Peter Boghossian's A Manual for Creating Atheists is a curious and ultimately very valuable book.
It's curious because it doesn't make much of a case -- or at least not the sort of case I would have liked -- for why we should create atheists.
It's valuable because, if you believe we'd be better off with more atheists, this is a remarkable tool for accomplishing that goal.
I don't view sloppy thinking as a great evil in itself. It doesn't offend me the way hunger and lack of medicine and Hellfire missiles offend me. So, I look for the argument -- which I think can be made -- that sloppy thinking has serious results, or that belief in a god leads to a lack of responsibility, or that belief in eternal life diminishes efforts to improve real lives. This book does not focus on those arguments.
Boghossian points to abstinence-only sex-ed, bans on same-sex marriage, teaching Creationism, corporal punishment in schools, and other offenses in the United States, as well as pointing to various more-severe abuses by the Taliban, as the undesirable results of theism. But, with the possible exception of Creationism, these things could continue without theism or be ended while maintaining theism. Perhaps they would be less likely to continue in a theism-free society in which good arguments against those practices had been introduced. I'm inclined to think that atheistic openness to questioning assumptions leads toward swifter and more radical political change, whether for better or for worse, and that because we need positive radical change so desperately we need the ability to take that risk.
In arguing against the assumption that we must always have war, or poverty, or private health insurance companies, or corporate television networks, or oil drilling, or billionaires, one could do much worse than to appropriate some of the arguments that Boghossian uses to argue against the assumption of theism. This is the great value in this book. The author provides a guide and numerous examples of how to gently nudge someone away from what Boghossian calls "faith," as distinct from "religion."
I think the shift toward the word "faith" has largely been driven by people's desire to unload the baggage of specific religious beliefs while maintaining a vague conviction in the existence of some vague something that one has no evidence for the existence of. Boghossian chooses to tackle people's "faith," meaning their practice of believing something with no justification, in order not to challenge their social attachment to church attendance, ceremonies, and support structures of religions. However, I've had people tell me they were theists because they are not omniscient and they appreciate profound mysteries, even though they reject such notions as "god" and "heaven" (as if atheists must claim to be omniscient just because they don't celebrate their ignorance). So those wanting to cling to religion as they lose faith may themselves describe it as their faith evolving.
Boghossian's approach to talking people out of faith is a subtle jiu-jitsu -- part therapy, part community organizing, part Socrates. He cites evidence that people can be talked out of faith, as well as that the process often takes far longer than does conversion to faith. Seeking to encourage those using his manual, the author explains how reactions that seem to reject arguments against faith can actually be signs of making progress.
Boghossian advises targeting people's habits of faith, not the beliefs they hold. He advocates a non-combative, helpful, and questioning Socratic approach. Richard Dawkins comments in a blurb on the back cover: "Peter Boghossian's techniques of friendly persuasion are not mine, and maybe I'd be more effective if they were. They are undoubtedly very persuasive -- and very much needed." I think that's right, but I also think that for a certain type of person, reading this book would be a way to cure them of their god virus.
Still, Boghossian does little of what I think he could have done to persuade us of the desirability of working as evangelical atheists. When, in the course of a conversation, Boghossian wants to provide examples of very moral people who are atheists, he picks Bill Gates (who hoards tens of billions of dollars while thousands of children starve and suffer for lack of it; something one doesn't question if faith in trickle-down economics dominates your thought) and Pat Tillman because he chose to "give his life for his country" (Tillman joined in the senseless slaughter of the people of Afghanistan, came to regret his decision, was killed either accidentally or intentionally by U.S. troops when no Afghans were anywhere nearby, and has been blatantly lied about by the U.S. military and media -- a case where skepticism and freethinking would seem to have been badly needed, but where our brilliant producer of atheists seems to have followed his faith in nationalism in choosing this example.)
Of course, most atheists don't practice cut-throat computer software monopolism, hoard vast wealth, or join in wars. In fact, atheists tend to be more generous and more antiwar than theists. But among those who truly behave morally, including by working and sacrificing for peace and social and economic justice, civil liberties, and the natural environment, are many who say they're motivated by religion. Boghossian, in advocating steering conversations away from abortion or school prayer, says to aim for the root: "Undermine faith, and all faith-based conclusions are simultaneously undermined." One has to hope that doesn't include the good conclusions along with the bad.
Oddly, Boghossian's approach, in which he strives to understand and sympathize with the person whose faith he is attempting to remove, gives very little mention to such motivators of religious belief as the desire not to die. Boghossian uses Socratic questioning to get people to see the error of their ways. He doesn't try to open them up by addressing their unstated fears of death or a world without an authority figure. When death finally gets mentioned, far into the book, the author refers to the atheist's position as "the unknowable" and "not knowing." Not knowing what, exactly? That everything goes blank and ceases? We do know that.
