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Drone Warfare

Posted on 01 October 2012 by John Johnson

Drone Warfare’s Deadly Civilian Toll: A Very Personal View

I was minutes from ordering a drone strike on a Taliban insurgent – until I realised I was watching an Afghan child at play

by James Jeffrey

I find myself caught between the need to follow the drone debate and the need to avoid unpleasant memories it stirs. I used drones – unmanned aerial vehicles – during the nadir of my military career that was an operational tour in Afghanistan. I remember cuing up a US Predator strike before deciding the computer screen wasn’t depicting a Taliban insurgent burying an improvised explosive device in the road; rather, a child playing in the dirt.A US Predator drone in Afghanistan. The strike in Somalia means armed drones are operating in six countries. (Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

After returning from Afghanistan at the end of 2009, I left the British army in 2010. I wanted to put as much distance as I could between myself and the UK, leaving to study in America (where I still reside). By doing so, I inadvertently placed myself in the country that is spearheading development in drone technology and use, highlighted by each report of a drone strike and the usual attendant civilian casualties.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt described the history of warfare in the 20th century as the growing incapacity of the army to fulfil its basic function: defending the civilian population. My experiences in Afghanistan brought this issue to a head, leaving me unable to avoid the realization that my role as a soldier had changed, in Arendt’s words, from “that of protector into that of a belated and essentially futile avenger”. Our collective actions in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 were, and remain, futile vengeance – with drones the latest technological advance to empower that flawed strategy.

Drones are becoming the preferred instruments of vengeance, and their core purpose is analogous to the changing relationship between civil society and warfare, in which the latter is conducted remotely and at a safe distance so that implementing death and murder becomes increasingly palatable.

The author (at far left) as a lieutenant Challenger 2 troop leader in al-Amarah, Iraq, 2004. (Photograph: James Jeffrey)

Hyperbole? But I was there. I sat in my camouflaged combats and I took the rules of engagement and ethical warfare classes. And frankly, I don’t buy much, if any, of it now – especially concerning drones. Their effectiveness is without question, but there’s terrible fallout from their rampant use.

Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the west as a result of President Obama’s increased reliance on drones. When surveying the poisoned legacy left to the Iraqi people, and what will be left to the Afghan people, it’s beyond depressing to hear of the hawks circling around other theatres like Pakistan and Yemen, stoking the flames of interventionism.

I fear the folly in which I took part will never end, and society will be irreversibly enmeshed in what George Orwell’s 1984 warned of: constant wars against the Other, in order to forge false unity and fealty to the state.

It’s very easy to kill if you don’t view the target as a person. When I went to Iraq as a tank commander in 2004, the fire orders I gave the gunner acknowledged some legitimacy of personhood: “Coax man, 100 meters front.” Five years later in Afghanistan, the linguistic corruption that always attends war meant we’d refer to “hot spots”, “multiple pax on the ground” and “prosecuting a target”, or “maximising the kill chain”.

The Pentagon operates about 7,000 drones and asked Congress for nearly $5bn for drones in the 2012 budget. Before retiring as air force chief of staff, General Norton Schwartz was reported as saying it “was ‘conceivable’ drone pilots in the air force would outnumber those in cockpits in the foreseeable future”. That’s not a brave new world, far from it.

The encroachment of drones into the civilian realm is also gaining momentum. President Obama signed a federal law on 14 February 2012, allowing drones for a variety of commercial uses and for police law enforcement. The skies above may never be the same. As with most of America’s darker elements, such as its gun culture, there’s profit to be made – the market for drones is already valued at $5.9bn and is expected to double in 10 years.

During my time in Afghanistan, drones were primarily supplied by the US as our drone capability was miniscule in comparison. The British military still relies on US support, only owning about five armed drones. They have been busy, though: as of May 2012, the Ministry of Defence confirmed these had flown a total of 34,750 hours, and fired 281 missiles and laser-guided bombs.

With continued cuts to the British army’s personnel levels, it isn’t hard to envisage drones increasingly replacing boots on the ground. And since the UK already has the world’s highest number of CCTV cameras, the intrusion of drones into surveillance Britain doesn’t require much imagination.

Technological advancements in warfare don’t have a good track record in terms of unintended consequences. As Chris Hedges reveals in his book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, an estimated 62 million civilians perished in the 20th century’s wars – “nearly 20 million more than the 43 million military personnel killed”.

