Q. What’s the difference between a terrorist who bombs civilian centers and a military pilot who does the same thing?
A. Usually, it’s only a matter of altitude, although the terrorist is likely to be hunted down and the pilot to be deemed a hero, at least in his home country.
Most people don’t want to acknowledge this reality, especially in America, where warfare has reached a new level of remoteness with the introduction of unmanned “killer drones” operated from a great distance. This can be a formidably efficient way to kill people. And yet, when you think about it, the pilot, “flying” the drone from the ground via computer, bears more resemblance to some wanker playing a video game than to an actual killer. But he’s still a killer, isn’t he?
[Sixteen-year-old Pakistani] Tariq [Aziz] had been killed in a drone strike while he was on his way to pick up his aunt. It appears that he wasn’t the intended target of the strike: Those who met Tariq suspect he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially since his 12-year-old cousin was also killed in the blast.
The Obama administration has no comment on the killing of Tariq Aziz, even though his death raises the most significant question of all. Drones offer the government an advanced and precise technology in its War on Terror – yet many of those killed by drones don’t appear to be terrorists at all. In fact, according to a detailed study of drone victims compiled by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, at least 174 of those executed by drones were under the age of 18 – in other words, children. Estimates by human rights groups that include adults who were likely civilians put the toll of innocent victims at more than 800. U.S. officials hotly dismiss such figures – “bullshit,” one senior administration official told me…
For Nasser al-Awlaki, who lost his teenage grandson to a predator drone, such denials are almost as shocking as the administration’s deliberate decision to wage a remote-control war that would inevitably result in the deaths of innocent civilians. “I could not believe America could do this – especially President Obama, who I liked very much,” he says. “When he was elected, I thought he would solve all the problems of the world.”
A lot of well-meaning people in America liked Obama, too, and probably thought he couldn’t possibly condone civilian-killing drones (planes and pilots.) But that was a long time ago.