Sunday, October 25, 2009

CIA's Secret Drone Program Cowardly

The use of drones, though they may accomplish the goal, is cowardly.

If you're going to engage in war at all, it should be up close and personal. It should be gritty and bloody.

War shouldn't be high tech. The more high tech it becomes the more we trade easy technology for the realization that ultimately, war doesn't really solve any problem. If a pilot can sit at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and press a button, what's to say that we can't send a drone anywhere around the world to take out someone we don't like.

At first glance, that sounds like a good idea. It spares troops and civilian deaths (sometimes) but like torture, it's morally wrong and a slippery slope. We should be moving toward NOT engaging in war rather than making war easier.

Jane Mayer wrote about the program in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Here is part of the abstract:
The program is classified as covert, and the C.I.A. declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed. Nevertheless, reports of fatal air strikes in Pakistan emerge every few days. According to a new study by the New America Foundation, the number of drone strikes has gone up dramatically since Obama became President. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the defense contractor that manufactures the Predator and its more heavily armed sibling, the Reaper, can barely keep up with the government’s demand. With public disenchantment mounting over the U.S. troop deployment in Afghanistan, many in Washington support an even greater reliance on Predator strikes. And because of the program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place. Peter W. Singer, the author of “Wired for War,” a recent book about the robotics revolution in modern combat, argues that the drone program is worryingly “seductive,” because it creates the perception that war can be “costless.” Cut off from the realities of the bombings in Pakistan, Americans have been insulated from the human toll, as well as the political and moral consequences. NYorker
In a separate Q&A, Mayer says that it doesn't take much experience to press a button and at the same time, those pressing the button suffer combat stress:
If the C.I.A. doesn’t have experience killing people, who is piloting the drones?

It doesn’t take as much talent or experience or training to pilot a drone as it does to pilot a real plane. The skills are much like what you need to do well in a video game. And the C.I.A. has outsourced a lot of the drone piloting, which also raises interesting legal questions, because you not have only civilians running this program, but you may have people who are not even in the U.S. government piloting the drones.

You mention in your piece that drone pilots, who work from an office, suffer from combat stress.

Someone sitting at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Virginia, can view and home in on a target on the other side of the world with tremendous precision, even at night, and destroy it. Peter Singer, who wrote a book on robotic warfare, said that cubicle warriors experience the same stress as regular warriors in a real war. Detached killing still takes a tremendous emotional toll inside our borders.
That says a lot about the human mind and spirit. Mayer says the CIA program is separate from the military:
And how is it different than other uses of American force?

It’s not coming from the military. It’s a covert program run by the C.I.A. People know about Predator drones, but not that there are two programs. The U.S.-military program is an extension of conventional military force. The C.I.A. runs a secret targeted-killing program, which really is an unprecedented use of lethal force in places where we are not at war, such as Pakistan. It’s a whole new frontier in the use of force.

John Radsen, a former lawyer for the C.I.A., told me that [the C.I.A.] “doesn’t have much experience with killing. Traditionally, the agency that does that is the Department of Defense.” You’ve got a civilian agency involved in targeted killing behind a black curtain, where the rules of the game are unclear, to the rest of the world and also to us. We don’t know, for instance, who is on the target list. How do you get on the list? Can you get off the list? Who makes the list? What are the criteria? Where is the battlefield? Where does the battlefield end?
The secret drone problem: