Drone Warfare by Medea Benjamin


Read 28/03/2015-18/04/15

This fantastically researched book tells the story of the frightening change in military warfare which has been occurring for over a decade.  The book combines excellent insights into the industry whilst also providing the moral implications.

Drones are the ultimate espionage weapon.  They allow you to survey and strike whilst sitting in a room thousands of miles away.  There’s no risk of losing men in battle on the users side whilst they claim that the targeted assassinations reduce collateral damage.  But this book uncovers the horrifying reality of the whole situation in a horrifying and eye opening way.  ‘Suspects’ are defined as males of military age so it can get away with claiming low collateral damage.  Between 2004 and 2011 between 390 and 780 were civilians and 175 children.  Another scary issue is what is called ‘double-tap’, this means shooting the same position twice with rockets after a brief lapse.  This causes many innocent deaths as civilians run to the site to check if there are any survivors.  One humanitarian agency has a policy of waiting six hours before checking sites, probably meaning that any potential survivors are more than likely already dead.

In 2000, the Pentagon had fewer than 50 drones, by 2010 they had nearly 7,500.  Most drones are used for surveillance purposes but more and more of them are being fitted with missiles.  The book shows that the drone killings are illegal because you can’t kill people as ‘preemptive’ self defence.  When you are not in armed conflict, the killing must be necessary to protect life and there must be no other means, such as capture to prevent that threat.  Instead drones have allowed the killing of suspects without the hassle of political pressure that resulted from detaining them in places like Guantanamo.

The US government has largely escaped criticism at home because they regularly referencing the attacks back to the 9/11 attacks.  Citing these attacks, the largest democracy has committed great atrocities with drone strikes, violating international law.  But how can the US justify the drone strikes in Iraq, a country that has nothing to with Al Qaeda or 9/11?  In fact in just three months between October 2001 and January 2002, over 1,000 Afghan civilians were directly killed by US bombing and a further 3,200 died of injury sustained in the flight from war zones.  This represents more people were killed than the number of those killed in 9/11. There is no sense of proportionality in drone warfare.

The book leaves the reader with many questions.  What will happen when these countries have the technology to produce their own predator drones?  Is it not obvious that these same countries and victim’s families will seek retribution?  Is the killing of civilians justified if it means killing the target, and in the end does it make America safer? Can the killing of people from halfway across the globe and without any connection or any idea of the extent of damage constitute legal warfare?

The book was excellently written and hugely engaging.  The authors style makes the book flowing and easy to read despite the horrors presented.  It is relatively short but doesn’t lack fascinating content and is excellently researched.  Almost every page revealed another horror or fascinating statistic or insight, and left me shocked but itching to learn more.  I would recommend this book to everyone because it shows the extent of drone warfare and its implications, something I fear a lot of people (myself included) are utterly unaware of.


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