John Robb has the unsettling details about how drones can stay powered for years by jacking electricity from power lines by induction. With robust software, it could stay aloft for years, sending info to the mothership and receiving new commands.
Down the Rabbit Hole With Jabberwock and Drone Strikes Â Â
When it came to the Senate filibuster on drone killings, the stupid party held the floor, the craven party mostly kept quiet, and the victims had no voice – just another exceptional day in the contemporary clown show of American democracy
In the second minute of his half day filibuster February 6, Senator Rand Paul, R-KY introduced an apt reference to one of the absurdities of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” illuminating the abuse of unchecked absolute power. He started reading from Chapter XII, after the King says, “Let the jury consider their verdict” —
‘No, no!’ said the queen. ‘Sentence first — verdict afterwards.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ Alice said loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first! ‘Â
‘Hold your tongue!’ said the queen, turning purple.
‘I won’t!’ said Alice.
‘Release the drones,’ said the queen, as she shouted at the top of her voice.”Â
“Release the drones,” was Paul’s interpolation of the Queen’s original order, “Off with her head!”Â And that’s where the Kentucky Senator stopped reading, still solidly rooted in the Wonderland of the U.S. Congress, a collective mad tea party of March hares, mad hatters, and dormice.
The Wonderland quality of Rand Paul’s theatre of the imaginary is clear from his focus on the threat that the President might kill Americans on American soil. And, while Paul didn’t mention it, the President might also take a feline crouch on his executive branch, smiling down and slowly fading from view till there was nothing left but his smile.
In reality, if this president – or any president – decides it’s necessary to kill an American on American soil, he will get her done one way or another. But wouldn’t a killer drone have made a neater job of it at places like Waco or Ruby Ridge?
Don’t Drone Me, Bro – I’m American!Â
Given the non-existence of the imagined threat, Paul’s performance amounted to little more than a solipsistic ceremony of American exceptionalism, pottering on sometimes incoherently about the fundamental non-threat of killer drones in America despite the paranoid assurance of some Rand Paul followers that the government is coming for them soon. Â That’s why Americans should be exceptions to presidential drone policy, Paul argues, just because we’re Americans. He offers no other rationale.
It’s not that his argument is wrong – it’s not – but it’s Lilliputian and quite literally narrow-minded. While some now celebrate his filibuster as some sort of defense of civil liberties, it’s only a defense of some civil liberties for a few people in a special class of Americans. Â Despite all the media overplay of this stand-your-ground stand-up routine, such ideological opposites as the Cato Institute and Anti-War.com were unimpressed with a moral argument that singled out only Americans for any sort of due process protection under law.
Why would Americans be concerned with other people in other places getting killed without due process of law?Â It’s not like they’re covered by the U.S. Constitution, is it?
Intentional or not, Rand Paul’s theatrics provide cover for acts that are arguably war crimes and impeachable offenses – leaving President Obama, like President Bush or any future president, free to continue assassinating brown people at will, regardless of their innocence or guilt, anywhere in the world.
The conventional Washington wisdom may preen over the “conversation” about drone strikes set in motion by Paul, but it’s a shallow conversation at the start, with little momentum, and less likelihood of reaching a rational goal – such as controlling or, better, ending attacks on anonymous people who may or may not mean us harm and too often turn out to be men, women, and children celebrating a wedding.
Don’t Worry, It Won’t Happen – Until It Does
Much has been made of the letters from Attorney General Eric Holder to Senator Paul. The first letter was dated March 4, several days after Paul had begun planning his Senate floor pseudo-event. Holder’s letter was an embarrassment of legalese, hedging every conceivable bet, while criticizing the Senator’s query for being “hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront” – although, Holder said, it’s “possible.”
Does it matter, really, what the Attorney General says?Â If he promised there would never ever be a drone strike on an American on American soil, would that make it impossible?Â Would it even make it less likely, unlikely as it may be at present?
The day after Paul’s filibuster, on March 7, Holder wrote a second letter that reads, in its entirety:Â It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.”
