Detailed history of the armed drone’s prominence in the war on terror, focused on the controversial tactic of targeted assassination.
Former BBC producer Woods, a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize, brings a cool, informed perspective to this ominous topic, confidently examining the Pandora’s box of legal, human rights, and governance issues raised by this deceptively simple weapon. The missile-armed Predator was still experimental when 9/11 occurred, its potential quickly grasped by both the Pentagon and CIA: “The remote aircraft’s intelligence gathering capabilities—and its unique competence as an assassin—would over a short time profoundly change [warfare].” Its role was expanded dramatically as the Iraq occupation unraveled. Woods notes that the hard-charging Gen. Stanley McChrystal made previously marginalized drone-piloting units central to his streamlined Joint Special Operations Command: “This flattening-out of hierarchical structures, heresy to some in the US military, would help lead to Al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq.” These improved drone units then returned to Afghanistan, but as military action wound down there, targeted attacks increased in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere, creating massive political blowback. Woods’ thoroughness captures the disturbing ambiguities of drone warfare. While clearly effective at delivering punishment to participants in atrocities like the 2004 Madrid train bombings, many civilians have been collateral damage in "more than a decade of US secret bombings,” and about 40 Westerners have been targeted. In this meticulous history, the author suggests that drone warfare has given the U.S. an edge over overseas proponents of mass-casualty terrorism but also establishes the unsavory specter of extrajudicial killing as a new norm for U.S. and British policymakers. Woods even talked to many drone operators, who express both patriotism and deep misgivings, wondering “if their own actions were in some ways reminiscent of those they were fighting.”
A cleareyed and chilling account of warfare’s present and future.