Maybe Boghossian is right that there's nothing to be said on that subject, and a society in which people are not taught religion will be a society with much less religion in it, even while death remains horrifying. Toward the end of the book, the author claims that sound reasoning will give someone a feeling of control that is superior to the feeling of comfort in imagining that their loved one is still alive in a magical place. But this depends, I think, on recognizing that belief in "heaven" is weak and unsatisfying because at odds with most of one's other beliefs. (See In Bad Faith by Andrew Levine.) Surely actually believing that nobody dies and that one prioritizes rational belief formation would be the most preferable combination. But we don't have that choice.
Remarks at New York University forum with http://NYACT.net
The primary problem with weaponized drones is that the weapons murder people. And they murder people in a way that looks more like murder to a lot of observers than other forms of military murder do -- such as murder by indiscriminate bombing or artillery or infantry or dropping white phosphorous on people. When President Obama looks through a list of men, women, and children at a Tuesday terror meeting, and picks which ones to murder, and has them murdered, you can call it a war or not call it a war, but it begins to look to a lot of people like murder.
Many of the victims are civilians, many are men suspected of or just of the age for combat -- and in fact the policy has been to define military aged males as combatants -- and other victims are alleged to be serious criminals; not indicted, not charged, not tried or convicted, just alleged. And they're blown up along with anyone too nearby. It begins to look like the killing spree of a disgruntled employee at a shopping mall. But there's a key difference. It's happening in a foreign place to people who don't all look or talk like we do. I've been asked, more than once: Aren't drones preferable to piloted planes or ground troops, since with drones nobody dies? This is what drones do to foreign policy: they create deceptively easy and deceptively cost-free solutions. The drone war on Yemen didn't replace some other kind of war that was worse. It added another war to the list.
Here is the real danger: We're making murder in its most recognizable form acceptable. And we're defining it out of existence when the victims belong to that 96% of humanity that's never been considered quite all the way human in this country. Which leaves only the slightest step to include certain traitorous Americans as well. President Obama jokes about sending drones after his daughter's boyfriends, and the press corpse laughs. Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden jokes about adding Edward Snowden to the kill list, and everybody laughs. If we can be at war with individual criminals, why not add whistleblowers to the list? They reveal the powerful secrets that give our high priests their prestige. They reveal crimes and abuses that outrage us but outrage foreign nations too. They open a door through which we can begin to question what the distinction really is between joking about murder by million dollar missile and joking about murder with an ax, such that we admire one and are horrified by the other. The fact is that the most realistic mass-murder costumes you'll see in a Halloween Parade will be on men and women who've wandered up from Wall Street in their stylish suits.
The drone industry seems quite pleased with our acceptance of their technology for murder, but frustrated that some of us are resistant in our backward superstitious ways to favoring the use of killer drones that are fully automated. That is, we've accepted drones as a good moral killing device when a human at a desk pulls the trigger, but we find something vaguely disturbing about the drone pulling the trigger itself. Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International says, "Right now, in human nature, its unacceptable for a machine to kill a human being," but he's confident that will change as we begin to wise up and see the advantages. In fact, there are those who would like to ban automated drones and automated killing robots of all types, and I agree with them in so far as they go. Any weapon we can ban, let's ban it. But let's not, in the process, make non-automated drone murder acceptable. If you listen to the accounts of some former drone pilots -- so-called pilots who dress up in flight suits to sit at a desk and who drive past a sign on their way home from work every day letting them know that driving on U.S. roads is the most dangerous thing they do, so they should buckle up -- if you listen to these people, there's just not significantly more moral consideration going into the human pulling of the trigger than there would be with the drone pulling the trigger.
The majority of volunteers in experiments are willing to inflict what they believe is severe pain or death on other human beings when a scientist tells them to do so for the good of science. These are usually known as Milgram experiments, and the pain or death is faked by actors. Drone pilots take part in Milgram experiments where the deaths are real, the injuries are real, the suffering is real. Drones don't just kill, of course. They traumatize children and adults. The buzzing overhead, threatening imminent death for weeks on end is a severe form of cruelty, and an extreme case of power over others at an extreme distance -- and as indiscriminate as poison gas. Mothers in Yemen teach neighbors' kids at home for fear of letting them go to school. In Gaza people refer to Israel's drones with a word that means buzz but can also mean a relentlessly nagging wife. The Living Under Drones report produced by NYU and Stanford, I think made a lot of people aware of what drones do in Pakistan. (By the way, Pakistan's prime minister told Obama today to stop the drone killings, and Obama slipped the Washington Post evidence that Pakistan's been in on it. Don't expect them to give Bob Woodward the Chelsea Manning treatment. And don't imagine the murders-by-drone are OK because some lying scheming Pakistani officials are sometimes in on it.) Whole societies are devastated by the ongoing threat and the sporadic murders. Israel has killed hundreds in Gaza with drones. But the drone "pilot" sits at his desk and follows the instructions of his authority figure.
On June 6th NBC News interviewed a former drone pilot named Brandon Bryant who was deeply depressed over his role in killing over 1,600 people. He described watching his victims bleed to death and wondering what if anything they were guilty of. It became clear why drone pilots suffer PTSD at higher rates than real pilots. They see everything, including the children they kill.