Will the 21st century repeat such foolish tragedy? Many years still remain. I’d argue we should err on the side of caution and remain immensely wary of drones.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

 

James Jeffrey is a British journalist based in the United States, where he graduated with a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, in May 2012. He left the British army as a captain in April 2010, having served over nine years in the Queen’s Royal Lancers, including operational tours in Kosovo (2002), Iraq (2004, 2006) and Afghanistan (2009)

 

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Bin Laden

Posted on 10 May 2011 by John Johnson

Bin Laden

Sent this to the White House after Obama’s appearance on Sixties Minutes.

Throughout the centuries Kings, Rulers, Tzars and Presidents have felt they had the right to execute those that they deemed to be enemies or just inconscient.
One reason the Constitution makes the President  get Congressional approval.  (though with some Congresses that hasn’t made a big difference.

After WWII we gave trials to the most brutal mass killers in history, while trying to set down some rulings that might stop such actions.

But the US went on the murder over 2,000,000 Southeast Asians.  Presidents have decided that Left folks could be killed in Chile, El Salvador etc. etc.

Bush felt he had the right to kill over 100,000 mostly innocent Iraqi’s and you have help kill hundreds of innocent Afghans.

Texas Governors seem to think they have the right to execute those who just might be innocent but inconscient to their tough guy stance.

You didn’t seem to mind the torture of Bradley Manning,  convicted of nothing.

The Chief Executive of this country should be above the fray, even above his own anger.

I’m not a pacifist and you shouldn’t be calling them names.  (Jesus).  If there is a fire fight shoot the bastards, otherwise capturing Bin Laden and bringing him back would gave been problematic but would have been the right thing to do.

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President Obama Speaks on Manning and the Rule of Law

Posted on 01 May 2011 by John Johnson

President Obama Speaks on Manning and the Rule of Law

By Glenn Greenwald

Protesters Thursday interrupted President’s Obama speech at a $5,000/ticket San Francisco fundraiser to demand improved treatment for Bradley Manning. After the speech, one of the protesters, Logan Price, approached Obama and questioned him. Obama’s responses are revealing on multiple levels. First, Obama said this when justifying Manning’s treatment (video and transcript are here):

We’re a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

The impropriety of Obama’s public pre-trial declaration of Manning’s guilt (“He broke the law”) is both gross and manifest. How can Manning possibly expect to receive a fair hearing from military officers when their Commander-in-Chief has already decreed his guilt? Numerous commentators have noted how egregiously wrong was Obama’s condemnation. Michael Whitney wrote: “the President of the United States of America and a self-described Constitutional scholar does not care that Manning has Beschizza interpreted Obama’s declaration of guilt this way: “Just so you know, jurors subordinate judging officers!” And Politico quoted legal experts explaining why Obama’s remarks are so obviously inappropriate.

It may be that Obama spoke extemporaneously and without sufficient forethought, but it is — at best — reckless in the extreme for him to go around decreeing people guilty who have not been tried: especially members of the military who are under his command and who will be adjudged by other members of the military under his command. Moreover, as a self-proclaimed Constitutional Law professor, he ought to have an instinctive aversion when speaking as a public official to assuming someone’s guilt who has been convicted of nothing. It’s little wonder that he’s so comfortable with Manning’s punitive detention since he already perceives Manning as a convicted criminal. “Sentence first – verdict afterward,” said the Red Queen to Alice in Wonderland.

But even more fascinating is Obama’s invocation of America’s status as a “nation of laws” to justify why Manning must be punished. That would be a very moving homage to the sanctity of the rule of law — if not for the fact that the person invoking it is the same one who has repeatedly engaged in the most extraordinary efforts to shield Bush officials from judicial scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution of every kind for their war crimes and surveillance felonies. Indeed, the Orwellian platitude used by Obama to justify that immunity — Look Forward, Not Backward — is one of the greatest expressions of presidential lawlessness since Richard Nixon told David Frost that “it’s not illegal if the President does it.”

