US position on flotilla is compromised by its love of drones

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I wonder if this is an Aquino moment for Israel. In 1983, Filipino strongman Ferdinand Marcos ordered opposition leader Nino Aquino dragged from the plane and executed upon his return from exile. It was illustrative of how Marcos, forever coddled by his U.S. protectors, was so insulated from any meaningful rebuke that he thought he could eliminate a political foe in broad daylight with impunity. It was caught on film and was the end of his regime.

There is also the resemblance to the French intelligence bombing of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in 1985. Again, a ruthless attack by a mighty military upon a defenseless activist group, killing one. And like the Rainbow Warrior’s mission, last week’s flotilla was arguably provocative — for all the best reasons — but nevertheless provocative.

The deaths visited upon the flotilla deserve all the outrage pouring forth from the international community. Still, I became uneasy with the intense focus on Israel’s wrongdoing. Granted, this blog’s focus is on the complications and contradictions inherent in the Zionist endeavor, but I’ve watched with increasing horror how my own government — via an essentially autonomous CIA — uses drones to selectively kill perceived threats in lands far away.

How can the U.S. operate as a moral arbiter in the flotilla affair? Warfare by drone brings a detached cold-bloodedness that ups the ante of the term “war is hell” (even its name is evocative of an empty, unfeeling killing machine). Someone with skills developed on video games can annihilate a family in Afghanistan with a squeeze of a trigger. (And let’s be honest, when it came to 9-11, the Taliban were at best bit players.) Yet we kill people in their homes based upon suspicions and God knows what quality of intelligence.

A U.N. Human Rights report released last week cries out against the Pandora’s box opened up by extra-judicial execution by drone, especially once the technology inevitably proliferates to other countries.

For, as the report’s author said to the New York Times, “If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.” 

But an unnamed U.S. “official,” not surprisingly, tells the Times we’ll do whatever the hell we want, thank you very much: “The United States has an inherent right to protect itself and will not refrain from doing so based on someone else’s exceptionally narrow — if not faulty — definition of self-defense.”

“Wired” reported that drones have killed hundreds of innocents in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But, as Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute points out, they have also killed 20 “high value” terrorist targets. The U.S. military has 7,000 such drones, and the Dept. of Homeland Security has some too. When asked on NPR whether he supported the use of drones, Singer said essentially it depended upon how they were used.

Well, you could say that about most any weapon.

The U.S. at one time denounced targeted assassinations carried out by Israel; now it’s clear the U.S. has adopted the policy.

Some argue that drones are preferable to the carnage of carpet-bombing. Perhaps so. During WWII Orwell wrote of the contradictions in a society that will go to great lengths to punish murder of an innocent individual, yet will condone and rationalize wholesale aerial bombings of civilian centers. He described feeling a kind of interplanetary existential disorientation — as if earthlings were not quite the intelligent, caring humans they make themselves out to be.

The late Nuremberg prosecutor Henry King told me it was worth heeding war criminal Albert Speer’s warning that mankind’s moral compass was not keeping pace with its technical ability to create ever more lethal, insidious weaponry. It could be argued that the farther away our technology separates us from the carnage we cause, we are that much more detached from our humanity. Still, a few old-fashioned kicks to the face before a coup de grace through the skull don’t seem all that humane either.

So, do we celebrate a cold-hearted brave new world of less collateral damage? Or does mankind’s eternal vigil, awaiting the elusive morality upgrade, go on as ever before? True, the numbers are smaller, which could count as progress. Unless one of those few belong to you.

The following was written in memory of a teenager killed by a “stray bullet” in Gaza, but can stand for any innocent senselessly cut down.

For Mohammed Zeid of Gaza, Age 15

By Naomi Shihab Nye

There is no stray bullet, sirs.

No bullet like a worried cat
crouching under a bush,
no half-hairless puppy bullet
dodging midnight streets.
The bullet could not be a pecan
plunking the tin roof,
not hardly, no fluff of pollen
on October’s breath,
no humble pebble at our feet.

So don’t gentle it, please.

We live among stray thoughts,
tasks abandoned midstream.
Our fickle hearts are fat
with stray devotions, we feel at home
among bits and pieces,
all the wandering ways of words.

But this bullet had no innocence, did not
wish anyone well, you can’t tell us otherwise
by naming it mildly, this bullet was never the friend
of life, should not be granted immunity
by soft saying—friendly fire, straying death-eye,
why have we given the wrong weight to what we do?

Mohammed, Mohammed, deserves the truth.
This bullet had no secret happy hopes,
it was not singing to itself with eyes closed
under the bridge.


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