The loophole here is huge – “an American not engaged in combat.”Â How does the drone know who’s American?Â And who says what combat is, or who’s engaged in it?
In Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere, the United States has killed thousands of people no American has even seen, except through a surveillance camera. The victims are strangers, mostly never identified, but it is U.S. policy to consider any male who appears to be 18 or over as an “enemy combatant.”
Although he fits that description, Rand Paul has trumpeted the second Holder letter as a victory.
And the legal basis for lethal drone strikes – a White House argument, not a statute passed by Congress – remains secret.
There is no significant effort in Congress to rein in White House power.
Had Rand Paul continued with “Alice in Wonderland,” the next sentence he read would have been the court’s response to the Queen of Hearts’s order – either “Off with her head!” or “Release the drones!”Â That response was: “Nobody moved.”
And then Alice took matters in her own hands and, as they all flew into the air about her, she said, “Who cares for you?Â You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
The wonderland of exceptional Americanism these days has no Alice, just the pack of cards and a President with a Peace Prize.
Cannonfire fesses up to the obvious. The excruciating silence from liberals on drones is appallingly. Apparently such things are ok so long as a Democrat orders them. And Rand Paul was right.
Liberals must face up to one supremely infuriating fact: Rand Paul is right on this one. Even one prominent Kos blogger admits it.
I think a lot of people (both Democrats and Republicans) have lined up on the drone issue based purely on partisan identification — the endless game of shirts-vs.-skins. But politics should be about ideas and values. The Democratic gutlessness on display here has no excuse.
Even Bernie Sanders was mute. Protesting use of drones against US citizens on US soil should not be a partisan affair. Interestingly, those of us to the left of progressive generally agreed with Rand Paul. It’s those squishy liberals and compromised mainstream Democrats who shamed themselves by saying nothing.
Let me repeat a point made in an earlier post: Do not buy into the infantile right-wing fantasy that we can counter the drone threat by “exercising our Second Amendment rights.”
True, however we can and probably will invent anti-drone drones or ways of jamming and confusing them.
We also need to shame progressives into putting principle ahead of party. Liberals must regain their old ground — and if that means standing against the Obama administration, so be it.
Obama has spat in the face of liberals since Day One. Really, it’s an no brainer to oppose Obama. But then, these are generally the same people who stopped going to anti-war protests in 2007 after it became apparent that Obama would win the presidential election. They weren’t antiwar, just anti-Bush.
When I saw Bob’s post about Christopher Dorner and read his manifesto, I had this sudden sense of data vu — and then it hit me. Dorner copied his explanation from the one Obama made secretly just a few weeks ago, explaining his drone program!
Here’s the President’s original, eerily similar:
I know most of you who personally know me are in disbelief to hear from media reports that I am suspected of committing such horrendous murders and have taken drastic and shocking actions in the last couple of years. You are saying to yourself that this is completely out of character of the man you knew who always wore a smile wherever he was seen.
I know I will be vilified by the Republicans and the media. Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur in the war on terrorism. Al Qaeda has not changed since 9/11. It has gotten worse. We never should have slacked off in Afghanistan, or been side-tracked into Iraq. The only thing that has evolved from those decisions is the people who attacked us have been promoted and rewarded”¦.
When it comes to pilotless dronesÂ armed with air-to-ground missiles, the United States acknowledges that its counterterrorism strategy includes using terroristÂ techniques as part of the “war” on terror. Some of these attacks on civiliansÂ are widely understood to be war crimes, but the Obama administration refusesÂ to reveal White House lawyers’Â memosÂ defending the legality of executive execution.
Currently and controversially, the United States is the only country in the world known to be actively waging drone warfareÂ — the remote aerialÂ killingÂ ofÂ peopleÂ who may or may not be identified, who may or may not be hostile, and who have no way to appeal for a stay of the execution they don’t even know is coming their way.
Some call the drone war a “moral black box” that reflects badly on American ethics.
