German professor praises drones, poison gas


This 1 April 2015 video from the USA is called Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars • FULL DOCUMENTARY FILM • BRAVE NEW FILMS.

By Johannes Stern in Germany:

German professor Herfried Münkler: Combat drones and poison gas are “humane” weapons

16 April 2015

About two weeks after the German and French governments decided at a joint cabinet meeting to manufacture combat drones in Europe, Humboldt University Professor Herfried Münkler praised such drones as “humane” weapons in a long interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung (FAZ). He drew a historical parallel to poison gas, which was used for the first time in the First World War, describing it also as “humane.”

When the FAZ noted that poison gas is perceived “as especially terrible,” Münkler replied, “There is this striking paradox. Between three or four percent die in poison gas attacks, while the death toll from artillery wounds is around fifty percent, and the rate of mortality from rifle or machine gun fire thirty percent. That means that you could actually say that gas is a rather ‘humane’ weapon, because it has a relatively low death toll.”

Münkler added that in drone attacks the operators “have much more time for observation than the pilot of a fighter bomber,” and “the collateral damage of drone attacks” is “clearly lower than that from fighter bombers.”

It is difficult to say which is more repulsive: Münkler’s trivialization of poison gas attacks in the First World War, or his plea for combat drones today.

This video says about itself:

Deadly Battles of World War I – Ypres the Gas Inferno

7 November 2014

Poison gas killed 80,000 soldiers in World War I. Nearly a million more were victims who suffered its lingering effects. Initially the wind distributed chlorine gas across the battlefields of the western front but an arms race quickly developed until one in three shells contained some form of toxic gas.

It’s not the statistics, however, that make this a successful documentary. A surprising amount of black-and-white footage and interviews with survivors and relatives of key players tell a compelling tale of motivations and consequences. For those who adhere to the maxim that history repeats itself, it’s worth noting that despite an international convention banning chemical weapons, both sides of the Great War deployed poison gases with few reservations. As one interviewee puts it, patriotism defeated morality.

The Johannes Stern article continues:

The hundredth anniversary of the first use of poison gas as a weapon of mass extermination is just under a week away. On April 22, 1915, German troops used chlorine gas in the battle at Ypres.

The Deutsche Welle published an article a year ago that described how a yellowish cloud of 180 tons of chlorine gas wafted out of the German trenches to the enemy lines: “There began the horror. The enveloped soldiers stumbled around, turning red, blind and coughing. Three thousand of them suffocated and an additional seven thousand soldiers, who were badly burned, survived.”

In an escalating gas war, in which more and more effective chemical weapons were put into use, “about 120 thousand tons of 38 types of warfare agents were deployed, about 100 thousand soldiers [died] and 1.2 million men were wounded,” according to a paper published by the Federal Agency of Civic Education.

Science historian Ernst Peter Fischer commented on the first poison gas attack in Ypres in the Deutsche Welle account. “At that moment, science lost its innocence,” he said. Until then, the goal of science consisted of easing the conditions of life of human beings. “Now science provided the conditions for killing human life,” Fischer said.

Fischer cited the example of the Berlin chemist Fritz Haber, who founded and headed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electro-chemistry. Haber placed his entire scientific ability in the service of mass extermination. This proved no hindrance to his career. After the end of the war, the “father of gas warfare” won the Nobel Prize for chemistry and sat on the supervisory board of the chemistry giant I.G. Farben, which later produced the poison gas Zyklon B for the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Haber, who was himself Jewish, emigrated in 1933 and died shortly thereafter.

The use of poison gas, which Münkler praises as a “humane weapon,” was not just a new method for slaughtering millions of soldiers. Its use was then and remains today a war crime. It contravenes the Hague Convention of 1907 and was once again explicitly forbidden in the Geneva Protocol of 1925. In the war in Iraq and as part of the war threats against Syria, imperialist propaganda used the actual or alleged use of poison gas in these countries as sufficient grounds for war.

