Why killing "criminals" with drones is a war crime.

Scrutinizing culture.
Aug. 31 2010 1:33 PM

Ban Drone-Porn War Crimes

Death by joystick is immoral and illegal.

(Continued from Page 2)

There are other war-crime objections to the drone-porn killings, among them the prohibition on engaging in combat on the territory of a government with which we're not at war (Pakistan) and do not have the permission to wage war (Pakistan). (Turning a blind eye is not the same as giving permission.)

But "proportionality" is also an issue. If you look at the drone-porn YouTube clips, you don't always see the bearded guys engaged in attacking U.S. forces. Maybe they're planning to, but proportionality requires that the use of lethal force be justified by the imminence and danger of the threat, for which there is no evidence in the clips and likely only useless CIA intel to back it up.

But the Obama Justice Department issued an opinion on drones this April, saying everything was cool. No war crimes here, move along.


To which not enough people in the political and media world have replied "Bullshit," as they would have if George Bush had been carrying out indiscriminate—at the very least, carelessly executed—assassinations of a religious sect's members.

And there was something I noticed this time when I was rewatching the Pentagon's drone porn on YouTube: a minor but significant point in the case that drone-porn killings are war crimes. It's in the way that the videos are labeled by "dvids," a semi-official conduit of Pentagon videos. Check out the two of them you can see on Alternet: The first is titled "UAV Kills 6 Heavily Armed Criminals," and the second is titled "US Forces Kill Three Criminals and Destroy Rocket Rail."

Criminals? Did someone say criminals? The use of such a curious locution by an intermediary of the Pentagon, which supplied the drone-porn clips, was clearly not an accident. It suggests that "criminal" is the official euphemism we're using now for those we are at war with in Afghanistan. But since when are we spending a trillion dollars and sacrificing thousands of soldiers' lives to kill another nation's "criminals"?

This may be a throwback to the John Kerry "criminal justice" rationale for going after what were commonly known as terrorists. Criminals: it sounds like one of those Soviet-era euphemisms for anti-party dissidents. And it's self-subverting.

Criminals are by definition not enemy soldiers but people who have been arrested, charged with a crime, indicted, and convicted. If we call them "criminals" in the drone porn we distribute, in effect we are saying that we are not fighting a war but killing suspects convicted without a trial. What is their crime: driving while bearded? Loitering while being Muslim? Are they violating the strict gun-control laws of Afghanistan?

It raises serious questions about the war itself: Are we in Afghanistan to fight a religious sect because 10 years ago, when it was in power, it sheltered al-Qaida and might again in the future? Are, therefore, all members of the sect legitimate military targets? Are there no civilian Taliban, who, repellant as some of their practices are, nonetheless deserve protection from drone strikes?

Putative war crimes, repellant videos, porn mentality, the counterproductive creation of generations of terrorists: On grounds both moral and practical, the drone attacks must cease. Stop them now.

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