ProtestsÂ against this form of summary execution are happening with increasing frequency not only in Pakistan, where the U.S. has killedÂ hundredsÂ ofÂ non-combatants, but in Britain, Australia, Illinois, New York, and now Vermont.
Already concerned by the increasing militarizationÂ of their state and country, Vermont activists are calling for their congressional representatives to oppose further drone use on defenseless countries. None of the delegation, not Sen. Patrick Leahy, not Sen. Bernie Sanders, not Rep. Peter Welch, has raised much of a fuss about drone killings, not even when the President chose to kill an American citizen.
Vermonters with Veterans for Peace, the Peace and Justice Center, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom also oppose basingÂ a drone control centerÂ in Vermont, a possibility floated by National Guard Major General MichaelÂ DubieÂ as early as 2011.
To heighten consciousness of drone attacks on law and the Constitution, activists have arranged to hear directly from Leah Bolger, one of 30 Americans in the Code PinkÂ delegation who went to Pakistan for the mass protest against drones led by political leaderÂ Imran KhanÂ in early October. Ms Bolger, president of Veterans for Peace, came directly from Pakistan to hold a press conference at the National Guard base gate and to speak to a college audience at St. Michael’s College.
While otherÂ countries, certainlyÂ IsraelÂ and perhaps Iran, may be dabblingÂ in drone warfare, only the U.S. is engaged in remote control killing of citizens in at least five theoretically sovereign nations, including Pakistan, Afghanistan,Yemen, Ethiopia, andÂ Somalia, as well as suspected strikes in Libya, Iraq, Mali, Colombia, Mexico, and others. Israeli dronesÂ have reportedlyÂ killed 825 people in GazaÂ since mid-2006.
The legal problems created by drone warfare are similar to the problems the U.S. created for itself by deciding to torture prisoners without legal restraint. As explained by RichardÂ Falk, international lawyer and retired Princeton professor, “The U.S. reliance on attack drones to engage in targeted killing, especially in third countries (Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan) has raised controversial international law issues of sovereign rights in interaction with lethal acts of war, especially those far removed from the zone of live combat.”
More bluntly, the U.S. is committing acts of war, killing the citizens of other countries in their own countries, without a shred of due process of law, whether international, American, or local, and the acts are not confronted even by international authorities such as the United Nations or the International Criminal Court (which the U.S. refuses to recognize).
In June 2012, Christof Heyns, the UN specialÂ rapporteurÂ on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, issued a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling attention to the dubious legality of drone warfare. The South African Jurist said “Reference should be made to a study earlier this year by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism”¦ If civilian ‘rescuers’ are indeed being intentionally targeted, there is no doubt about the law: those strikes are a war crime.”
The impactÂ andÂ effectivenessÂ of drone strikes is intensely debated and the Obama administration does what it can to keep relevant information secret. But Pakistan counts more than 1,000 innocent civilian killed, and other observers, both military and civilian, say the drone strikes create far more angry people bent on revenge than it kills terrorist plotters.
The numbing effect of killing people byÂ remote controlÂ is another cost of this kind of war, made vivid in the videoÂ of a former British drone operator who found it “too easy to kill” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thomas Powers, who has written extensively about the CIA and other secret agencies, describes the problem this way: “Drones are an unreliable and conspicuous way of killing individuals. With drones we have no way to tell who we are killing. It’s abrogating a right to ourselves that no organization should have. It’s arbitrary and driven by politics. What seems inevitable today is going to cause you trouble tomorrow. Ask yourself if the United States would accept the right of another country to decide who among Americans they would kill. There are probably people in Arizona allied with drug cartels. Would we allow Mexican forces to use drones against them? Hell, no.”
In April, the first internationalÂ Drone SummitÂ held in Washington, D.C., raised issues of legality, constitutionality, efficacy, cost, justice, and security. But Drone warfare had not been a significant issueÂ in any presidential campaign. Meanwhile the internationalÂ drone market is booming.