For this reason, Münkler’s parallel between poison gas and drone warfare is particularly significant. The comparison is apt, not because they are both “humane” methods of war, but because both exemplify the development of new stages in imperialist brutality.

The US-led drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen not only violate international law, but have taken the lives of thousands of innocent victims (Münkle’s “collateral damage”) in recent years. According to research carried out by the London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US military has wiped out between 2.4 and 3.9 thousand people in “targeted killings” in Pakistan alone. These victims of combat drones are not infrequently women, children or innocent participants at birthday parties, weddings or funerals.

Münkler’s justification for warfare with poison gas and combat drones is utterly cynical. He accuses the opponents of gas and drone warfare of clinging to the ideal of a long bygone “heroic” age.

“The criticism of gas warfare and the criticism of drone warfare are connected in that they both have to do with the ethos of the fighter. The astounding thing is that drones are criticized in a post-heroic society, but with the arguments of the heroic society, which demands the struggle of man against man,” explained the professor.

By “post-heroic,” Münkler means that war is no longer fought man to man, but rather that soldiers and civilians of less developed states are slaughtered in cold blood by their adversaries—at the mercy of remote-controlled drones or poison gas, which soldiers cannot defend themselves against.

“We are observing the transformation of war into policing,” he said in the FAZ. “Goals are being pursued in a way that can be understood as making investments in the future of the area of intervention by minimizing losses. Hegel called the weapon ‘the essence of the fighter’—drones are the typical weapon of post-heroic society. There is no ethos or aesthetic of war. There is only effectiveness of battlefield management.”

It requires the intellectual degradation of a German professor to try to use Hegel for the purpose of celebrating combat drones as an “effective” category of weapon above any ethical or moral criticism.

Münkler’s argument is an insult to the intelligence of the vast majority of the population which opposes combat drones, but not because of any longing for a “heroic” age or a preference for fighting wars with the sword “man against man.” Rather, drones are hated because no other weapon is more closely associated with imperialist aggression, war crimes and the suffering of civilian populations.

Münkler also introduces social Darwinist arguments to justify drone warfare. The “post-heroic society” is characterized “by two elements,” he said in the FAZ interview: “A low rate of reproduction in the population. There is no longer a surplus of young men for the battlefield. And the idea of self sacrifice at the ‘altar of the fatherland’ is completely foreign to us.”

Two years ago Münkler had already presented an argument against ethical and moral objections to modern weapons of destruction. At the fourteenth annual foreign policy conference of the Green Party affiliated Heinrich Böll Stiftung, he gave a lecture titled: “New fighting systems and the ethics of war.”

At that time Münkler warned: “Post-heroic societies such as ours should be very careful when they talk about the ethics of war. They are playing with fire, especially when they use ethics to demand more from soldiers than they would demand of themselves.”

He then told the politicians and foreign policy experts in attendance: “The ‘citizen in uniform’ is much closer to war drones than the soldier of a classical army, and he prefers their use to the deployment of light infantry in hostile terrain, with the goal of eliminating an actual or supposed threat in direct contact with the enemy. To express it pointedly: in the criticism of drones, the ethics of a pre-bourgeois society is giving voice to heroic ideas in a nostalgic form. This is a critique that has not been thought out to the end.”

Irrespective of how “thought out to the end” is his own overblown pontification, the stance of the professor is very clear—his standpoint is highly militaristic. In a situation in which neither the population nor the majority of soldiers favors being slaughtered in open warfare on the battlefield, he recommends drones to the ruling elite as a suitable means of achieving the ends of German imperialism through military means.

The fact that Münkler now places poison gas in the same category as drones shows that inhumane and militaristic attitudes are once again running rampant in ruling circles in Berlin 70 years after the end of the Second World War. The report of the Böll Stiftung on the conference two years ago concluded that Münkler’s presentation of “controversial combat drones as a positive new stage in weapons technology from an ethical point of view” was seen as a “minor provocation.”

