Using Flying Killer Robots is Terrorism


What is it that puts the “terror” in terrorism?

One might argue that the true terror is never really knowing where the terrorists are going to strike. This creates a paranoic mentality in which each step of everyday life must be measured against its potential of risk. Going out for a cup of coffee. Attending a soccer match. Dropping your children off at day care. Participating in legal reproductive health care. Any circumstance can culminate in a violent end. That’s the primary component of a terror attack. Bringing fear to the mundane facets of everyday life.

Americans had to face this reality on 9/11. Paris is confronting this uncertainty today, with some courage.

If there is anything that distinguishes war from terrorism it’s this uncertainty about where the battlefield is and who the casulties may be. In a formal war, these variables are somewhat more defined. Soldiers are the targets, the battlefield is where the danger takes place.

That being said, modern warfare has blurred the lines between the military component of warfare and the terror aspect. War has always been a form of terrorism, don’t get me wrong. Since the advent, however, of the modern concept of total war, in which all aspects of a presumed enemy’s society is a potential target, it is truly difficult, if not hypocritical to make a distinction between that which constitutes a wartime tactic and an act of terrorism.

Any analysis on the subject must make the assumption that any proposed distinction between war and terrorism is nothing more than a matter of point of view. Who is defining the situation? Of course, Americans are not terrorists, so American activities that kill dozens, hundreds, even thousands of civilians must be a legitimate military endeavor. Any such actions taken by America’s enemies, even when they target only American military personel in their own country, is terrorism. Ergo, American forces are in Afghanistan fighting Afghan terrorists.

Now, the next stage of warfare, dare I say “postmodern” warfare, blurs the distinction between military action and terrorism even further. That is, war waged by use of flying killer robots. The United States government refers to such technology as drones. This mundane nomenclature downplays the deadly affect of such devices. These are not sexless worker bees, or robotic cameras sent off to explore the deep ocean or outer space. These are remote control aircraft armed with Hellfire Missiles (Note, there are different kinds of flying killer robots, so the specs may be different for each) which are used to blow apart secret targets from a secret list.

These weapons can locate a target from miles away without danger of detection and virtually vaporize it without ever being seen or heard. To call them drones is an insult to those living in fear under their wings. They are, in every realistic way, best described as flying killer robots. It isn’t even valid to turn this descriptor into an acronym (FKRs).

A centerpiece of President Obama’s foreign policy, flying killer robots are ubiquitous in target nations of the Middle East, like Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. As if these nations didn’t have enough troubles, citizens live under the terrifying hum of American killing machines. One terrorized citizen, quoted in The Atlantic, claims, “I can’t sleep at night because when the drones are there … I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can’t sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just makes me so scared.”

The Atlantic article talks about people waking in the middle of the night from hallucinations about drone strikes. The everpresent hum of the drones overhead are a constant reminder that death is imminent at any moment should you be in the wrong place at the wrong time, standing next to the wrong person on the wrong list. A simple, unexpected knock on the door results in panic.

This constant terror has rearranged social interactions within terrorized communities. People avoid congregating in large groups. According to the Atlantic, “The terrified parents react there as they would here. Many pull their kids out of school, fearing they’ll be killed by drones if they congregate in big groups.”

This fear is not unreasonable. Despite Administration claims that flying killer robots are more precise and “surgical” (a curious medical term applied to warfare), we know that any weapon designed to kill from a distance is going to kill civilians. We also know from a 2012 New York Times article that Administration claims about civilian casualties are based on a questionable method of counting “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants…unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” Whereas I’m sure being posthumously proven innocent might bring some comfort, it does little to clarify our understanding of the consequences of deadly actions being taken in our name. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, for instance, keeps a much more critical tab on civilian and children casualties including as many as 900 civilian casualties and 200 children killed in Pakistan. Remember, we are not at war with Pakistan. The Bureau includes additional stats from Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. Not Iraq? Not Syria?

Most recently, Democracy Now shared the revelations from four former Air Force Drone operators who claim that U.S. flying killer robots do, in fact, kill civilians. This is an understood and accepted feature of the program.  According one of the operators, Michael Haas, in a related article from The Intercept, “Drone operators refer to children as ‘fun-size terrorists’ and liken killing them to ‘cutting the grass before it grows too long.'”

These civilian casualties, according to the whistleblowers, fuel radicalization. The American drone is the poster child for militant Jihadist recruitment. This is consistent with the previously cited New York Times article. “Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, ‘When the drones hit, they don’t see children.'”

This policy of using flying killer robots is conducted under the discretion of one man. The previously cited New York Times article was clear that President Obama takes a very hands on approach to this nation’s use of flying killer robots, especially when there are prospects for civilian casualties despite the Orwellian definitions distinguishing “militants” from “civilians.” Even more shocking, President Obama keeps a secretly maintained “kill list” for future “targeted killings.” Targeted Killings should not be confused with “assassinations” as Jeremy Scahill points out in The Intercept, because assassinating people is against the law.

For context, consider the following statement that may potentially be spoken on January 20, 2017. “Here’s your kill list, President Trump. Where would you like to go from here?”

Scahill refers to this terror campaign as “The Assassination Complex.” His investigations of leaked slides on the secret workings of America’s robotic terror campaign shows that any strategic value to these targeted killings is dubious at best.

“Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront.”

As a terror campaign, however, use of flying killer robots is unparalleled in history.

Look, if we really are serious about ending terrorism, the first step is to stop perpetuating our own particular brand of terror. Former drone pilot, Staff Sgt. Brandon Bryant points out, “We kill four and create 10 [militants]…If you kill someone’s father, uncle or brother who had nothing to do with anything, their families are going to want revenge.” In an open letter to President Obama, the four whistleblowers cited above claim, “This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

It should go without saying that the mere existence of flying killer robots is terrifying. That it is the policy of one nation to make these killing machines a permanent fixture in the lives of human beings, men, women, children, almost all of whom are innocent, if not themselves victims of terrorism, is a virulent form of terrorism in and of itself. The United States, and those who support our policies, cannot claim the moral high ground in this so called war against terror if we are the ones perpetuating the most grievous form of terrorism out there. If we are to end the terrorism from abroad, we must first address our own, home made terrorism.


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