"After participating in hundreds of missions over the years, Bryant said he 'lost respect for life' and began to feel like a sociopath. ... When he told a woman he was seeing that he'd been a drone operator, and contributed to the deaths of a large number of people, she cut him off. 'She looked at me like I was a monster,' he said. 'And she never wanted to touch me again.'"
Somehow, members of the United States Congress, where drones have their own caucus to represent them, seem less turned off and more aroused. But what about the rest of us? Where do we come down? A majority in the U.S. -- a shrinking majority, but still as far as I know a majority -- favors using drones to kill non-Americans outside of the United States. Pew surveyed 39 countries this past summer and found three that supported this U.S. policy: Kenya, the United States itself, and Israel. And within the United States there's not a big partisan divide on the matter. There's more concern over killing U.S. citizens or killing anyone within the United States, but less if they're immigrants on the border, less in hostage situations, etc. The first place the wars come home is in our own minds.
The U.S. Congress recently gave the Capitol Police the longest standing-ovation since Osama bin Laden's Muslim sea burial for what quickly turned out to be the shooting of an unarmed mother trying to get away. Congress members are in the habit of cheering for senseless murder abroad in the form of wars. Drone victims are labeled militants after the fact, by virtue of being dead. Transfer those habits to the streets of Capitol Hill, and it's easy enough to imagine that a dead woman deserved to die -- after all: she's dead. Our police are beginning to look like the military. The public is the enemy. Murderers are cheered if they wear a uniform. Bloomberg claims absurdly to have the seventh largest army in the world. And small-town police departments with nothing worse than drunk driving to confront them are stocking up on weaponry, including weaponized drones (with tear gas, rubber bullets, and all kinds of anti-personnel devices). In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff showed off a drone to the media but crashed it into his armored vehicle (thereby, I guess, proving that he needed the armored vehicle). Also in Texas, when the Department of Homeland Security challenged the University of Texas-Austin to hack into a drone and take control of it, the response was "No problem," and it was quickly done. Is this a part of U.S. wars people are really going to sit back and watch come home?
Many of the drones going into U.S. skies are for surveillance. A drone can sit too high up in the sky to see it from the ground but record everything on the ground for hours and hours of video. A drone as small as a bird or a bug can listen to you and your cell phone inside your house. Drones can threaten and intimidate potential protesters, as well as racially and religiously profiled groups, with surveillance and with weaponry. The NSA has been a big part of the kill list program, the same NSA that tracks all of us in the land of the free. A Congressional Research Service report arrived at the obvious conclusion that drones are incompatible with the Fourth Amendment. I would add the First Amendment. I would add representative government. So the fact that the technology is exciting or that drones can perform lots of useful and harmless functions is all well and good. But figure out how they're compatible with Constitutional rights first, and then allow them in those ways if that's possible. And if it isn't, then instead of using drones to watch forest fires let's focus on halting climate change. I've survived this long without having my coffee delivered by drone, and I can survive a bit longer.
It's not the technology's fault, we're told, by those more offended by insults to technology than by assaults on humans. "Drones carrying hellfire missiles over houses on the other side of the world don't kill people, people kill people." But, as it happens, drones don't hunt deer, drones don't protect grandma, the second amendment right to have an eighteenth century musket when taking part in a state militia doesn't create a right to killer flying robots. This is a new technology and it needs to be dealt with as such. This is the technology of legalized murder.
It's always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot -- just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing? It isn't strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we're never asked.
The U.N., which has been looking at U.S., Israeli, and U.K. drone use, has just submitted a couple of reports on drones to the General Assembly ahead of a debate scheduled for this Friday. The reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can't legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say -- the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that's a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don't need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama's speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn't meet them even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward sometimes in certain countries depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech. And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? We don't need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. It might slow down the march of the drones -- which is in fact being led by the United States and Israel.
Israel developed drones in the 1970s. Medea Benjamin's book begins with the story of how an Israeli engineer who had worked for an Israeli military contractor, developed the prototype of the Predator drone in his garage in southern California in the 1980s with funding from DARPA and the CIA. And the first thing he came up with was called the Albatross -- not a bad name really. Israel is the world's top exporter of drones. Technion is a leading developer of drone technology, including drones that can fly 1,850 miles without refueling and carry two 1,100 lb. bombs, as well as miniature surveillance drones, bulldozers, and other weapons of fairly massive destruction used in illegally occupied lands, where Israel has used chemical and all other sorts of weapons while continuing to receive billions of dollars worth every year of what the U.S. Orwellianly calls "military aid."
Creating Drone Island in the East River no doubt appeals to those in the Israeli government who spy on the U.S. and those in the U.S. government who spy on Israel, but especially to those who want to legitimize and Americanize the U.S. image of Israel's militarism, to make it as unquestionable in the U.S. as U.S. militarism sometimes is. The U.S. media questions the cost of feeding the hungry, while treating militarism as a jobs program -- even though programs to feed the hungry would more efficiently produce jobs. The federal government's trillion dollars a year for wars and war preparations doesn't count contributions from state and local governments and universities. The plans of Cornell and Technion to advance the technology of death on Roosevelt Island were apparently approved because of the money involved. And in the process a hospital will be destroyed. That's a typical trade-off. For a fraction of what we spend on weaponry, we could provide food, water, and medicine to the world. Many, many more people are killed through what we don't do with our money than through how we do spend it on wars.