Since then, Münkler’s “minor provocation” has become a dangerous reality. The Böll Stiftung campaigns for a confrontation with Russia, the German government is acquiring combat drones and Münkler himself is giving a seminar at Humboldt University under the title “Theories of war: new wars, humanitarian interventions, drone wars.” In his new book, Macht in der Mitte (Power in the Middle), Münkler demands that Germany once again “play the difficult role of ‘taskmaster’” in Europe. The German government is working on this too!

Welsh captain rescued Spanish refugees from Franco’s butchers


This video says about itself:

Spanish families unearth their civil war dead

4 January 2012

Seventeen women, relatives of people on the Republican side, were shot by the forces of Francisco Franco at the height of Spain’s civil war 1n 1937 and tipped straight into a mass grave. Now, 74 years on, their bodies are being exhumed so that their descendants can bury them properly.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Alicante and Cardiff honour seafarer heroes

Thursday 16th April 2015

During the Spanish civil war Captain Archibald Dickson and the crew of a small frighter Stanbrook rescued 2,639 stranded republican fighters — a singular act of bravery that was commemorated in Cardiff last Sunday

ON SUNDAY, Labour International’s Costa Blanca branch delegation in Cardiff presented a memorial plaque to the city. The ceremony was hosted by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor Margaret Jones.

The plaque was dedicated to the memory of Cardiff-born Captain Archibald Dickson and the crew of the Stanbrook, which rescued nearly 3,000 republican supporters from Alicante Port and Franco’s troops at the end of the Spanish civil war on March 28 1939.

It was jointly unveiled by Pedro Olivares Martínez and the lord mayor at the Mansion House in Cardiff on Sunday April 12.

Also present at the unveiling were Arnold Dickson and Dorothy Richardson, Captain Dickson’s children, and David Lillystone and Sandra Robinson, the great grandchildren of the ship’s engineer Henry Lillystone.

They were joined by six members of Labour International Costa Blanca and members of the Welsh section of the International Brigades Memorial Trust.

The stainless steel plaque depicts an image of the Stanbrook taken at the time, together with an inscription in English, Spanish and Welsh.

Following the ceremony, the delegation and invited guests assembled at the Welsh headquarters of Unite the union.

There they watched short film Britain Expects, about the British blockade runners during the civil war.

Civic Commission historian Francisco Moreno Saez described their work in preserving the memory of those who suffered under the repression of the fascist Franco regime.

On Saturday the delegation had placed a wreath on the memorial, in Cathays Park, Cardiff, to the Welsh members of the International Brigades who fought and died fighting for the republican cause in the Spanish civil war.

Nautilus national secretary Jonathan Havard gave the following speech

“I am proud and honoured to be here. Nautilus history spans over 150 years and during that time thousands of merchant seafarers — despite being civilians — have lost their lives in the fight for freedom and against fascism.

As we pay tribute to the heroism of Captain Archibald Dickson, we should also remember the scale of the contribution made by British seafarers — and Welsh seafarers in particular — to the defence of the Spanish republic.

During the civil war, organisations like the Aid Spain movement and the Spanish Medical Aid Committee reflected widespread popular support for the anti-fascist cause.

Around £2 million was donated in Britain during the conflict and 30 ships were chartered by British campaigners between 1936 and 1939, which were then loaded with food and sailed through the naval blockade to Spain.

Almost 4,000 Spanish and Basque children — many of them orphans — were evacuated to Britain, where political parties, trade unions and church groups combined to provide accommodation and education.

It seems hard to believe, but there are still no definitive figures on the number of British ships that were lost and the number of British seafarers who died during the Spanish civil war.

British merchant ships accounted for around 70 per cent of the vessels attacked and it is estimated that as many as 29 British-registered ships were sunk and at least 40 seafarers — probably many more — were killed and over 50 seriously injured.

