Killing the wrong people? No, the United States government loves murder, is a mass murderer, and its Great Leader even makes jokes about murder:
"The Jonas Brothers are here. (Applause.) They're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But, boys, don't get any ideas. (Laughter.) I have two words for you -- predator drones. (Laughter.) You will never see it coming. (Laughter.) You think I'm joking. (Laughter.)" -- Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, May 1, 2010
The most serious problems with their deployment, however, arise from the criteria for determining the targets against which they are properly deployed. In the language of artillery, sometimes targets are designated as “free fire” zones, where any human within that vicinity is considered to be a legitimate target. That works when the enemy is clearly defined and geographically prescribed. In the case of guerilla (or “irregular”) warfare, however, there are neither uniforms to identify the enemy nor territorial boundaries to distinguish them, as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, where virtually any group of individuals, no matter how innocuous they may turn out to be, tends to be regarded as “fair game” for drone attack. In military language, of course, it’s all readily excusable as “collateral damage”.
How many wedding parties are we going to take out because the drone saw group behavior that it had been programmed to hit? How often do we have sufficient information to know that we are actually targeting insurgents and not innocents? Surely I am not alone in finding our actions repugnant when I read, “Over 700 killed in 44 drone strikes in 2009” taking out 5 intended targets —140 to 1 — and 123 civilians were killed for 3 al-Qaeda in January 2010. The headlines are ubiquitous: “CIA chief in Pakistan exposed. Top spy received death threats; U.S. drones kill 54”, Wisconsin State Journal (18 December 2010), where the American government claims, just as it did in Vietnam, that every dead body was a ”suspected militant”: none were innocent men, women, or children. Even The Washington Post (21 February 2011) seems to perceive that something is wrong with killing so many people and hitting so few targets.
We are now invading Pakistani airspace in our relentless determination to take out those who oppose us. From the point of view of the countries that we have invaded and occupied, they might be more aptly described as “freedom fighters”. Since we invaded these countries in violation of international law, the UN Charter and the US Constitution, we appear to be committing crimes against humanity. And the risk posed by our own technology is now extending to the USA itself. A recent article found in Software 26th August 2010 12:26 GMT, “ROBOT KILL-CHOPPER GOES ROGUE above Washington DC!” by Lewis Page, describes a perceived threat to the nation’s capitol as attributable to “software error”. No deaths resulted from this infraction, but perhaps the next time a mistake of this kind will lead to the deaths of members of Congress or of “The First Family” on a picnic outing in the Rose Garden, which will make for spectacular headlines. Yet we don’t even pause to ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with collateral damage?”-On the Ethical Conduct of Warfare: Predator Drones