Of course, we could also choose to invest in education instead of militarization. It's no coincidence that the nation that spends $1 trillion every year on war has created $1 trillion in student loan debt, and no coincidence that universities corrupted by military contracts are holding forums promoting war in Syria.
An early supporter of Technion who would be outraged at its current practices is Albert Einstein, who said "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." He was right. We have to choose one or the other. A lot of people are doing so.
In September, the University of Edinburgh responded to student protests and withdrew its investment from Ultra Electronics, a company that produces navigation controls for U.S. killer drones.
Here in New York, the Granny Peace Brigade and Know Drones and the World Can't Wait and lots of other groups have been pressuring the U.N. and the City Council and Congress and educating the public. The Center for Constitutional Rights is doing legal work against drone murder, and it just may be that lawsuits turn out to be a major tool in stopping the drones. An organization I work for called RootsAction has set up a petition at BanWeaponizedDrones.org that now has 99,000 signatures in favor of banning weaponized drones. We're going to deliver it to the U.N. and governments when it gets to 100,000, so please go sign it at BanWeaponizedDrones.org
Where I live in Charlottesville, Va., we passed the first city resolution against drones -- weaponized or surveillance, since when three other cities have done the same. And eight states. But the state laws have dealt only with surveillance. They have not sought to limit the weaponization of domestic drones, including with non-lethal weaponry. Some of them have made exceptions to their surveillance restrictions for the U.S. military. Four cities is not a lot, and I think one reason why is the complexities of the surveillance issue. I think cities would more readily pass resolutions commiting not to use weaponized drones, and I'd love to see New York City asked to do that. Even a failure on that would wake a lot of people up to a new danger.
Drone bases around the country are facing endless protests, as I'm sure a Drone Island in the East River will if created. If New Yorkers can chase David Petraeus away, I'm sure they can chase Technion away!
Nowhere has seen more or better nonviolent resistance to drones that Hancock air base in upstate, New York. But people have been risking and serving serious jail sentences to call attention and build resistance to these operations all over the country, including in Niagara Falls this past weekend, where activists are advancing a plan to turn the military airport into an array of solar panels that could power half the state.
This November, like this past April, will be a time of drone protests everywhere, and of Code Pink's drone summit in D.C.
Next Tuesday Congressman Grayson will hear testimony from two kids injured in Pakistan by a U.S. drone, although the U.S. won't let their lawyer come. And yesterday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports on drones full of great information, but still maintaining that some drone murders are legal and some aren't. They and the UN special rapporteur will be at NYU Law School on Tuesday and you have to RSVP at the Open Society Foundation. And on Wednesday Brave New Films will release its film on drone killing.
As we take on the drones, I think we should bear a few key points in mind. Foreign lives are not worth less than local ones. Killing with one kind of weapon is not worse than killing with another kind. Killing is evil and illegal whether or not you call it a war. The killing is multiplied by the spending of funds on it that could have been spent saving lives. A war is not an activity marred by atrocities and war crimes. War is the crime. We shouldn't oppose waste at the Pentagon more fervently than we oppose efficiency at the Pentagon. If we can stop believing in just torture or humane rape or good slavery, we can stop believing in acceptable war. If the government of Israel makes war we should employ every nonviolent tool to resist it -- and the very same goes for the government of the United States of America.
ADDENDUM: I mentioned and there was discussion of at this event Amnesty Intl.'s recommendations to the world:
"To the international community including the UN, other states and intergovernmental organizations:
It seems that a U.S./Israeli university on Roosevelt Island would be constantly transfering drone technology either to the U.S. or to Israel, either of which would be a violation of the law.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, is in stores now. His 2009 book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.
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There's a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.
Which are which? Even their best researchers can't tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn't come up.
Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can't tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and -- remarkably -- recommends this: "Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty." However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes "judicial review of drone strikes," but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn't reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.
The UN special rapporteurs' reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won't let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that's mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike's victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can't legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and -- most powerfully -- threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say -- the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that's a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don't need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama's speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn't meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.
(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)
We don't need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. But let's stop for a minute and consider. The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it's not a case where they could have been captured, it's not "disproportionate," it's not too "collateral," it's not too "indiscriminate," etc., -- the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it. We're not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let's be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it's done properly, and it's giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.
I hate to be a wet blanket, but that's stunning. Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria. And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.
What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning? Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)? Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else? Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be "proportionate" and "necessary"? If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can't always tell which is which, won't drone killing continue? The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?
For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don't we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill? Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org Maybe we can push that over 100,000 ... or 200,000.
It's always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot -- just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?
It isn't strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we're never asked.
We're going to have to speak up for ourselves.
