Drones and Death

On August 29, 2021, the U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted an airstrike against an ISIS-K leader in Kabul. Tensions had been running high throughout the city, as just several days ago a deadly terrorist attack was carried out that killed over 70 people, including Afghanistan civilians and U.S. service members. A sigh of relief was felt across the country after the strike, bringing the knowledge that we were fighting back against those who were trying to use terrorism as innocent targets. Even though the U.S. was pulling out of Afghanistan, we were still bringing the fight to them!

However, several rather uncomfortable details concerning this strike began to emerge in the following days. As it turns out, the ISIS-K leader was not the only casualty in the strike. There were multiple civilians killed, including several children. Eventually, the civilian casualties were set at 10, including 7 children. This would mean a 10:1 civilian-to-target kill ratio, which is a tragedy in and of itself. However, the revelation was soon made that the ratio was not 10:1, but actually 10:0. There was no ISIS-K leader. The U.S. intelligence was totally incorrect. The drone strike and the civilians murdered were all for nothing.

Rightfully, the Pentagon’s announcement that the strike had been a “tragic mistake” sparked a large degree of outrage. The entire event prompted a flurry of questions: How could this have happened? How could the military have been so mistaken about their target? How do we know that any of the other drone strikes in Afghanistan are as they appear?

Pentagon officials have given press conferences, offered apologies for the situation, and given their deepest remorse about the results of the Kabul drone strike. They had done their best to give off an visible display of regret over the whole debacle. However, dear reader, make no mistake about it: there will be no substantial accountability or reform because of the Pentagon’s murderous mistake. Nobody will be fired. There will be no serious investigation. Nothing will change. The military and the Pentagon bureaucracy are anathema to responsibility in any form, especially when it comes to the civilian casualties of drone strikes.

For ample proof of this fact, one only has to look to the case of Daniel Hale. Just several months ago in July, Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison. His crime? Acting as a whistleblower for the civilian deaths in drone strikes in Afghanistan. From 2012 to 2013, Daniel Hale served as a signal intelligence officer in an air force base in Afghanistan, where he had intimate knowledge and experience with the drone programs in operation there. Horrified by the senseless killing of innocent Afghanis that he saw during his service time, he took classified documents concerning the details of the drone program and presented them to Jeremy Scahill in 2013. These papers would become the foundation for the Drone Papers, a full expose on the usage of drones overseas published at The Intercept.

What Daniel Hale helped to expose was that drone strikes made on faulty information that killed innocent people were not a rarity, but a tragically common occurrence. Strikes like the one carried out on that August day in Kabul were not an exception, but the rule. The Drone Papers detailed one five-month drone campaign in Afghanistan where nine of out ten casualties in strikes were not the intended target. In other words, 90% of those killed were bystanders who had done nothing wrong. They were just the wrong place at a very wrong time.

For this offence, Daniel Hale was sent to prison. What crime was he guilty of? What transgression had he committed? Contrary to what Pentagon officials may try to tell you, Hale’s revelations didn’t put any US service members in danger. This is the knee-jerk reaction from the military brass to any unwanted whistleblowers, but there is never any evidence of examples offered for how this is the case. Even if it were true, the blame wouldn’t lie with Hale for revealing the crimes of the drone wars, but with those who conducted them in the first place! The danger that may come with revealing a crime does not implicate that whistleblower, but the criminal.

In his own words, the only thing that Daniel Hale did wrong is that “stole something that was never mine to take — precious human life. I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”

The August 29th strike and the sentencing of Daniel Hale are jointly indicative of a simple truth: there are two sets of rules. One for the people at the top, and one for everyone else. If you try to take the lives of innocent human beings, you will rightfully be punished. You can’t cover it up or hide it to escape responsibility. But those are the rules for everyone else. If you happen to be one of those on the top, murder can be easily forgiven and forgotten. No matter how badly you screw up and no matter how many people you hurt and lives you end, you won’t ever have to face consequences for your actions. If anyone tries to hold you accountable for your crimes, you can always lock them up just like they did to Daniel Hale.

There are two sets of rules. Two very different sets of rules.



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