Ten British ships were sunk and 37 were damaged in May and June of 1938 alone, and during the three years of the civil war 10 Welsh ships were bombed sunk or badly damaged.

What we do know for sure, however, is that merchant vessels were having to run a gauntlet of aircraft, mines and torpedoes, warships and submarines — many of them sent by Franco’s fascist allies in Germany and Italy.

Many neutral merchant ships — nine of them Welsh — were seized and detained, and even ships sent to carry refugees to safety came under attack.

The statistics, shocking as they are, tell only part of the story.

They certainly do not convey some of the extraordinary heroism and sacrifice of the seafarers serving on the blockade runners — especially those who were carrying supplies for the republicans or evacuating refugees from beleaguered Bilbao.

Their stories deserve to be remembered, perhaps none more so than Captain Dickson’s.

His ship, the Stanbrook, was the last to leave Spain before Franco’s victory and instead of departing with his planned cargo of tobacco, oranges and saffron, he left with a total of 2,639 republicans onboard.

Although the captain had been given orders not to take refugees unless they were in real need, he told how that after seeing the condition which many of them were in, he had decided from a humanitarian point of view to allow them aboard.

His desperately overloaded ship dodged U-boats and enemy aircraft to take them to Algeria, although their ordeal didn’t end with their arrival there.

Captain Dickson had to threaten to crash his ship into the dock before the French authorities allowed the passengers to disembark.

Sadly, the ship — and Captain Dickson and his crew — were to fall victims to the nazis only six months later during a U-boat attack in the North Sea.

Stories like this, though tragically neglected, remain relevant today in the face of immense geopolitical instability and at a time when merchant seafarers are once again in the forefront of humanitarian work to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean.”

Oppositional journalist murdered in Ukraine


This music video says about itself:

Let Valentina Lisitsa play: Piano by Hussam Ezz Eldin

9 April 2015

Let Valentina Lisitsa play is a piano piece composed by Hussam Ezz Eldin just to stand with Valentina Lisitsa against any kind of controlling her political views.

I dedicate this piece for her and it is an objection for what happened to her.

Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa was paid by Canada’s Toronto Symphony Orchestra NOT to play.

No, it’s not about her skills, it’s about her political views. She’s been extensively twitting on Ukraine from afar and her thoughts don’t really fall in line with the western narrative. On Facebook the soloist appealed to thousands of her fans saying that her scheduled concert in Toronto was cancelled. Lisitsa says that an aggressive lobbyist group claiming to represent the Ukrainian community pressured the orchestra into banning her performance. Her tweets were used as ‘proof’ that she was inciting hatred and the orchestra bought it.

Open letter of Valentina Lisitsa concerning Canadians wanting to block her freedom of speech and embargoing her concern on Ukraine: here.

This video from Canada says about itself:

LET VALENTINA PLAY! Action in Toronto April 8. 2015.

In the week since the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) banned Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa from performing, the corporate media and its music critics have sought to downplay the ban’s significance: here.

From the BBC in Britain:

Ukraine conflict: Pro-Russia journalist Oles Buzyna killed

53 minutes ago

A Ukrainian journalist known for his pro-Russian views has been shot dead in the capital Kiev.

Oles Buzyna, 45, was killed by shots fired from a car, Interior Ministry spokesman Anton Herashchenko said.

Mr Buzyna is the latest in a series of allies of Ukraine’s pro-Russian former President, Victor Yanukovych, to die in suspicious circumstances.

His killing comes a day after MP Oleg Kalashnikov, who was close to Mr Yanukovych, was shot dead in Kiev.

Mr Herashchenko said he believed both killings were related to the victims’ involvement with Ukraine’s “anti-Maidan” movement, which opposed the popular overthrow of Mr Yanukovych in 2014. …

Mr Buzyna, who was an active blogger and briefly editor of pro-Russian daily newspaper Segodnya, was killed outside his home. …

At least eight other officials connected to Mr Yanukovych’s government have died suddenly in the past three months.

