Posts Tagged ‘drones’

The Dark Side Of The Obama White House

July 26, 2012
Dan Froomkin, HuffingtonPost, July 25, 2012

obama book review

The most conspicuous reaction in Washington to a series of astonishing national security revelations, many of which emerged in two new books, has come from prominent members of Congress demanding investigations into who leaked them.

One member, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, even complained of learning more from one of the books than she did in her top oversight post over the intelligence community.

But anybody upset about finding things out this way should be angry at the people who didn’t tell them what they needed to know — not the ones who did.

In “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” New York Times reporter David E. Sanger describes in quite extraordinary detail the Obama administration’s hitherto secret cyberwar campaign against Iran, its targeted drone strikes against Al Qaeda and affiliates, and any number of other covert ops, including of course the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As he indicates in his subtitle, Sanger concludes that the biggest surprise of the Obama presidency is just how aggressive he has been in his application of military power.

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Drones and Dishonor in Central New York

September 26, 2009

by Ed Kinane, Dissident Voice, September 25, 2009

If war becomes unreal to the citizens of modern democracies, will they care enough to restrain and control the violence exercised in their name? Will they do so, if they and their sons and daughters are spared the hazards of combat?

– Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War (2000)

The drones are coming. Readers of the Syracuse Post-Standard know that the drones (a.k.a. “Reapers”) are arriving at our local New York Air National Guard Base at Hancock Airport.

These Reapers are a new level of aerial warfare. They are high-flying, sharp-shooting, 36-foot long robots. They are crewless – remote-controlled – aircraft. Although they are unmanned, drones do have “pilots.” Those pilots operate in front of computer screens in ground control rooms far from any target.

Last year our former Congressperson, James Walsh (R-NY), hailed the arrival of the Reaper. Not only will it provide a few jobs, but this killer allows, Jim said, pilots to be “literally fighting a war in Iraq and at the end of their shift be playing with their kids in Camillus” (P-S, 25 June 2008, page A1 ).

Drones surveil the US/Mexico and US/Canada borders. In Gaza, the Israeli Air Force uses them to assassinate Palestinians. In its various overseas wars, the US military has come to depend on drones to assassinate humans while bombing vehicles and buildings. Drones preying on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are piloted from Creech Air Base in Nevada. Beginning this November, Reapers will also be piloted from here in Central New York.

Because drones seem in the short term and within narrow contexts to reduce US casualties, some cheer them on. However – and this is essential – drones make war easier to initiate… and perpetuate. The folks back home wouldn’t even need to hear about the drones’ brave deeds. No thought-provoking body bags – at least not here at home.

Like many other high-tech weapons, drones are indiscriminate: they can kill offensively or defensively, invaders or resisters. They kill combatants and non-combatants, adults and children. Because most victims are civilian, drones are terrorist.

Terror isn’t just something “they” do. Perpetrators of terrorism can have dark skin or light, be “Islamic” or “Christian.” Terrorists can be states or non-state actors. Terrorist budgets can be scanty or vast. Terrorist weapons can be low-tech or high-tech. They can be launched from land, sea or air.

Like other forms of aerial warfare, drones may well spawn reactive terrorism. Because they kill and maim mostly civilians, drones incite hatred. Such hatred could lead to retaliatory strikes either today or when the victims’ survivors come of age. Those strikes could target any of the hundreds of US military bases bestriding the globe.

They could also target any of the domestic bases from which the drones are piloted. Like it or not, without our consent, Central New York is becoming part of the battleground. (Note: I have no desire to feed into the “fear-of-terrorism” industry, but Central New Yorkers ought to be aware that hosting drones may have blowback.)

Besides being indiscriminate and terrorist, aerial warfare is cowardly. Think about the various devices of aerial maiming and massacre (napalm, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, cruise missiles…). For decades aerial warfare has been the weapon of rich, powerful, high-tech nations bullying poor, weak, low-tech nations. Apart from a steely will to resist, these latter nations have few defenses. So corrupted now is any notion of military honor that our war-besotted culture no longer even thinks about a “level playing field.” Seldom are warplanes used to defend a nation from attack or from threats to its sovereignty. Generally warplanes – robotic or not – are the aggressor, the violator of others’ sovereignty.

Drones raise cowardice to new heights. Unlike World War II bombardiers or pilots of other pre-robotic aircraft, drone pilots take no risk. Anti-aircraft artillery will never reach them. They shoot goldfish in a goldfish bowl. The various branches of the service use aerial weapons imagery – invariably phallic – to recruit gutsy, often idealistic, kids. In time many of them learn the hard way that enlisting has little to do with defending their country, defending “freedom,” or spreading “democracy.”

