“An unarmed U.S. Predator drone already was performing surveillance missions over Libya when the attack on the consulate in Benghazi began about 9:40 p.m. local time [September 11, 2012],” reported Fox News on October 25, 2012. “Shortly after the attack, the drone moved into position over the compound.”
According to a report in the Daily Beast on Oct. 12, administration officials are studying a videotape of a live feed from the drone that “saw” at least the last hour of the assault that led to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, and the deaths of three other US personnel in and around the Benghazi consulate.
President Obama must immediately make available to the public the drone videotape of the Benghazi attack, not only to show what was happening, but because I believe it will show the limitations of drone “sight” and because there needs to be a complete public examination of critical legal, moral and political issues involved in the use of drones in Libya and around the world.
Basic questions that need to be answered by President Obama include:
1. How many drones does the US operate over Libya, and under what authority? What is their specific mission? How many are weaponized? What happens to the drone videotapes of Libyans, and is not surveillance of Libyans a violation of their privacy?
2. How many drone attacks, “targeted killings,” have been conducted by US drones in Libya, and when? How can these attacks be permitted under international law that requires judicial proceedings before any penalty is exacted?
How can theUSlegally exact a penalty in any other nation?
3. How accurately can a drone “see” its intended target?
4. Have US drone flights inLibyacaused fear in Libyan populations and/or increased animosity toward theUS?
5. Has the use of drones caused US commanders to have a false sense of security about the need to provide ground forces to protect US diplomatic offices?
These questions are essential at a time when the Obama administration is, according to the Washington Post of October 23, expanding its drone kill list and showing a determination to undertake drone warfare for at least the next decade. The CIA, under the direction of the administration’s drone kingpin David Petraeus, is publicly asking for more drones, a curious bow to disclosure, the politics of which is not clear. New MQ-9 Reaper control bases are reported to be opening at Nashville International Airport and at Fort Benning, Georgia, adding to at least a half dozen Predator and Reaper control bases in the US, and others overseas.
This expansion of drone warfare is, in my opinion, based on two deadly public fantasies. The first is American exceptionalism, a specialness felt by Americans that gives them a right to decide the rules and to kill according to their interests. The second fantasy is that drones enable killing without consequences. In this regard, it is worth noting that Quilliam, a London-based think tank, has said that the attack on the US Benghazi consulate was in retaliation for the US drone killing of a Libyan in Pakistan in June.
I believe also that the administration can get away with drone warfare, which, as indicated above, trashes international law, because of the American public’s widespread ignorance about how drones work, their technological limitations, the degree of killing and terror being caused by drones and because of major news organizations’ total unwillingness to present images of drone killings or to interview survivors of drone attacks.
My opinions about drone politics within America is based on several months of participating in the 2012 Know Drones Tour in which I, and several colleagues, have used an 8-foot-long replica of the Reaper drone to engage people in conversations about drone warfare. Please read, “Challenging Dronotopia“, a report of the last leg of our tour, to parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The goal of our tour is to stop US drone attacks and to achieve an international ban on weaponized drones and drone surveillance, an intensive, daily surveillance of individuals and groups enabled for new technology that is a weapon of intimidation and terror.