Authorities initially labelled some of the deaths suicides, but later they said it was possible that some of the people were killed or forced to take their lives.

See also here.

By Alex Lantier and Stefan Steinberg:

16 April 2015

On April 9, the NATO-backed regime in Ukraine passed laws rehabilitating Nazi collaborationist forces that carried out ethnic mass murder during World War II, while banning all communist symbols in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.

The law, titled “On the legal status and commemoration of 20th century fighters for Ukrainian independence,” officially legitimizes dozens of nationalist groups, including the Nazi-collaborationist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). It requires that state and local governments provide social benefits to members of these organizations and to their families.

The law also makes any public criticism of organizations on this list a criminal offense, stating: “Public denunciation of the role of OUN-UPA in restoring the independence of Ukraine is illegal.”

In the lead-up to the May 9 celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, there has been an accelerating wave of political assassinations targeting critics of the Western-backed, far-right regime in Kiev. Yesterday evening, a group calling itself the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)—the name of a Ukrainian fascist militia that collaborated with Nazi forces in carrying out ethnic genocides of Jews and Poles during World War II—claimed responsibility for the killings. In a statement emailed to opposition legislators and political commentators, it also gave “anti-Ukrainian” persons 72 hours to leave the country or be killed if they stayed behind: here.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday that Canada will deploy 200 armed forces personnel to western Ukraine for two years to train the army and national guard of Ukraine’s rightwing, US-backed government: here.

Syrian journalists’ kidnappers Sunni, not Shia


This video from the USA says about itself:

16 April 2015

Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent at NBC News, was a member of the six-member news team that was kidnapped in Syria in 2012. He has recounted the group’s ordeal after information recently unearthed by the New York Times suggested that Engel had been wrong about the identity of their kidnappers. …

During the ordeal, the crewmembers thought that their kidnappers were Shiite militiamen loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The New York Times, however, has uncovered information suggesting that the Syrian rebels who ‘rescued’ the journalists had some kind of relationship with the kidnappers.

By Michael Calderone in the USA:

NBC’s Richard Engel Reveals Syria Kidnappers’ Ruse Misled Him And Fellow Journalists

Posted: 04/15/2015 11:47 pm EDT Updated: 04/16/2015 12:59 am EDT

NEW YORK — NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel revealed Wednesday night that the masked men who kidnapped him and five colleagues in Syria in December 2012 misled the captive journalists about their affiliation, leading him to misidentify them in accounts of the ordeal.

During a Dec. 18, 2012, appearance on the “Today” show following their escape, Engel identified his captors as members of the shabiha, a Shia militia loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. But as The Huffington Post reported Wednesday afternoon, new questions about the kidnappers’ affiliation recently prompted Engel and a team of journalists to revisit the harrowing five days in captivity.

After reporting for the past several weeks, Engel wrote Wednesday that his kidnappers were Sunni, not Shia, and had “put on an elaborate ruse to convince” the captured journalists they were the shabiha and linked to Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah. Engel had previously described the men as part of the Shia militia in TV interviews and a first-person piece for Vanity Fair in March 2013.

Though California State University professor As’ad AbuKhalil expressed serious doubts early on about Engel’s captors being the shabiha, and aligned with Iran and Hezbollah, the correspondent’s account was never seriously challenged in the news media. On the day Engel surfaced in Turkey, AbuKhalil wrote that graffiti visible in a video of the captured journalists included “clearly fake” slogans intended to falsely suggest the captors were Shiites. “If this one is believable” he wrote, “I am posing as a dentist.”

Following publication of Engel’s piece on Wednesday, AbuKhalil told The Huffington Post that the episode “shows the extent to which Western media were going out of their way to protect the armed thugs and terrorists of the Syrian armed groups.”