But it’s long been clear that this is Obama’s understanding of “a nation of laws”: the most powerful political and financial elites who commit the most egregious crimes are to be shielded from the consequences of their lawbreaking — see his vote in favor of retroactive telecom immunity, his protection of Bush war criminals, and the way in which Wall Street executives were permitted to plunder with impunity — while the most powerless figures (such as a 23-year-old Army Private and a slew of other low-level whistleblowers) who expose the corruption and criminality of those elites are to be mercilessly punished. And, of course, our nation’s lowest persona non grata group — accused Muslim Terrorists — are simply to be encaged for life without any charges. Merciless, due-process-free punishment is for the powerless; full-scale immunity is for the powerful. “Nation of laws” indeed.

One final irony to Obama’s embrace of this lofty justifying term: Manning’s punitive detention conditions are themselves illegal, as the Uniform Code of Military Justice expressly bars the use of pre-trial detention as a means of imposing punishment. Given how inhumane Manning’s detention conditions have been — and the fact that much of it was ordered in contradiction to the assessments of the brig’s psychiatric staff — there is little question that this is exactly what has happened. The President lecturing us yesterday about how Manning must be punished because we’re a “nation of laws” is the same one presiding over and justifying Manning’s unlawful detention conditions.

Then, in response to Price’s raising the case of Daniel Ellsberg, we have this from Obama:

No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way.

What Obama said there is technically true, but not the way he intended. Indeed, the truth of the matter makes exactly the opposite point as the one the President attempted to make. The 42 volumes of the Pentagon Papers leaked by Ellsberg to The New York Times were designated “TOP SECRET”: the highest secrecy designation under the law. By stark contrast, not a single page of the materials allegedly leaked by Manning to Wikileaks was marked “top secret”; to the contrary, it was all marked “secret” or “classified”: among the lowest level secrecy classifications. Using the Government’s own standards, then, the leak by Ellsberg was vastly more dangerous than the alleged leak by Manning (and the notion that Ellsberg’s leak was limited and highly selective is absurd; he passed on thousands of pages to the New York Times: 43 full volumes worth).

But it has long been vital for Obama officials and the President’s loyalists to distinguish Ellsberg from Manning. Why? Because it is a more or less an article of faith among progressives that what Ellsberg did was noble and heroic. How, then, can Nixon’s persecution of Ellsberg continue to be loathed while Obama’s persecution of Manning be cheered? After all, even the hardest-core partisan loyalists can’t maintain contradictions that glaring in their heads; they need to be given a way to distinguish them.

Hence the importance of differentiating Ellsberg’s actions from those in which Manning is accused of engaging. That Ellsberg himself has repeatedly said that Manning’s alleged acts are identical to his own both in content and motive — and that he considers Manning a hero — is obviously problematic for that cause, but the justifying show must go on. Thus do we have Obama’s backward claim that “Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way” when the reality is that The Pentagon Papers were deemed far, far more sensitive by the U.S. Government than the documents published by WikiLeaks.

Read the rest of the article at Salon here…

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Bradford Manning Editorial

Posted on 02 January 2011 by John Johnson

Bradford Manning has only been charged for suspicion of leaking the Iraq and Afghan War logs. One of which was a video showing a US Helicopter mowing down a group of civilans and two reporters, continuing to fire as they laid on the group.

For this he has been kept in his cell without any human contact whatsoever for 23 out of 24 hours every day for six months, is prohibited from exercising in his cell, takes his meals alone and is being administered what he is told are anti-depressants by the prison doctor to keep his mind from snapping from the effects of the constant, steady quiet, the artificial light which makes it impossible to distinguish night from day and the aloneness with ones own thoughts. Hard as it may be to understand without experiencing it, interaction with other humans, even other accused, is a vital part of the touchstones with reality which frame our psyche.

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The Iraq Debacle

Posted on 01 September 2010 by John Johnson

The Iraq Debacle:

The Legacy of  Seven Years of War

By Iraq Debacle Coalition

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, mark the August 31st partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq with the following evaluation and recommendations:

The U.S. occupation of Iraq continues and the reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq can at best be called only a rebranded occupation. While the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will be reduced from a high of 165,000, there will still be 50,000 troops left behind, some 75,000 contractors, five huge “enduring bases” and an Embassy the size of Vatican City.

