“They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that”

“Problems with killer drones” is the tepid headline of a summary article at AtlanticWire, collecting responses to Jane Mayer’s typically thorough investigation into Obama’s “weapon of choice”–deadly rocket attacks launched by Predator drones. (The link is to an abstract. Unfortunately, the entire article is behind the New Yorker’s firewall.)

The liberal response, represented by Lisa Schrich at HuffingtonPost, points out that ten civilians die for every militant killed in a drone strike and that they “undermine both Pakistani and Afghan state sovereignty and legitimacy, stir political unrest, and challenge alliances.”

Which is fine, as far as it goes, but she might go even further: it’s murder without any sort of due process. When did America decide it could kill anyone on the planet, without a peep of opposition from its media outlets or political class?

Actually, you can put a date on it. September 11, 2001. Before that, as Mayer relates, our government criticized Israel’s targeted killings of Palestinian militants. Martin Indyk, then ambassador to Israel, actually said, in June of that year, “the United States government is very clearly on record against targeted assassinations…. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”

But September 11 Changed All That. And blowing suspected militants, and anyone in the neighborhood, to smithereens from two miles up in the sky became an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Think about that. Never mind that there are many more misses than hits, or that a “kill” with ten additional corpses is cause for high fives all around, or that the most celebrated kill of recent times, of Baitalluh Meshud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, only came after fifteen failed strikes, killing up to 321 additional people. “We”–our government–have no right to do anything like that. Right? Right? Even if we “take out” the target with the precision that so often claimed but never demonstrated, there’s no due process, no evidence whatsoever that the target is guilty of the crimes, or dark thoughts (the same thing in recent times) we accuse him of. In a terrific essay last month, Tom Englehardt made the case that to the rest of the world, we have become the Martians of HG Wells’ fiction, who, with “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic,” destroy human bodies and lives and communities without a second thought.

We go about our comfortable lives and rarely have cause to think about the women, children, and noncombatants who live in daily fear of being vaporized, torn apart, crushed or poisoned by the high-tech weaponry of a nation half a world away. This suits the politicians and the generals just fine, for whom it is almost literally a video game. Few American lives are at risk, the victims are invisible, both parties can appear to be taking a stand against terror, and the money to the military machine keeps flowing.

I think the last word should go to Harry Lime of The Third Man, who defends his death-dealing black marketeering (an operation that seems almost quaint today) while high in a Ferris Wheel overlooking Vienna with the words: “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”

“They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that”

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