“Engel did not want to believe that he was kidnapped by the very ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that he and other correspondents were promoting on a daily basis,” AbuKhalil wrote in an email. “This is a scandal of major proportion. The moderate rebels are the ones who perfected the art of kidnapping for ransom, of journalists and sectarian kidnapping of innocent Lebanese and Syrians. This should raise questions about the quality of Western reporting on Syria.”

The 28-month-old ordeal gained renewed attention in recent weeks after The New York Times asked Engel about the kidnapping. The Times reported late Wednesday that NBC News executives were informed during and after Engel’s captivity that a Sunni criminal gang may be to blame, but “moved quickly to put Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events.”

The Times story raises questions about NBC News’ handling of the ordeal and brings more scrutiny on a network still reeling from “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams’ false claims of coming under RPG fire while reporting in Iraq. Williams was subsequently suspended.

There’s no dispute that Engel and his crew were kidnapped and endured psychological torture for several days. But Engel’s original conclusion about the ordeal — that a pro-government Shia militia seized the journalists and was delivering them to a Hezbollah stronghold in Syria — can no longer be supported. Engel now concludes that he and his crew were “kidnapped by a criminal gang for money and released for propaganda purposes.”

“We still cannot determine whether we were set up to be kidnapped from the start,” Engel said, “and we have found no evidence that the Iranian and Lebanese prisoners whom we were headed to see existed.” (In previous accounts, Engel said a rebel commander was bringing them into Syria to see these prisoners, proof of Iranian government and Hezbollah activity in the Syrian civil war.) Engel also wrote that the Syrian rebels who freed his crew after five days had ties to the kidnappers.

In his article Wednesday, Engel provides new details of the kidnapping, including how an emergency GPS system the crew carried had alerted NBC to their position. As word spread that the journalists were located, Engel wrote, his captors considered killing them and hiding the bodies.

Engel wrote that Abu Ayman, an Islamist commander in the area, feared that the death of American journalists could lead to the U.S. not providing arms to those fighting Assad’s regime. Abu Ayman, he wrote, contacted the Sunni leader of the criminal gang holding the journalists. The details of the intervention remain unclear, as two of the participants are believed dead and a third missing.

Engel and his crew were freed soon after the kidnappers stopped at a rebel checkpoint and were killed in a firefight — or, at least that’s what Engel believed at the time. The situation is increasingly murky, given that the rebels freeing Engel’s crew had some previous interaction with the kidnappers. Engel said a source insisted in his recent reporting that the kidnappers were indeed killed that night.

This article has been updated to include The New York Times report.

Journalist Richard Engel’s 2012 kidnapping account was part of drive to war with Syria: here.

Did NBC Cover Up Role of U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army in 2012 Kidnapping of Richard Engel? Here.

Dutch soldiers killed unarmed people, government lied


This Dutch regional Drenthe province TV video says about itself (translated):

Torrent of bullets killed train hijackers at De Punt

Nov 30. 2013

De Punt – The train hijacking at De Punt in 1977 ended indeed in a hailstorm of bullets. This appears from secret documents from the National Archives, which daily De Volkskrant has seen.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Van Agt informed parliament incorrectly about train hijacking

Today, 11:37

Dries van Agt, then Minister of Justice, has misinformed parliament in 1977 on the termination of the train hijacking at De Punt [in Drenthe province; by South Moluccans]. This says Ard van der Steur, Minister of Security and Justice.

But according to Van der Steur he does not know whether Van Agt briefed parliament deliberately incorrectly when he said that no unarmed hijacker was shot.

The Parliamentary Committee for Security and Justice has today discussed the results of a study that Van der Steur’s predecessor Opstelten has commissioned about the end of the train hijacking. When marines ended the hijacking in 1977 six of the nine hijackers were killed. Also two hostages were killed.

Executed

This archive research shows, according to Opstelten, that killed hijackers were not executed, as claimed by the relatives of the hijackers. They rely on documents that have recently been released. These include the autopsy reports and a report of the Forensic Laboratory. Lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld of the relatives has meanwhile held the government liable.