The U.S. military’s overthrow of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein did not lead to a better life for Iraqis-just the opposite. It resulted in the further destruction of basic infrastructure-electricity, water, sewage-that continues to this day. The U.S. dropped more tons of bombs on Iraq than in all of WWII, destroying Iraq’s electrical, water and sewage systems. Iraq’s health care and higher education systems, once the best in the entire region, have been decimated. The U.S. war on Iraq unleashed a wave of violence that has left over one million Iraqis dead and four million displaced, as well as ethnic rivalries that continue to plague the nation. We have seriously wounded millions of Iraqis, creating a lifetime of suffering and economic hardship for them, their communities and the entire nation as it struggles to rebuild. Life expectancy for Iraqis fell from 71 years in 1996 to 67 years in 2007 due to the war and destruction of the healthcare system. The U.S. use of weapons such as depleted uranium and white phosphorous has taken a severe toll, with the cancer rate in Fallujah, for example, now worse than that of Hiroshima.

The majority of the refugees and internally displaced persons created by the US intervention have been abandoned. Of the nearly 4 million refugees, many are now living in increasingly desperate circumstances in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and around the world. As undocumented refugees, most are not allowed to work and are forced to take extremely low paying, illegal jobs ($3/day) or rely on the UN and charity to survive. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has documented a spike in the sex trafficking of Iraqi women.

Iraq still does not have a functioning government. Many months after the March 7 elections, there is still a political vacuum and violence that is killing roughly 300 civilians a month. There is no functioning democracy in place and little sign there will be one in the near future.

The Iraq War has left a terrible toll on the U.S. troops. More than one million American service members have deployed in the Iraq War effort. Over 4,400 U.S. troops have been killed and tens of thousands severely injured. More than one in four U.S. troops have come home from the Iraq war with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment. PTSD rates in the military have skyrocketed. In 2009, a record number of 245 soldiers committed suicide.

The war has drained our treasury. As of August 2010, U.S. taxpayers have spent over $750 billion on the Iraq War effort. Counting the cost of lifetime care of wounded vets and the interest payments on the money we borrowed to pay for this war, the real cost will be in the trillions. This misappropriation of funds has contributed to the economic crises we are experiencing, including the lack of funds for our schools, healthcare, infrastructure and investments in clean, green jobs.

The U.S. officials who got us into this disastrous war on the basis of lies have not been held accountable. Not George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld. No one. Neither have the Bush administration lawyers who authorized torture, including Jay Bybee and John Yoo. The “think tanks,” journalists and pundits who perpetuated the lies have not been fired-most are today cheerleading for the war in Afghanistan.

The war has led to the pillaging of Iraqi resources and institutionalization of corruption. The U.S. Department of Defense has been unable to account for $8.7 billion of Iraqi oil and gas money meant for humanitarian needs and reconstruction after the 2003 invasion. The invasion has also led to the erosion of Iraqi government control over the nation’s oil. In 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, which included executives of America’s largest energy companies, recommended opening up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment. The resulting draft Iraq Oil Law threatens global grab for Iraq’s resources as the international oil cartel seeks to reestablish its control. Adoption of the oil law, however, has been stymied by stiff popular resistance, foremost by the oil workers and their union.

The war has not made us more secure. The US policy of torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, violent and deadly raids on civilian homes, gunning down innocent civilians in the streets and absence of habeas corpus has fueled the fires of hatred and extremism toward Americans. The very presence of our troops in Iraq and other Muslim nations has become a recruiting tool.

Given the above, we, the undersigned individuals and organizations, mark the occasion of this troop withdrawal by calling on the Administration and Congress to take the following actions:

Withdrawal of all U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq and the closing of all U.S. bases;

Reparations to help the Iraqis repair their basic infrastructure and increased funds for the millions of internally and externally displaced Iraqis;

Full support for the U.S. troops who suffer from the internal and external wounds of war;

Prosecution of those officials responsible for dragging our country into this disaster;

Transfer of funds from war into resources to rebuild America, with a focus on green jobs.

The lessons of this disastrous intervention should also be an impetus for Congress and the administration to end the war in Afghanistan. It’s time to focus on creating real security here at home and rebuilding America.

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Atrocities: US Soldiers in Afghanistan order to kill civilians.

Posted on 02 July 2010 by John Johnson

McCord told the World Socialist News Web site the implementation of an order for “360 rotational fire nal fire” in 2007 by a battalion commander was a new “SOP” (standard operating procedure). McCord said in an April 2010 interview:

“We had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP. He goes, ‘If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.’

The killings which McCord said he witnessed would have been egregious, systematic, and calculated. The order also would undo all that many well-meaning American soldiers have been trying to accomplish in Iraq. http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/53287

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/

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