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Issue #1601      July 10, 2013

Culture & Life

Of drones and whistleblowers

While courageous whistleblower Bradley Manning continues to languish in a US military prison for daring to tell the world about the deliberate US policy of assassinating civilians and other unarmed opponents of its policies, the US leadership continues to pursue those same policies.

Supporters march in San Francisco last year demanding Obama uphold his campaign promise to protect whistle-blowers.

Manning is buoyed up by the multitude of expressions of support from around the world, including marches in support of his actions by concerned citizens in the USA itself.

Ben Griffin, a former soldier with Britain’s SAS, who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan and refused to return to Iraq for reasons of conscience, went on to found Veterans For Peace UK. Griffin told a public meeting in support of Manning held outside the US Embassy in London that “Bradley Manning is the most significant resister within the military in the last ten years. He saw that what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t just a few bad apples as our governments tell us, but a systematic policy.”

However, ever since US President Barack Obama embraced the use of unmanned “drones” to kill those deemed “enemies” by the US government, the people who had such high hopes of him at the time of his election in 2008 have been sorely disappointed.

Of 368 total US drone attacks so far, 316 have been made since Obama became US President. Doesn’t sound like a lot, you think? Those attacks have resulted in the deaths of 3,500 people. That sounds like a lot to me.

During the Vietnam War, the US bombed Vietnam savagely, but flyers as well as ground troops regularly returned to the USA in body-bags, a spectacle that went down very poorly with the US public, whose carefully nurtured image of America at war is one of glorious victory, not flag-draped coffins. Drones have no crew, so even if one is shot down there is no embarrassing body-bag or loquacious prisoner to worry about.

For a modern-day aggressor, drones are ideal: as well as avoiding the possibility of body-bags, they are capable of accumulating masses of reconnaissance data, they can stay in the air for 18-20 hours continuously, they are much cheaper to run than conventional military jets and there are no pilots who might turn into anti-war resisters, whistle-blowers or peaceniks.

For these reasons, drones are being used more and more, with a wave of targeted drone attacks (assassinations) in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. And it is not only the US that has increased its drone strikes. Britain’s Ministry of Defence has also intensified its use of drones leased from Israel while it is reportedly in the process of doubling its own drone fleet.

I noted in this column two issues ago (#1599) that China was building drones now and selling them to countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, so they can hit back at the aggressors. It’s a measure that might help to force Britain and the US (and Israel) to agree with the growing number of countries calling for a ban on drones.

While the US is riding rough-shod over other countries’ sovereignty and carrying out assassinations at will in the Third World, it is extremely probable that drones are being actively used elsewhere for intelligence gathering and keeping the populace terrorised. And if push comes to shove, I cannot see the US hesitating about the expediency of using drones for getting rid of troublesome critics in developed Western countries, can you?

After all, I am sure there are plenty of hawks in the White House or Congress who would see a drone attack on the Ecuadorean Embassy in London as a splendid way to finally silence that Julian Assange character.   

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