I'll be part of a panel discussing this at NYU on Wednesday. See http://NYACT.net
David Swanson à Algeriepatriotique : «Le gouvernement américain est le plus grand pourvoyeur de violence»
David Swanson : C’est une crise humanitaire majeure. En d’autres termes, il s’agit d’une guerre alimentée de part et d’autre par des armes et des munitions extérieures. Elle ne se réduira que par l’arrêt du flux des armes, un cessez-le-feu, même imparfait au début et un règlement négocié. Cela ne s’améliorera pas tant qu’il y aura escalade ou prolongation de la violence. Dans la perspective du mouvement anti-guerre aux États-Unis, quelque chose d'extraordinaire vient d'arriver. La pression publique a poussé le Parlement britannique à refuser la demande d’intervention du Premier ministre pour la première fois depuis la reddition de Yorktown, et le Congrès américain a suivi pour faire comprendre au président américain que sa demande d’autorisation pour faire la guerre à la Syrie ne passerait pas par le Sénat ou par le Parlement. Cependant, tout peut voler en éclats dans une semaine, un mois, une année ou une décennie. Les forces appuyant une guerre contre la Syrie ne sont pas parties. La constitution partisane du Parlement et du Congrès a influé leurs actions (bien que les leaders des deux partis majeurs au Congrès aient été favorables à l'attaque de la Syrie). L'intervention des nations étrangères a aussi joué un rôle, mais la force décisive qui a conduit les gouvernements du monde entier et le gouvernement américain (y compris les militaires) à résister à cette guerre était l'opinion publique. Nous avons entendu les histoires d'enfants souffrant et mourant en Syrie, mais nous avons rejeté l'idée que tuer davantage de Syriens avec des armes américaines améliorerait le sort de la Syrie. Ceux d’entre nous qui croient que nous devrions toujours avoir le droit de rejeter les arguments pour la guerre de notre gouvernement devraient se sentir fortifiés. Maintenant que cela a été fait, nous ne pouvons pas dire qu'il est impossible de le faire de nouveau, encore et encore. En l'espace d'un jour, les discussions à Washington sont passées de la nécessité supposée d’une intervention au désir évident d'éviter la guerre. Si cela peut arriver une fois, même momentanément, pourquoi cela ne pourrait-il pas arriver chaque fois ? Pourquoi l'ardeur guerrière de notre gouvernement ne pourrait-elle pas être supprimée de manière permanente ? Le secrétaire d'État John Kerry, qui a mené la campagne infructueuse de propagande pour une attaque contre la Syrie, avait fait cette déclaration célèbre, bien des années plus tôt, pendant ce que le Vietnam appelle la guerre américaine : «Comment demander à un homme d'être le dernier à mourir pour une erreur ?» Nous avons le pouvoir de faire de la guerre une chose du passé et de laisser le secrétaire Kerry être le dernier homme qui a essayé de nous vendre une idée morte. Un argument veut que la menace de guerre ait encouragé les efforts diplomatiques en vue de désarmer le gouvernement syrien. Il ne faudrait pas oublier que quand Kerry a suggéré que la Syrie pouvait éviter une guerre en remettant ses armes chimiques, tout le monde savait que ce n’est pas ce qu’il voulait dire. En fait, quand la Russie a fait sa proposition coup de bluff, immédiatement acceptée par la Syrie, le staff de Kerry a fait cette déclaration : «L’argument rhétorique du secrétaire Kerry portait sur l'impossibilité et l'improbabilité de la restitution des armes chimiques d'Assad que celui-ci nie avoir utilisées. Son avis était que ce dictateur brutal acculé à un jeu serré et perdant dans les faits ne peut pas être digne de confiance pour rendre des armes chimiques, sinon il l’aurait fait depuis longtemps. C'est à quoi le monde fait face en ce moment.» Autrement dit : arrêtez d'entraver notre guerre ! Cependant, le jour suivant, le Congrès rejetant la guerre, Kerry revendiquait avoir fait sa remarque tout à fait sérieusement et croire que le processus avait une bonne chance de réussir. Si l’activisme pacifique américain peut aussi empêcher la France d’attaquer la Syrie, alors nous le ferons. La France a fait de courageux efforts pour arrêter les États-Unis dans leur attaque contre l'Irak, nous leur en sommes redevables. Peut-être serait-il temps de se prendre conscience que la France et les Etats-Unis ont dicté le Pacte Kellogg-Briand qui interdit légalement la guerre.
Comment expliquez-vous que les États-Unis et les Occidentaux en général prétendent combattre le terrorisme, alors qu’ils ont toujours soutenu les factions le plus réactionnaires, sachant que le wahhabisme arme les djihadistes dans le monde arabo-musulman ?
Pourquoi le gouvernement américain prétend-il des choses outrageusement fausses ou absurdes que personne ne pourrait raisonnablement croire ? Parce que les entreprises de médias américains les répètent docilement tant de fois que la plupart des gens commencent à les croire. A présent, la manipulation est allée trop loin. Le gouvernement américain a passé une décennie à dépeindre Al-Qaïda comme le diable sur terre. La proposition de se précipiter dans une guerre aux côtés d'Al-Qaïda a abouti à ce que beaucoup de personnes qui n'avaient jamais protesté contre aucune guerre auparavant ont exigé que le Congrès dise non à celle-ci.
