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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Jefferson Morley | Salon

Credit: Shutterstock/Salon

Stung by mounting hostility from the left and right, America’s drone industry is fighting back.

“We’re going to do a much better job of educating people about unmanned aviation, the good and the bad,” said Michael Toscano, president of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the industry’s trade group in Washington. “We’re working on drafting the right message and how to get it out there.”

The P.R. blitz comes after drones suffered a round of negative attention last week. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called for a ban on drones in U.S. airspace, and two other conservative commentators endorsed the idea of shooting down unmanned aircraft flown by U.S. law enforcement agencies. (Opposition to the U.S. government’s deployment of unmanned vehicles had previously come from left-liberal groups concerned about civilian casualties in the drone war in Pakistan and potential threats to civil liberties at home.) The nation also witnessed drone “scares”: An unidentified flying object nearly collided with a planeover Denver, and rumors circulated of a surveillance drone flying near the NATO summit in Illinois.

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Hugh Gusterson | Truthout

I kept finding myself thinking about the lunchbox.

I was at the all-day Drone Summit in Washington DC organized by Codepink, the antiwar group whose mostly female members are famous for putting on theatrical protests while wearing bold pink. I spent the day listening to human rights activists talking about civilians killed by US drone strikes, lawyers who complained that the strikes violated international law, and scientists worried that the United States is on the brink of automating the use of lethal force by drones and killer robots.

And I kept thinking about the lunchbox.

The lunchbox belonged to a schoolgirl in Hiroshima. Her body was never found, but the rice and peas in her lunchbox were carbonized by the atomic bomb. The lunchbox, turned into an exhibition piece, became, in the words of historian Peter Stearns, “an intensely human atomic bomb icon.” The Smithsonian museum’s plans to exhibit the lunchbox as part of its 1995 exhibit for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II enraged military veterans and conservative pundits, who eventually forced the exhibit’s cancellation.

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Steven Aftergood | Secrecy News

U.S. Air Force policy permits the incidental collection of domestic imagery by unmanned aerial systems (drones), but ordinarily would not allow targeted surveillance of a U.S. person.  The Air Force policy was restated in a newly reissued instruction on oversight of Air Force intelligence.

“Air Force Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations, exercise and training missions will not conduct nonconsensual surveillance on specifically identified US persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with US law and regulations,” theinstruction stated.

On the other hand, “Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent.”

“Collecting information on specific targets inside the US raises policy and legal concerns that require careful consideration, analysis and coordination with legal counsel.  Therefore, Air Force components should use domestic imagery only when there is a justifiable need to do so, and then only IAW [in accordance with] EO 12333, the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, DoD 5240.1-R, and this instruction,” it said.

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Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC on April 30 to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was the first time a high level member of the Obama Administration spoke at length about the U.S. drone strikes that the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command have been carrying out in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

“President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts,” Brennan explained.

I had just co-organized a Drone Summit over the weekend, where Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar told us heart-wrenching stories about the hundreds of innocent victims of our drone attacks. We saw horrific photos of people whose bodies were blown apart by Hellfire missiles, with only a hand or a slab of flesh remaining. We saw poor children on the receiving end of our attacks—maimed for life, with no legs, no eyes, no future. And for all these innocents, there was no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.

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The U.S. government refuses to disclose who has been killed, for what reason, and with what collateral consequences. It deems the entire world a war zone, where it can operate at will, beyond the confines of international law.

So there I was at the Wilson Center, listening to Brennan describe our policies as ethical, “wise,” and in compliance with international law. He spoke as if the only people we kill with our drone strikes are militants bent on killing Americans. “It is unfortunate that to save innocent lives we are sometimes obliged to take lives – the lives of terrorists who seek to murder our fellow citizens.” The only mention of taking innocent lives referred to Al Qaeda. “Al Qaeda’s killing of innocent civilians, mostly Muslim men, women and children, has badly tarnished its image and appeal in the eyes of Muslims around the world.” This is true, but the same must be said of U.S. policies that fuel anti-American sentiments in the eyes of Muslims around the world.

So I stood up and in a calm voice, spoke out.

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