage, the indisputable facts that she herself has uncovered. But such are the inevitable, wrenching cognitive dissonances that arise when you accept the basic assumptions of the militarist system — which you must do, to some extent, to get a seat at the “serious” table in America’s media-political establishment. She is probably not even aware that she is doing it; she is simply following the standard template for “process stories,” which require stark contrasts between the protagonists, who are usually cast in good guy-bad guy mold. In this case, the protagonists are the two state apparatuses — the Pentagon and the CIA — who wield the power of faceless, remote-control death over innocent, undefended human beings. In this “process,” it is the unregulated CIA killers who are the bad guys, and so the Pentagon must be recast as a stickler for accountability all the way up the line, despite the mountain of evidence against this ludicrous interpretation — evidence which, we must emphasize again, Mayer herself has been instrumental in compiling.

Floyd’s written a very good piece here. Where’s the outrage on the Predator story? Right here. Read the whole piece.