Many fail to come home intact. Few find glory, few find honor. Some then realize that only corporations – the organizational mirror image of drones – profit from war.

Drive out the Drone

Work with your local peace group to end the wars where drones are being used. At the Syracue Peace Council we seek to demystify the macho militarism that permeates our culture. We seek to expose the emperor’s nakedness. The Peace Council staunchly opposes “our” overseas wars. Only in macho fantasy can more war make this a better world. Like cancer, war spreads.

Write letters to your Congress people opposing the Reaper. Even better: write letters to the editor. A published letter will be read, not only by the influential editors, but also by tens of thousands of readers. (And by Congressional staffers.) Since the Reaper will be piloted from Central New York, write to the Syracuse Post-Standard. Our local daily has publicized the Reaper’s arrival in more or less neutral terms; urge the editors to speak out against it.

And do your homework. You might ask your local library to order P.W. Singer’s, Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2009). Be sure to read chapter 9, “The Refuseniks: The Roboticists Who Just Say No.”

Ed Kinane worked in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness before, during and after “Shock and Awe.” Reach him at: edkinane@verizon.net. Read other articles by Ed, or visit Ed’s website.

Keeping Track of the Empire’s Crimes

August 5, 2009

The Anti-Empire Report

by William Blum, Foreign Policy Journal, Aug 5, 2009

cia-lobby-seal

If you catch the CIA with its hand in the cookie jar and the Agency admits the obvious — what your eyes can plainly see — that its hand is indeed in the cookie jar, it means one of two things: a) the CIA’s hand is in several other cookie jars at the same time which you don’t know about and they hope that by confessing to the one instance they can keep the others covered up; or b) its hand is not really in the cookie jar — it’s an illusion to throw you off the right scent — but they want you to believe it.

Continues

Israel has a case to answer

March 24, 2009

Editorial

The Guardian, UK,  Tuesday 24 March 2009

Evidence that Israel committed war crimes in its 23-day operation in Gaza mounts by the week. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have both appealed for a United Nations inquiry, after conducting their own investigations. Last week Ha’aretz published the testimonies of Israeli soldiers who alleged that a sniper shot a Palestinian mother and her two children, and that a company commander ordered an elderly woman to be killed. Yesterday Physicians for Human Rights accused soldiers of ignoring the special protection that Palestinian medical teams are entitled to receive. Today the Guardian releases three films in which our reporter Clancy Chassay reveals evidence that Israel used drones to fire at civilian targets, killing at least 48; he interviews three Palestinian youths used by Israeli soldiers as human shields and alleges that soldiers targeted paramedics and hospitals.

None of this is to deny that a case also exists against Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza. Firing unaimable rockets at civilians in southern Israel is also a war crime. But there is no symmetry of guilt. Israel has weapons it can place to within a metre of its intended targets. Its drones have high-quality optics that can see the colour of the target’s sweater. And they film everything both before and after each attack. The army has the means to refute these allegations, but feels no obligation to do so. An international inquiry should be launched for no other reason than to hold it accountable.

Israel has not got a history of co-operating with international inquiries into the actions of its army, but it has reacted twice to domestic allegations. It admitted that one of its tanks fired two shells at the apartment of a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian doctor whose three daughters were killed and whose grief touched the nation, but it concluded that the action was “reasonable”. The Ha’aretz material prompted a criminal inquiry by the military advocate, and two unusual statements by the outgoing defence minister, Ehud Barak, and the chief of staff, General Gabi Ashkenazi, each of whom praised the “moral” actions of the army. The prospects of a full international investigation of these allegations are mixed. The international criminal court has received more than 220 complaints from the Palestinian National Authority, the Arab League and the Palestinian justice minister. But whether the court has jurisdiction is another matter.

If the ICC route fails, there is always the UN, whose schools and stores found themselves in the line of fire. The secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, will this week receive the results of a private board of inquiry. This is narrow in scope, only examining incidents at UN facilities. But what happened there was bad enough, including the use of white phosphorus shells.

