Drone killings erode social constraint on using violence

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The drone killing of an (unnamed) New Zealander in Yemen should prompt us to look at the ethics of this practice.

We’re told from birth that murder is wrong. Yet drone killings (as conducted by the Obama administration) convey the opposite message, that if you are powerful enough you can murder whoever you like without having to account for your actions.

Anyone the Obama administration deems a “terrorist” can be targeted for assassination at any time, anywhere in the world. The views of the people in the country where the assassination takes place are considered irrelevant. The Pakistani government has repeated criticised American drone bombings on its territory but the Obama administration isn’t listening.

It’s gangland mentality pure and simple: we will kill you when and where we like if we decide you are a threat. The “we” in gangland is the leader (and a few close associates). The “we” in the case of United States is the President (and a few close associates). The gang leader doesn’t justify himself or herself to anyone, and neither does President Obama. The American people are kept in the dark about exactly who is killed and why. The people are just told they were “terrorists”.

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Like gangland shootings, drone assassinations produce “collateral damage”.  Independently collected statistics on US drone killings show that a lot of those killed were “collateral damage”, people who happened to be in the vicinity when the missiles arrived.

The American drone programme allows for the extra-judicial killing of its own citizens, even when they are not involved in any terrorist activity. The case of one such killing, of US preacher, Anwar Awlaki, is well covered in Jeremy Scahill’s book, Dirty Wars. [Scahill will be speaking at next month’s Auckland Writers Festival.]  Awlaki was killed because his sermons supported the use of violence by Islamic groups. There is no verifiable evidence that he himself was involved in planning any violence.

Now we have our Prime Minister justifying the American drone killing of a New Zealander on the basis of US intelligence information which he won’t disclose to us. Our government doesn’t seem much interested in what the real story is, with Minister Steven Joyce telling the House that “this is a matter for the United States, not a matter for us.”

It sets a very bad precedent. Already in New Zealand (during the 2007 Urewera raids) we have seen Police use a “terrorist” label to justify the use of force beyond that allowed in law. Now, by going along with an American assassination of a New Zealander John Key is giving other countries a green light for the extra-judicial use of violence against any Kiwi accused of associating with terrorists. This is particularly dangerous in a world where the terrorist label is used so loosely: for example, in Ukraine’s current standoff both sides describe their adversaries as “terrorists”.

41 COMMENTS

  1. Drone killings are an obscenity and a massive violation of human rights. The USA appears to have declared entire countries war zones so that they can kill people, without trial, by defining them as enemy combatants.
    An even more chilling aspect of this was disclosed by Jeremy Scahill earlier this year http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/10/death_by_metadata_jeremy_scahill_glenn
    “They do not require an actual human confirmation that the individual SIM card or phone handset that they’re tracking is in fact possessed by the person that they believe is a potential terrorist. And so, what we understand is that this is essentially death by metadata, where they think, or they hope, that the phone that they’re blowing up is in the possession of a person that they’ve identified as a potential terrorist. But in the end, they don’t actually really know”
    It is hard to find words to describe how bad this is.

  2. “… if you are powerful enough you can murder whoever you like without having to account for your actions.
    Anyone the (Obama) administration deems a “terrorist” can be targeted for assassination at any time… It’s gangland mentality pure and simple: we will kill you when and where we like if we decide you are a threat.”

    This is the sort of stuff you’d see in the manifestos of a Christchurch National Front party or Auckland right wing bloggers. The mentality, the superiority, the power, the fear and the need to assert themselves is the same.

  3. Keith until you can explain how you would bring known Islamic terrorists to justice before they continue their killing sprees your protests against drone targeting will continue to ring hollow. These people are scum. They target innocents in order to advance their warped ideologies and irrational hatred of the west. In a choice between trusting these madmen and trusting the US, I’m happy to stick with the US.

    • Bombing is a war crime.

      George Bush used white phosphorus on Fallujah, to make sure he killed all the children, but you think the problem is ‘terrorists’. You don’t even know the meaning of the word.

      Drones are a new thing in warfare – but soon they will be ubiquitous. If everyone follows the US precedent of assassinating their political opponents the whole world will become a free fire zone.

      Honestly IV, you’re too stupid to live.

        • Bombing civilians is a war crime.

          It is also militarily ineffective.

          But it’s great business for bomb makers.

      • Flying planes into buildings is not exactly friendly either. Nor is blowing up nightclubs. These people are animals, and the only thing they understand is a drone up the backside.

        • These events occurred well over a decade ago, plenty reason why the madness must never end. Let me suggest you seek professional help with such a revolting character.