Une crise économique aiguë pousse les gens au suicide en Occident, dans le contexte de scandales financiers et politiques divers comme la corruption et la manipulation de masse pour le compte de la classe dirigeante. Comment envisagez-vous une résistance contre les diktats des divers lobbies qui contrôlent la totalité de la richesse de l'humanité et qui laissent sur la touche une majorité silencieuse fatiguée ?
Nous nous trouvons devant le besoin de rassembler le mouvement contre la guerre avec le mouvement anti-pauvreté et le mouvement anti-destruction de l’environnement. Nous avons besoin d'être à la fois plus locaux et plus internationaux, et moins nationalistes dans notre pensée. Nous devons créer notre propre système de communication et apprendre à croire en notre force face à l'opposition bruyante et aux propagandistes habiles. Nous pouvons et devons faire la guerre à l’inacceptable, créer un mur de séparation entre l'oligarchie et l'Etat, et rediriger démocratiquement nos priorités publiques vers des projets nécessaires et bénéfiques.
Quel est le réel impact sur les sociétés occidentales du scandale Prism et l'engagement gigantesque des lanceurs d'alerte comme Snowden, Julian Assange ou Bradley Maning ? Peut-on relier ces révélations et ce scandale au refus de la guerre par les peuples occidentaux ?
Ces lanceurs d’alerte ont eu un impact énorme sur la façon dont le monde percevait le gouvernement américain et sur la façon dont l’opinion publique américaine voyait son propre gouvernement. La réponse du gouvernement des Etats-Unis d'attaquer les lanceurs d’alerte comme s’ils étaient des traîtres a amplifié cet impact. Les gens en sont venus à comprendre que la guerre n'est pas une entreprise qui promeut l'intérêt d'une nation contre d'autres, mais plutôt une entreprise qui avantage les intérêts de certains riches et puissants contre tout le monde chez soi et à l'étranger. C’est une perspective de changement importante qui doit être encouragée.
Vous avez certainement vu dans le New York Times la publication de la carte du Moyen-Orient dans laquelle on voit un monde arabe décomposé en plusieurs micro-Etats. Pensez-vous que l'explosion du monde arabe profiterait à la puissance impérialiste ? Cette carte n’est-elle pas le début d’un nouveau Sykes-Picot 2 ?
Je ne le pense pas, parce que je ne crois pas que les peuples de cette région l’accepteront. La Tunisie, l’Égypte, le Yémen et d’autres nations ont vu les gens se retourner radicalement, et avec quelques succès, contre l'impérialisme occidental et contre la corruption et la violence. La conscience du pouvoir de la non-violence grandit rapidement, en même temps que la conscience de la nuisance de la violence, comme on le voit en Libye et en Syrie, ainsi qu’en Irak, en Afghanistan, au Bahreïn, etc. L'impérialisme n'a jamais quitté Washington, et est certainement en hausse dans quelques quartiers, mais il est aussi méprisé aux États-Unis qu'il l’est en Égypte. Il doit duper et se déguiser pour être engagé par le Pentagone. Et ceci devient de plus en plus dur à faire.
Nous remarquons un retour en force de la diplomatie russe. Peut-on dire que le temps est venu de la fin de l'hégémonie des Etats-Unis et cela pour la survie de notre espèce ?
Moralement, cela a toujours été le temps d’en finir avec l'impérialisme américain et non pas parce que la Russie ou quelque chose d'autre prend de l’ampleur. Le président Obama s’est plaint aux Nations unies il y a deux semaines environ du fait que les États-Unis doivent toujours assumer la responsabilité finale pour le droit international en allant bombarder des peuples afin d’en chasser l'enfer. C'est honteux. Il a suggéré que d'autres nations ne progressent pas et qu’il les aide. Eh bien, aucune nation ne devrait aider par des actions criminelles qui devraient plutôt être abandonnées. Ce que nous avons besoin de voir et c’est ce que la Russie, la Chine, l'Inde, le Brésil, l'Europe et d'autres peuvent aider à mettre en place, c’est une ONU démocratisée ou remplacée à ces fins et une Cour pénale internationale vraiment internationale qui ne poursuit pas que les Africains. Nous n’avons pas besoin d'un nouvel équilibre des nations, mais d’une institution de droit international avec des structures sous lesquelles les nations et les peuples jouissent de droits égaux.
