Review: Drone Warfare

Drone WarfareMedea Benjamin is one of the founders of CODEPINK, a peace and social justice movement that has been working to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and prevent new wars. In her recent book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, she educates her readers on the growing use by the United States and countries around the world of this no-accountability, remotely piloted aircraft.

The message commonly sold by the military is that drones pose little risk to our soldiers and are precise targeting machines that minimize non-combatant deaths. Benjamin devotes her attention precisely to the plight of drone victims and their families. As a result, her book is a compelling mix of humanity and factual data, especially as she describes how the effects of drones go beyond the immediate death and destruction and the grief of families.

She relates the stories of the Khorasan Mujahedin – al Qaeda and Taliban death squads that show up after a drone attack to hunt down the informants they believe are responsible for supplying information to the Americans. They kidnap suspects and torture and kill them, passing tapes of it among the people to warn future informants. Beyond this, there are the flights of refugees caught between the drones, the Taliban, and the military, as whole villages are destroyed. This has led to increased ethnic violence as refugees in Pakistan, for example, flee south into already crowded cities. Through Benjamin’s words, we truly begin to understand the ripple effects of drones.

Guiding us through a short history of drone technology, Benjamin starts with the construction of the first drone in a California garage and then systematically deconstructs each myth surrounding drones – that they are cheaper than manned aircraft, protect our soldiers, preserve our national security, and somehow make war cleaner.

Benjamin illustrates how drone warfare lowers the cost of human aggression and warns that we should, “never be lulled into thinking that high-tech wars are somehow more humane.”

Instead, says Benjamin, it makes war like a video game and encourages a “Playstation mentality,” because drone flight simulators and controls are explicitly modeled after such games. In a sense, this distances soldiers from the consequences of their actions.

Moreover, the rise in use of drones by the military has caused a military culture clash as seasoned fighter pilots question the experience of ‘pilots’ who have never seen the inside of a cockpit. In another scary development, private contractors and other non-military agencies, including the State Department have drones, with non-soldiers at the controls, and the massive increase in the use of drones requires even more pilots, causing a sharp drop in entry and training standards.

The market for drones is increasing worldwide, and U.S. use of drones has greatly expanded under, as Benjamin reminds us, “the Nobel Peace Prize winning President Obama.” Drone Warfare explores the high demand for drones, and details their uses as tracking, monitoring, and killing machines. The book has plenty of unsurprising information on the insidiousness of the usual culprits from the military industrial complex, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing, among others, and their sales to questionable regimes.

What is astounding is Benjamin’s description of the domestic use of drones along the U.S. border by both state and local law enforcement agencies and the serious threat to American privacy raised by Obama’s direction to the Federal Aviation Administration to integrate drone programs.

Furthermore, Benjamin documents the appalling use of drones by the CIA and the administration to kill U.S. citizens without trial, or even without charges being brought against them. Benjamin funnels legitimate outrage into a constructive argument that clearly explains how the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles as judge, jury, and executioner is entirely extrajudiciary, and violates the right-to-self-defense precedent under international law as well as other just war principles.

The Obama administration has admitted that drone usage increases the risk of attacks on the United States, endangering our national security as it increases anti-American hatred abroad. Not only are they a security threat, drones go rogue, targeting incorrectly, misfiring, or simply crashing, as we’ve seen in Iran, which is even now reverse-engineering our RQ-170 Sentinel.

Drone Warfare is a highly informative book, especially for those who are newcomers to the issue, and it details the dangers of the unmanned arms race. Benjamin tells us, “With the American public lulled by the rhetoric that calls killing terrorists a necessity for national security and ignores the cries of victims rendered silent by the chokehold of local complicity and imperial might, the drone war represents one of the greatest travesties of justice in our age.”

Erin Chandler is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.