In this angry but well-documented polemic, journalist Scahill (Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, 2013, etc.) and his colleagues at the Intercept add to a growing genre that denounces our leaders’ fascination with a cheap, seemingly risk-free way to kill terrorists.
Benefitting from an amazing number of leaks, secret documents, and interviews with officials on the promise of anonymity, this collection of articles from 2014-2015 describes how the American government tracks suspected terrorists, builds a kill list, rates the priority of the target (often literally from “1” to “4”), and plans and executes the attack. It’s a spectacularly clunky process entirely dependent on informers, secondhand intelligence, and electronic eavesdropping, since drone cameras cannot identify individuals. Woe to the Afghan mother who borrows her son’s cellphone. No one gets off the hook, but the authors reserve special disdain for President Barack Obama, who, ignoring his admirable 2008 campaign rhetoric, has enthusiastically adopted “the defining essence of the Bush-Cheney template—that the U.S. is fighting an endless war against terror suspects who have no due process of any kind.” Readers will be left in no doubt that drone warfare affronts morality and the Constitution. The missiles kill terrorists if they happen to be present, but that is not always the case. It’s increasingly dangerous to be a terrorist, but since when has danger discouraged angry, disaffected young men? The Islamic State group and al-Qaida have no shortage of recruits. Furthermore, as Edward Snowden writes in the foreword, “a single act of whistleblowing doesn’t change the reality that there are significant portions of the government that operate below the waterline, beneath the visibility of the public. Those secret activities will continue, despite reforms.”
Convincing and damning but unlikely to influence U.S. leaders because the electorate largely approves of drone warfare. Apparently killing terrorists takes priority over legal niceties or the deaths of innocent non-Americans.