    • Intrinsic worthlessness – you have no idea what justice is. You have a funny idea about what “known Islamic terrorist means”. It does not mean someone who has been murdered by Playstation, whose name you do not know. It does not mean a young child walking to a well to get water. The West are the madmen, but they wear suits, so you identify with them. You don’t identify with the madmen of Al Queda because they have funny beards, but it’s not them being killed. They are in Libya, in Egypt, in the palaces of Riyad, in Syria, and are once more friends of the Americans. Move to the US and A. That idiot freeloader who wants his cows to eat for free could do with more like you. In the end, you are a grotesque parody of a scared little man who just wants to cheer for your team and will support anything they do. If the world was much fuller of small cowards like you, we’d still be stoning women to death and you’d say “In the fight between known adulterers with satanic vulvas and the good forces of the priesthood, I’m happy to stick with the priesthood.”

      • Eh?

        Was that you constructing a strawman or just some sort of venting rant at people expressing opinions you dislike?

      • Geez what a rant. I know exactly what justice is. It’s doing what needs to be done to isolate and eliminate the scum who are killing innocents (including their own people) in the name of some stone age ideology. These people hate the west pathologically. They hate you and I and everything we stand for, including freedom and liberty, and the sooner they get what’s coming to them the better.

        • What a rant? Listen to yourself.

          I know exactly what justice is.

          Considering the emotive, insulting and clichéd opinions that follow, your comprehension of justice is no different from the extremists you’re lambasting. I would think many of us are past the Bush-era hysteria, the last thing we need are religious fanatics, Islamic and Christian fundamentalists, battling it out while we have to pay the price.

          I fear those at home are taking away my freedom and liberty, I’m 100% certain no Islamic extremists would bother targeting me. All this rhetoric about Islamic boogeymen out to target “me” must satisfy some complex where some have a bizarre need to feel “special”.

    • The left’s argument is quite straight forward if a little naive. If the West behaved totally in an ethical and progressive manner then nobody would have cause to carry out terrorist actions against western targets and therefore the West wouldn’t need to go after these ‘terrorists’ in the first place. There are of course a number of flaws in this view the main one being there is no such thing as a perfect foreign policy. Your actions and intentions will alienate someone.

      • There’s some truth in your argument, but you mustn’t descend to the failed perfectionist cop-out.

        Simply because perfect foreign policy is unattainable does not absolve us of the responsibility of trying to do better.

        In the case of stunts like drone assassination it’s better not to. It’s not the religious but the familial culture you should consider. One innocent killed will radicalise an entire family, 40 – 60 people, for generations.

        Wars are won by infantry, not drones anyway.

        • Foreign affairs is a messy busy so there is no such thing as perfection. Of course countries can try better in certain areas such as supporting basic human rights but even that comes with unintended consequences.

    • You may be happy to Intrinsicvaluesflawed I’m not! ..
      To me they are the same people..
      I also know which SHOULD win in an International court of Law in a fair and just world if the likes of Blair Bush etc could be charged
      ..
      Alleged suspected and believed to be associated with vs have admitted to, confessed, publicly sanctioned and summarily executed without trial or proven beyond reasonable doubt!
      The latter group should be convicted and locked up for life in my opinion or what we now have is nothing better than a coalition of state sanctioned murderous terrorists,who define ‘terror’ as they please not as most people with genuine intrinsic values would! Who are the terrorists and their backers and funders in Syria, Pakistan and in Ukraine?
      In 2014 the US and UK would likely call Hemingway and Orwell terrorists.
      Mad world we may be living in but dronekills are evil and massacre innocents similarly in order to advance their warped ideologies and irrational hatred of those who do not wish the kind of ‘our democracy or else’ they see the likes of Bush, Netenyahu or Obama push..
      Now Key has joined them.. guilty by association after the fact got a lot of people hung after WWII..

  4. The message in this article and the title sums up exactly what struck me over this issue.

    Thank you Keith Locke for providing some rationality and ethical thoughts to the matter – this is most appreciated – I don’t want our society getting normalised to brutal violence of this nature. This would have very unfortunate consequences.

  5. Intrinsic value. Drone strikes result in the deaths of innocent women and children who just happen to be near the cellphone that was targeted from computer analysis of metadata. Such violence against a group of people, without trial, will be guaranteed to increase the numbers of those who want to target the West with a violent response. If people were dying here because a foreign power was bombing their cellphones and also killing those nearby, we would be outraged, we’d expect people to fight back and we would call them heroes. Violence begets violence. The USA is making the problem worse.

    • I dunno – if people here dying here because some particularly deranged, murderous foreign fascists were using us for cover, I’d expect their opponents to be trying to kill them and I’d want them dead even more than their opponents did – but maybe that’s just me.

    • Viv it;s called collateral damage. Which wouldn’t happen in the first place if terrorists stopped targeting westerners, US citizens in particular.