There are five reasons why we should have an international inquiry into the Israeli assault on Gaza. First, the conflict has not gone away. It could reignite at any moment under a prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who is determined to finish the job. Second, the weight of evidence points not to isolated incidents, but to a new and deadly relaxation of the rules of engagement. This emerges from the soldiers’ own testimony in Ha’aretz. “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza,” one soldier said. “You see a person on a road … He doesn’t have to be with a weapon. You don’t have to identify him with anything. You can just shoot him.” Gaza was fought to a certain mood music. It suggested that the lives of Palestinian civilians did not matter when weighed against those of Israeli soldiers. Third, Israel is not immune to international opinion. A narrow rightwing coalition under Mr Netanyahu will be sensitive to criticism from Barack Obama, who has yet to reveal his cards. Fourth, what Israel does or is allowed to get away with doing affects attempts to establish the rule of international law in other conflicts. Fifth, we know what doing nothing leads to: another war, and ultimately a third intifada.

Gaza: Inside the world’s biggest prison

February 13, 2009

Global Research, February 13, 2009

The Irish Times – 2009-01-24

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Evidence is mounting that the Israeli defence forces used the Gaza assault as a testing ground for new, horrific weapons that have confounded doctors’ attempts to save the wounded.

THERE WERE MANY ways to die during the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

From their hospital beds at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, Atallah Saad, 13, and Yussef Salem, 17, told me how “zananas” – remotely piloted drones that fire missiles – wounded them and killed Atallah’s mother and pregnant sister-in-law, and two of Yussef’s school friends. The drones were given the nickname because they make a loud z-z-z-z-z sound. But the most shocking thing about them is that an Israeli operator watches his target – in these cases, all civilians – through a surveillance camera before launching the missile. Death by remote control.

White phosphorous was another, much publicised means of death. Each M82581 artillery shell, manufactured by General Dynamics in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, bears the initials PB. And each of the 155mm shells contains 116 felt wafers soaked in phosphorus, which ignites on contact with oxygen. The phosphorous makes the white jellyfish-shaped clouds seen on television during the December 27th-January 17th Israeli offensive. It provides cover for advancing troops, but it also burns houses and people. If one of the felt pads lands on your skin, it burns until all the fuel is consumed, creating deep, wide, chemical burns, often to the bone.

Dr Nafiz Abu Shabaan pulls a plastic bag from under his desk. It is filled with white phosphorous, buried in sand. The brown pieces look like dog dirt, and re-ignite if broken open. Mahmoud al Jamal, 18, sits in the doctor’s office, his right ear congealed, his fingers and part of his chest eaten away by white phosphorous. The unsightly wounds make him look like a leper.

Al Jamal was walking at dawn when he saw the white jellyfish in the sky. “Everything was set on fire around me. I felt my body burning. I fell down and I asked the man lying next to me to help me, but he was dead. Then I lost consciousness.” Al Jamal’s brother later told him how smoke poured from his body in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

The Israeli’s use of white phosphorous is amply documented. Israel says it is legal, but human-rights groups say its use in civilian areas might constitute a war crime. Dr Abu Shabaan is more concerned by evidence of new, mysterious weapons and appeals for an impartial international investigation into Israel’s use of new weapons.

“We’ve seen many, many cases of amputation – like a cauterised wound, with no bleeding,” he recounts.

“Some have minor chest injuries, but the X-rays show nothing and they die suddenly, without explanation.”

Palestinian and foreign doctors who’ have treated the war-wounded at Shifa suspect the injuries may be caused by Dense Inert Metal Explosive, also known as Focus Lethality Munition, a weapon invented through Israeli-American cooperation.

“We are guinea pigs to the Americans and Israelis,” says Dr Abu Shabaan. “The Americans give the Israelis new weapons, and they try them out on us.”

“They are definitely testing weapons on us,” says Dr Sobhi Skaik, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and the head of the surgery department at Shifa. “The amount of damage done by these weapons is not commensurate to the wounds. We found computer chips, magnetic pieces and transistors in wounds. Sometimes there are only minute pin-point punctures to the abdomen and chest, but you see huge damage to internal organs. One patient had his liver burned black, as if it had been grilled. We think there must be something embedded in the human body that is releasing poison and killing.”

YET FOR ALL the high-tech and Frankenstein weaponry, perhaps Israel’s most vicious arm against the Palestinians has been “al-hissar”, the siege, imposed on the Gaza Strip 19 months ago when Hamas, after winning a democratic election that the world refused to recognise, seized power from the Fatah Palestinian Authority.

The world turned a blind eye as Gazans languished in the world’s biggest prison, unable to travel, import, export or interact with anyone or anything beyond their borders. And the world largely ignored the rockets Hamas fired in anger and frustration from within the siege.

As a result of this dual negligence the conflict exploded, killing 13 Israelis and 1,300 Palestinians.