The study did make it clear that Justice Minister Van Agt misinformed parliament in 1977 on a number of points. He then suggested in a debate that the marines had not fired any shots at hijackers who did not resist with weapons. The investigation revealed that at least the killed female hijacker had no weapon.

National anthem

According to Van der Steur that was clear already then, so the House was informed factually inaccurately, says the minister. But the question is whether Van Agt has done this deliberately. “Perhaps he based himself on false information,” says Van der Steur.

For the MPs Jeroen Recourt (PvdA) and Harry van Bommel (SP) it does not matter whether Van Agt misinformed parliament consciously or not. “As a minister, he was responsible. He has whitewashed the case”, said Recourt.

After the meeting in parliament some relatives in the public gallery sang the Moluccan national anthem.

In this music video you can hear the Moluccan anthem Maluku Tanah Airku.

Violence, from Ferguson, USA to Iraq


This video from the USA is called Why Did Iraq Ban Blackwater? Jeremy Scahill on Security, Fallujah, Training (2007).

By Hugh Gusterson in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the USA:

04/15/2015 – 15:17

American violence from Ferguson to Fallujah

“The choice of weapons is important because it radically affects what we are, and at stake in that choice is the risk of losing our soul.” —Grégoire Chamayou

I was reading the book A Theory of the Drone by the French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou when I heard that yet another American black man had been killed by a white police officer, this time in South Carolina. Actually, “killed” is too generic a word. In the video of the incident, the police officer leans forward a little, raises his gun to eye level to make his aim more precise, and shoots Walter Scott in the back as he runs away. Scott was executed. Anyone who has watched the video, which was taken by a bystander, can only be disturbed by the professional methodical coldness with which Scott is taken out with eight bullets.

It is the same professional methodical coldness with which the drone operator kills. In his book, Chamayou argues that assassination, combat, and law enforcement have become jumbled together in US counterinsurgency programs. He wants to re-separate them. He points out that the Obama administration has defended drone strikes as justified by both the laws of war and the norms of law enforcement, even though the legal frameworks regulating war and policing are quite different, indeed often opposed.

Under the laws of war, combatants are excused from the usual prohibition against killing, but on condition that they kill in carefully circumscribed ways. The killing is of and by combatants, and must take place in a declared war zone, within which soldiers are free to kill their enemy counterparts at will, even shooting them in the back, unless the target is trying to surrender. Those engaged in law enforcement, on the other hand, can hunt criminals more freely across space, but killing them is considered a last resort, justified only by exceptional circumstances. Quoting UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Chamayou writes that in law enforcement, “the use of lethal force should remain the exception … it is permissible only if it is the sole available means in the face of a threat that is ‘instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.’”

Whichever set of norms the United States chooses, according to Chamayou, US drone strikes are illegal. The civilian CIA employees killing people in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, countries against which the United States has not declared war, are violating the laws of war: They are not combatants and they are killing outside a warzone. At the same time, given that drones can only kill their targets or let them go free, the personnel operating them are violating the fundamental axiom of law enforcement that one apprehend suspects with the least possible amount of force, killing only in exceptional circumstances.

In its use of drones for counterinsurgency, then, the United States has melded the paradigms of war and law enforcement to its convenience and given itself an overly generous license to kill.

Meanwhile at home, US domestic police forces are also increasingly integrating the paradigms of law enforcement and counterinsurgency with the result that people like Scott, stopped for a tail-light violation, end up dead. According to the New York Times, under a program that transfers military equipment to local law enforcement, US police departments—often serving communities of less than 100,000— have since 2006 taken possession of $4.3 billion worth of military equipment, including over 800 armored vehicles, 50,000 night-vision pieces, 94,000 machine guns, and 530 airplanes and helicopters. Over 100 campus police departments have also taken military equipment, including grenade-launchers. Montgomery County, Texas, bought a drone it wants to equip with tasers and rubber bullets. While in the past only major cities had SWAT teams, now 80 percent of US towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 have them, and there are 50,000 SWAT team raids a year in the United States. Some raids that have made the news have been on barber shops and animal shelters guilty of code violations. (To see how absurd this has become, watch this police force recruitment video for Springdale, Arkansas, population 70,000, playing up its SWAT team.)