      • So it appears collateral damage is permissible by your standards. Further, since they’re not Westerners they must be a lower form of life by your standards?

    • Violence doesn’t necessarily begat more violence. There have been multiple occasions in history where a violent action has ultimately ended a dispute.

      Whether you regard that as moral or right way of ending the dispute is a different matter.

      • Hiroshima springs to mind. Some historians say it saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives by prematurely ending the war in the pacific. That said, I’m glad I don’t have to live with the images of the human misery that was the aftermath.

    • From the beginning of military air-power many have theorised and heralded it as a solution that can replace the need of other military forces or systems. They have been consistently proven wrong. Precision bombing I regard as an elusive dream.

  6. I wonder if National have got a few of these killer drones in their budget? They could paint them black and put the silver fern on them…not silly, aye?

    We could send Judith Collins over to National HQ (Washington DC) so that she could pretend not to have dinner with the drone manufacturer’s repesentatives, and not discuss this exciting new “immediate justice” initiative ?

    We could then (secretly) propose a drone production facility in NZ – give the yanks huge tax incentives, offer really cheap labour, tell them not to worry about any environmental impacts….just think of the low paying jobs this could create, the export opportunities, putting NZ on the world map!

    • I can’t see the seppos outsourcing the technology to anyone except Israel, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Key had discussed setting up target ranges for drones in Aotearoa. If it was at Gosman’s house, even I would see what a good idea it was.

      • It would be a terrific idea to provide Israel with drones. It certainly might give the terrorists living on their borders pause for thought.

          • Israel can be regarded as a drone pioneer, first using drones (?) effectively to provoke and locate Syrian air defenses in the 1982 Lebanon War. Many militaries later investigated uses.

        • In response to many past posts specifically on the Israel/Palestine issue, you repeatedly advised many commenters you disagreed with to understand history regarding the matter, indicated with a condescending tone. How that has backfired.

          Even with a casual understanding of Israel’s economy and military capability, you should be aware Israel is a drone pioneer, has extensive aerospace industries, and forget drones; Israel has a nuclear arsenal as well as an intercontinental ballistic missile capability, with the capability of striking targets as far as the Americas and Oceania. Not to mention the capability to, and has, launched satellites in to orbit. Being the biggest recipient of US aid from founding until recently obviously helps.

          Please educate yourself before advising others to do so in a condescending manner. Wikipedia is a great source of information for starters.

          • Then there’s high-energy/laser weapons provided by the US and no doubt further developed by Israeli defense industries.

  7. Haha talk about No intrinsicvalue – do you blame the woman for picking a fight when hubbys drunk too??

  8. Why do Drones operate freely around the globe now? Simple, follow the money? Its the MIC, yo you and me, go the MIC, wave your drones in the air like you just dont care

  9. IV & his fellow right wing troll Gosman put the S into sycophancy when it comes to the usa or the national party.

    The problem for them is the Muslims KNOW what the usa has done in the middle east …. things which IV & Goss choose to ignore or pardon.

    They know that the U.s.a starved and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children through lack of food and basic medicines.

    They know that the u.s.a and the brits helped assassinate the democratically elected government of Iran and installed and supported the shah.

    They know the Americans were supporting Iraq in its war with Iran when it was gassing Iranian soldiers.

    They know the Americans support Israel and will do nothing about the continual theft of Palestinian land and houses not to mention Israel “reprisals”

    They know that Americans kill muslim children or Israelis kill them with american helicopters and arms and call it “collateral damage “.

    Innocent Arabs have a far greater chance of being killed by a drone or missile than any threat from “terrorists”.

    America does not want democracy and freedom …. it wants control and profit$$$$.

  10. You may be happy to Intrinsicvaluesflawed I’m not! ..
    To me they are the same people..
    I also know which SHOULD win in an International court of Law in a fair and just world if the likes of Blair Bush etc could be charged
    ..
    Alleged suspected and believed to be associated with vs have admitted to, confessed, publicly sanctioned and summarily executed without trial or proven beyond reasonable doubt!
    The latter group should be convicted and locked up for life in my opinion or what we now have is nothing better than a coalition of state sanctioned murderous terrorists,who define ‘terror’ as they please not as most people with genuine intrinsic values would! Who are the terrorists and their backers and funders in Syria, Pakistan and in Ukraine?
    In 2014 the US and UK would likely call Hemingway and Orwell terrorists.
    Mad world we may be living in but dronekills are evil and massacre innocents similarly in order to advance their warped ideologies and irrational hatred of those who do not wish the kind of ‘our democracy or else’ they see the likes of Bush, Netenyahu or Obama push..
    Now Key has joined them, guilty by association after the fact got a lot of people hung after WWII..

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