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Drone warfare’s deadly civilian toll: a very personal view

It’s very easy to kill if you don’t view the target as a person. When I went to Iraq as a tank commander in 2004, the fire orders I gave the gunner acknowledged some legitimacy of personhood: “Coax man, 100 meters front.” Five years later in Afghanistan, the linguistic corruption that always attends war meant we’d refer to “hot spots”, “multiple pax on the ground” and “prosecuting a target”, or “maximising the kill chain”.

The Pentagon operates about 7,000 drones and asked Congress for nearly $5bn for drones in the 2012 budget. Before retiring as air force chief of staff, General Norton Schwartz was reported as saying it “was ‘conceivable’ drone pilots in the air force would outnumber those in cockpits in the foreseeable future”. That’s not a brave new world, far from it. The encroachment of drones into the civilian realm is also gaining momentum.

President Obama signed a federal law on 14 February 2012, allowing drones for a variety of commercial uses and for police law enforcement. The skies above may never be the same. As with most of America’s darker elements, such as its gun culture, there’s profit to be made – the market for drones is already valued at $5.9bn and is expected to double in 10 years. More here.

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