Beaucoup d’intellectuels occidentaux affirment qu’il ne faut pas compter sur les politiciens américains et qu’il faut se méfier de la politique extérieure des Etats-Unis. Certains disent que celui qui croit être protégé par eux commet une erreur parce que les Etats-Unis ne pensent seulement qu’à leur intérêt…
Tant qu'un mouvement mondial est nécessaire, ce mouvement ne peut pas ignorer ou transformer la réalité de la provenance du plus grand support pour la guerre. Les États-Unis fabriquent, vendent, achètent, stockent et utilisent la plupart des armes, s'engagent dans la plupart des conflits, placent la plupart des troupes dans la plupart des pays, et mènent les guerres les plus meurtrières et les plus destructrices. Par ces mesures et d’autres, le gouvernement américain est le leader mondial, le fabricant de la guerre – d’après les mots de Martin Luther King Jr – et le plus grand pourvoyeur de violence au monde. La fin du militarisme américain n'éliminerait pas la guerre à l'échelle mondiale, mais éliminerait la pression qui encourage beaucoup d'autres nations à augmenter leurs dépenses militaires. Elle priverait l’Otan de son principal avocat et de son plus grand acteur des guerres. Elle stopperait le plus grand approvisionnement d'armes au Moyen-Orient et dans d’autres régions. Elle mettrait fin à l’empêchement majeur de la réunification de la Corée et enlèverait la barrière principale des conséquences légales pour les faiseurs de guerres israéliens. On verrait une bonne volonté américaine appuyer les traités d’armement, rejoindre la Cour pénale internationale, et suivre les Nations unies dans la direction du but premier qui est d’éliminer la guerre. Elle créerait un monde libre de nations menaçant le premier pays qui use d’armement nucléaire, et un monde dans lequel le désarmement nucléaire doit être appliqué plus rapidement. Sans cela, les Etats-Unis seront la dernière nation majeure à utiliser des bombes à fragmentation ou à refuser d'interdire les mines antipersonnel. Si les Etats-Unis perdaient leurs habitudes guerrières, la guerre elle-même subirait un recul important et potentiellement fatal. Pour ces raisons, le mouvement d’abolition de la guerre autour du monde doit cibler les bases militaires US autant que les gouvernements locaux, les guerres américaines majeures autant que le militarisme local. Autrement dit nous avons besoin de votre aide. Le nouveau livre de Max Blumenthal sur les abus et atrocités des militaires israéliens, intitulé Goliath, parle du refus d’Albert Camus de soutenir la demande du peuple algérien pour le départ de tous les Français d’Algérie. Camus est cité parce qu’il a dit qu’il choisirait sa mère avant la justice. Je suis pratiquement sûr que c'est un faux choix. Par contre et sur un autre chapitre, je m’oppose au fait que les États-Unis expulsent des Mexicains et cela ne changerait rien si ma mère était l’un d'entre eux. Je suis également opposé aux politiques américaines exploiteuses et abusives envers le Mexique, bien que ma mère ne soit pas mexicaine. Je suis opposé au fait de rendre au Mexique la moitié nord de son territoire, mais en faveur de la réduction du pouvoir tant des États-Unis que des administrations nationales mexicaines, pour le renforcement des droits de l'Homme internationaux afin que les populations locales au Nouveau-Mexique et en Arizona puissent vivre selon leur choix. De même, les juifs et les Arabes en Israël-Palestine se trouvent devant le besoin d'arriver à un point où ils seront heureux que leurs enfants se marient, sans se préoccuper de savoir à quel groupe les uns et les autres appartiennent. Nous avons un long chemin à parcourir.
Entretien réalisé à Washington par Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Qui est David Swanson ?
Né en 1969, David Swanson est un journaliste, militant de la paix, blogueur et auteur américain. Il est titulaire d’une maîtrise en philosophie à l’université de Virginie. Il est co-fondateur du site web After Downing Street (now War is A Crime.org). Il a lancé, entre autres, une campagne pour attaquer le président Georges W. Bush et le vice-président Dick Cheney sur le défunt site ConvictBushCheney. Org, en vue de participer au mouvement de destitution de Georges W. Bush et de sa poursuite en justice. Plusieurs livres sont à son actif : Daybreak : Annulation de la présidence impériale et former une union plus parfaite (2009), La Guerre est un mensonge (2010), Quand le monde proscrit la guerre (2011) et Plus jamais de guerre : Le cas pour l’abolition (2013). Il milite actuellement sur différents blogs : War Is A Crime. Org, davidswanson.org (Let’s Try Democracy). Il est également secrétaire de la paix dans Green Shadow Cabinet, association de divers scientifiques, délégués communautaires et du travail, anciens combattants, etc. qui veulent fournir une opposition permanente et une voix alternative au gouvernement dysfonctionnel de Washington en proposant une autre manière de gouverner, sans pour cela revendiquer le statut de parti politique.
There has never been any evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Iran has always denied having such a thing.
The U.S. Department of Defense has admitted that currently Iran has no such program. All of the U.S. so-called intelligence agencies believe Iran has no nuclear weapons program. The New York Times (January 2012) and the Washington Post (December 2011) were compelled to issue corrections after referring to Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program.
Yet here comes Donald Nuechterlein in the Oct. 13 Daily Progress referring repeatedly to this mythical nuclear weapons program and claiming, for instance, that “Iran can be induced to suspend nuclear weapons development.”