US policing, in other words, is increasingly seen by the police themselves as a form of counterinsurgency, designed to control hostile populations whose lives lack value. As if they were operating in Iraq or Afghanistan, US police infiltrate and spy on adversary networks, stop and search people at will, and bust down doors in the middle of the night with guns drawn. Recently the Guardian revealed that Chicago has been operating “the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site”—a detention facility where arrestees, some of them minors, are held off the books, with no recourse to legal advice, and are often shackled for long periods and even beaten during interrogation. Just as US soldiers have killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians for not stopping at checkpoints—which are often poorly marked—so Scott lost his life for running away from a traffic stop.

For people of color and the poor, the United States is becoming a war zone. Anyone skeptical should consider the numbers. Estimates of how many insurgent and civilian foreigners the United States has killed by drone vary; the highest estimate, roughly 5,241 over 13 years, comes from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. That is 403 deaths a year. In the United States, a recent government report revealed that over eight years (2003 through 2009 plus 2011), police killed an average of 928 people each year. That’s more than twice as many as the highest estimate of drone deaths in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan combined. (Details of individual deaths can be found at Killedbypolice.net.)

The four American security contractors working for Blackwater Worldwide, who were just sentenced by a US federal judge for randomly killing 14 innocent civilians in Baghdad, claimed to be acting in self-defense, until their story broke down. Likewise, after North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shot Scott in the back as he ran away, Slager reported that they had struggled and that he was acting in self-defense. Had a witness not made a video of Slager shooting Scott in the back as he ran away, we would not have known the truth.

But the people at ground zero, African-Americans at home and Muslims abroad, don’t need videos to know the truth. The truth is that the American deployment of violence has gone badly off the rails. Violence is always described in carefully crafted official statements as discriminate or unavoidable; wrongful deaths as regrettable and unusual errors of judgement. The truth, though, is that violence is now often the first resort. Acting under cover of law, weaponized Americans have become a lawless force.

Another French philosopher, Michel Foucault, argued that imperial powers experiment with new techniques of social control in their colonies and then use them at home. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have become laboratories for new techniques of order and control that, it is now clear, have definitively failed. Chamayou quotes the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud as saying, “I spent three months trying to recruit and got only 10 to 15 persons. One US attack and I got 150 volunteers.” David Kilcullen, Gen. David Petraeus’ special adviser on counterinsurgency, made the same point in 2009 testimony to Congress: “The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And they’ve given rise to an anger that coalesces the population around the extremists.”

When counterinsurgency fails, we can leave Iraq and Afghanistan. But we cannot leave Ferguson, Missouri and all the other American cities like it, where racially vindictive, militarized policing is costing the authorities what counterinsurgency theorists have always identified as the prize: the hearts and minds of communities. When entire communities believe that their lives do not matter to the state, the nation is in peril.

Hugh Gusterson is a professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University. His expertise is in nuclear culture, international security, and the anthropology of science. He has written two books on the culture of nuclear weapons scientists and antinuclear activists: Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War (University of California Press, 1996) and People of the Bomb: Portraits of America’s Nuclear Complex (University of Minnesota Press, 2004). Gusterson also co-edited Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong (University of California Press, 2005) and its sequel, The Insecure American (University of California Press, 2009). He is currently writing a book on the polygraph. Previously, he taught at MIT’s program on Science, Technology, and Society, and at George Mason’s Cultural Studies program.

Not only military equipment from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. has gone to local police in the USA. In quite some cases veterans from these wars, some of them suffering from PTSD, have joined local police forces.