The siege was one reason casualties were so high in the three-week war, says Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch. With the Israeli and Egyptian borders closed, “It wasn’t possible for Gazans to escape. The only way to get out was on a stretcher.”

For 19 months, Gaza has endured shortages of fuel, food, medicine and building materials. The Palestinians suffer the additional humiliation of using their tormentors’ currency, but two months ago the Israeli government cut the supply of shekels, creating a severe cash shortage. Fayad Salam, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, was forced to plea with the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

There were long queues at ATMs in Gaza City this week, but no matter how much they have in salary or savings, cash is rationed and Palestinians can withdraw only 1,000 Israeli shekels per month. “If the Israelis could deprive us of air, they would do it,” says a Palestinian doctor.

The siege of Gaza lies at the heart of the conflict. “If the Israelis want the war to end, they must open all the borders and end the siege,” says Hamas government spokesman Tahir al-Nounou. “Because the siege is war; the siege is killing our people.”

The only lifeline for Gaza are some 1,300 tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egyptian border. It costs $10,000 (€7,800) to dig a tunnel. The best tunnels are bored with sophisticated machines that compress earthen walls so no give-away sand appears outside. Some have railway tracks and electricity, and the tunnels are a lucrative business for Gazans and Egyptians. Because Hamas is believed to import weapons through the tunnels, Israel carpet-bombed them during the offensive. Yet only an estimated 400 were destroyed, and by mid-week the tunnels were again open. Huge plastic cubes in metal frames, holding petrol, appeared on the pavements of Gaza City.

But the return to a semblance of normality cannot efface the three-week nightmare. Whole families were wiped out. Abu Mohamed Balousha, who lost five daughters, and the Samounis of Zeitoun, where a four-year-old boy was the only survivor in a family of 30, have become causes célèbres.

Everyone has a worst memory. For ambulance driver Hathem Saleh, it was desperate telephone calls from the wounded. “When you have been talking to him on the phone and you cannot reach him because the Israeli tank will hit you – it happened to me many times . . . I could hear cries and the Israelis were shooting at us.”

Dr Mahmoud al Khozendar, a chest physician, tells of a colleague whose Russian wife was cut in half when an Israeli missile hit their home. It also killed their six-month-old child. “He took the two parts of his wife and put her on the bed with the baby. He escaped with a wounded son and daughter, and asked the Red Crescent to go back for the bodies.”

At Shifa, al Khozendar had a room full of limbs he could not match with bodies, and one body with two heads. “Most of the bodies were buried without names,” he says.

THERE WERE MANY ways to die during the Israeli offensive on Gaza. Perhaps the greatest number killed were crushed to death when the Israelis fired heavy tank artillery at their houses. Halima Radwan, 60, seemed particularly symbolic to me. Radwan was a young woman when she and her family fled from Israel in the 1967 war. She spent her life as a wandering Palestinian, moving to Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt. In 1996, in the glory days when Gaza had an airport and Palestinians carried passports, she and her husband Ahmad, a PLO official, decided to move back to “Palestine”. They built a five-bedroom villa in the Abed Rabbo district of Gaza. A month before the offensive, they paid off their debts and celebrated.

Maher Radwan, 36, is Halima and Ahmad’s only son and a mechanical engineer with the Palestinian Authority. He, his wife and children lived with his parents. “Before the ground offensive started, I decided to take my wife and children further from the border,” Maher recounts in front of the ruined villa. “I begged my parents to come with us, but they said ‘No, we are old. The Israelis won’t harm us’.”

On January 6th, an Israeli tank fired a shell at the Radwans’ house. Ahmad was wounded in the head and walked out with a white flag. He begged the Israelis to allow the Red Crescent to rescue his wife Halima, who was buried alive in her kitchen. The Israelis said no. Halima lived for four days under the debris of her house, which the Israelis then dynamited.

“They knew she was there and they saw her, because they searched the house before they destroyed it,” says Maher.

As soon as the ceasefire took effect last Sunday, he went with friends and relatives to dig his mother out. “I had the tiniest hope she might still be alive.” But Halima’s legs, shoulder and head had been crushed by concrete.

Broken porcelain, a framed verse from the Koran and a piece of plaster with Hebrew writing by the Israeli soldiers are scattered in the ruins of the Radwan family home. The pigeons they raised have returned to roost on the broken roof. Maher Radwan’s neighbours say there can be no peace with the Israelis who did this. But Maher is more sad than angry. Peace might still be possible, he says, “if only there were wise Israeli people”.


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