Gee, what a diplomatic accomplishment that would be! You cannot suspend nuclear weapons development unless you are engaged in nuclear weapons development.
The comments come from Malala and the U.N. respectively.
President Obama invited Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for girls' education, to meet with his family. And she promptly explained that what he is doing works against her agenda and fuels terrorism.
Malala is a victim of violence in Pakistan, having been attacked by religious fanatics opposed to her work. But Obama may not have expected her to speak up against other forms of violence in her country.
Malala recounted: "I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact."
President Obama may also have not expected most people to notice or care. The corporate media have virtually ignored this part of a widely-reported meeting.
It's up to us to surprise everyone with the depth of our interest and concern. Almost 100,000 have thus far signed a petition to ban weaponized drones, soon to be delivered to the U.N., the I.C.C., the State Department, the White House, Congress, and embassies.
The United Nations has released a report on "armed drones and the right to life" (PDF). The report begins by noting that, as of now, weaponized drones are legal:
"Although drones are not illegal weapons, they can make it easier for States to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories of other States. As such, they risk undermining the protection of life in the immediate and longer terms. If the right to life is to be secured, it is imperative that the limitations posed by international law on the use of force are not weakened by broad justifications of drone strikes."
Drones, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reports, risk making war the normal state of affairs:
"Peace should be the norm, yet such scenarios risk making its derogation the rule by privileging force over long-term peaceful alternatives. . . . Given that drones greatly reduce or eliminate the number of casualties on the side using them, the domestic constraints — political and otherwise — may be less restrictive than with the deployment of other types of armed force. This effect is enhanced by the relative ease with which the details about drone targeting can be withheld from the public eye and the potentially restraining influence of public concern. Such dynamics call for a heightened level of vigilance by the international community concerning the use of drones."
The U.N. Charter and this report seek to make war an exceptional state of affairs. This is a very difficult, and a morally depraved thing to attempt with an institution that deserves total abolition. War does not work as a tool with which to eliminate war. But, even within that framework, the U.N. finds that drones create extra-legal war:
"An outer layer of protection for the right to life is the prohibition on the resort to force by one State against another, again subject to a narrowly construed set of exceptions. The protection of State sovereignty and of territorial integrity, which onoccasion presents a barrier to the protection of human rights, here can constitute an important component of the protection of people against deadly force, especially with the advent of armed drones."
The strongest excuse for war is the claim of defense against an actual attack. The next best thing is to pretend an attack is imminent. The Obama Administration has famously redefined "imminent" to mean eventual or theoretical -- that is, they've stripped the word of all meaning. (See the "white paper" PDF.) The U.N. doesn't buy it:
"The view that mere past involvement in planning attacks is sufficient to render an individual targetable even where there is no evidence of a specific and immediate attack distorts the requirements established in international human rights law."
U.S. lawyers at Congressional hearings have tended to maintain that drone killing is legal if and only if it's part of a war. The U.N. report also distinguishes between two supposedly different standards of law depending on whether a drone murder is separate from or part of a war. Disappointingly, the U.N. believes that some drone strikes can be legal and others not:
"Insofar as the term 'signature strikes' refers to targeting without sufficient information to make the necessary determination, it is clearly unlawful. . . . Where one drone attack is followed up by another in order to target those who are wounded and hors de combat or medical personnel, it constitutes a war crime in armed conflict and a violation of the right to life, whether or not in armed conflict. Strikes on others confirmed to be civilians who are directly participating in hostilities or having a continuous combat function at the time of the follow-up strike could be lawful if the other international humanitarian law rules are respected."
The complex mumbo-jumbo of multiple legal standards for multiple scenarios, complete with calculations of necessity and distinction and proportionality and collateral damage, mars this report and any attempt to create enforceable action out of it. But the report does, tentatively, find one little category of drone murders illegal that encompasses many, if not all, U.S. drone murders -- namely, those where the victim might have been captured rather than killed:
"Recent debates have asked whether international humanitarian law requires that a party to an armed conflict under certain circumstances consider the capture of an otherwise lawful target (i.e. a combatant in the traditional sense or a civilian directly participating in hostilities) rather than targeting with force. In its Interpretive Guidance, ICRC states that it would defy basic notions of humanity to kill an adversary or to refrain from giving him or her an opportunity to surrender where there manifestly is no necessity for the use of lethal force."
Pathetically, the report finds that if a government is going to pretend that murdering someone abroad is "self-defense" the action must be reported to the U.N. -- thereby making it sooooo much better.
A second UN report (PDF) goes further, citing findings that U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians, but failing to call for prosecutions of these crimes. That is to say, the first report, above, which does not list specific U.S. drone murders of civilians, discusses the need for prosecutions. But this second report just asks for "a detailed public explanation."
The fact that an insane killing spree is counter-productive, as pointed out to Obama by Malala, in case he hadn't heard all his own experts, is not enough to end the madness. Ultimately we must recognize the illegality of all killing and all war. In the meantime, prior to the U.N.'s debate on this on the 25th, we can add our names to the growing movement to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org