Drone killers – diplomas in death

Imagine the fear of letting your children out to play knowing they might be murdered by an anonymous person sitting in a control room thousands of miles away by John Hilley

Welcome to the drone age. Or, more immediately, the most unwelcome terror for those at the receiving end of US drone missiles.

As a new study reveals, “for every high-level suspect in Pakistan, the U.S. military kills 49 other people who we know little to nothing about and at least three of those 49 are children.”

Although support in the US for drone killing has decreased by 18 per cent this past year, around two thirds of Americans still approve of their use. In Pakistan, only 5 per cent approve.

Perhaps those figures in the US would look the same as Pakistan’s if their children were being blown to pieces in the streets.

How easily approval is given when far away others are being bombed, particularly when told that it’s all for the ‘higher cause’ of ‘defeating terrorism’.

One is reminded here of the famous Milgram experiment which encouraged participants to inflict electric shock torture on another person:

If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:

1. Please continue.

2. The experiment requires that you continue.

3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.

4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

Predator PilotsSo it seems for the American and wider public. For drone killers or citizens at large, the administering of violence on others rests on the psychological security of authoritative promptings and assurances.

And what of the psychological impact on those carrying out drone killings? One ‘operative’, Brandon Bryant, now says that he is haunted by his actions:

“After participating in hundreds of missions over the years, Bryant said he “lost respect for life” and began to feel like a sociopath. He remembers coming into work in 2010, seeing pictures of targeted individuals on the wall – Anwar al-Awlaki and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders — and musing, “Which one of these f_____s is going to die today?”

In 2011, as Bryant’s career as a drone operator neared its end, he said his commander presented him with what amounted to a scorecard. It showed that he had participated in missions that contributed to the deaths of 1,626 people.

“I would’ve been happy if they never even showed me the piece of paper,” he said. “I’ve seen American soldiers die, innocent people die, and insurgents die. And it’s not pretty. It’s not something that I want to have — this diploma.”

Now that he’s out of the Air Force and back home in Montana, Bryant said he doesn’t want to think about how many people on that list might’ve been innocent: “It’s too heartbreaking.”

Reflective and revealing words. But what greater loss and heartbreak for the families of the many victims. As Alex Thomson reminds us:

“The real victims of the ever-expanding US drone operations are, of course, the innocents killed and recently disclosed classified CIA evidence underlines their number is large.”

Should we feel compassion for Bryant? Yes. He is a paid killer, but one who, at least, has shown painful awareness of his dark deeds, crimes that will likely cause him mental suffering for the rest of his life.

Should he be brought to account for his actions? Again, surely, yes, but in conjunction with the much more urgent prosecution of those who order and oversee such crimes. As established at Nuremberg, those highest up the chain of command are the most responsible.

As with gradations of responsibility, one of the questions that might one day be posed in that high crimes court is why death by drone is seen as a more ‘palatable’ form of military murder than any other.

It takes a certain kind of dehumanised mind to proclaim that eliminating others with drones is fine, but murdering them with a chemical weapon is ‘red line’ reprehensible. Aided by a media fascinated, rather than repelled, by weapons technology and capability, this bestows upon Obama and his Nato friends a ‘moral militarism’ which, while notionally questioned, is never condemned as criminal and barbaric.

Besides the outright wickedness of drone killing, and the moral hypocrisy of those advocating it in their spurious ‘war on terror’, it’s not difficult to see its sheer futility.

What makes anyone think that killing people in terrifying drone strikes, or military killing in general, will temper or eradicate hatred of the West?

What view of America will the parents of a child cut to bits by a drone rocket harbour towards that country and its allies?

Doesn’t killing a Taliban leader only make his replacement inevitably more hateful and bent on violent revenge?

Of course, alienation, division, fear, insecurity and the perpetuation of conflict is precisely the kind of world that arms profiteers and their political representatives must continually cultivate.

As we’ve been seeing in the West’s ‘concern for Syria’, the only ‘solution’ they understand and advocate is more guns and violence. And the only outcome of all that can be more drone terror, more wars, more human heartbreak.

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