I was on Twitter when the news broke on March 7, 2016. Initial reports stated that a drone strike had killed 150+ Al Shabaab terrorists in Somalia who were preparing for an “imminent” attack on US forces. My immediate reaction was: How could a single drone strike kill 150+ people? A few minutes later, emended news reports began to surface. In fact, the group of men – all allegedly operational terrorists involved in the allegedly “imminent” attack – were destroyed by a combination of drone strikes and manned bomber strikes. Okay, I thought, sonow we are at war with Somalia, too, on top of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria?
The use of manned bombers along with drones in Somalia to kill a very large number of human beings claimed to have been on the verge of perpetrating evil against US forces represents yet another step along a continuum of ever-more lethal US foreign policy.
In the beginning, shortly after September 11, 2001, drone strikes were used against named, “high-value” targets believed to have already engaged in terrorist attacks culminating in the deaths of innocent people. Next, “medium-value” targets were hunted down and killed. Eventually, foot soldiers became the primary targets, and drone strikes began to be used against unnamed suspects, whose comportment corresponded to a “disposition matrix” of behaviors thought to be typical of known terrorists.
The military-age men destroyed by drones in “signature strikes” are presumed guilty until proven innocent of future potential nefarious schemes said to justify their annihilation. The citizens paying for the strikes are never permitted to assess the warrant for the summary execution of the targets because, we are told, it would jeopardize national security.
In the air raid over the weekend on a gathering of some sort – reports indicate that the targets were participating in some form of ceremony – not only the use of manned bombers but also the magnitude of carnage is noteworthy. Where it used to be that individual people believed to be guilty of specific crimes were hunted down and slain, now amorphous groups of men gathering for unknown reasons – officials have not clarified what the “ceremony” was about – are deemed fair game for mass slaughter.
Military-age men are often fathers. When they are slain, they leave behind angry sons, some of whom vow to seek revenge against the killers. We do not know whether any wives and children were present at the “ceremony” attacked over the weekend. If so, they will be written off as “collateral damage”. In all of the ongoing uncertainty and vagueness about the conduct and aims of US drone policy, one thing of which we can be fairly certain is that nearly all of the people being killed are brown skinned.
Killing suspects along with their families would be one way of preventing the creation of terrorists out of children incensed at having been rendered orphans by war makers. Logically speaking, it’s not all that different from defining all males from the ages of 16 to 55 as “unlawful combatants” and fair game for execution. Lest anyone forget, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, was “taken out” by a missile strike shortly after having celebrated his 16th birthday.
The news of the execution of 150+ men in Somalia hardly registered on the major networks in the United States, running mainly along the tickertape updates, and only for a short time. Ongoing public complacency conjoined with lethal centrism ensures that the killers will continue to up the ante:
10 x 1 = 10
10 x 10 = 100
10 x 100 = 1000
I ask most sincerely: Where can this sort of blind policy of mass homicide ultimately lead, if not to genocide?
Laurie Calhoun, a philosopher and cultural critic, is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age(Zed Books, September 2015; paperback forthcoming in 2016) and War and Delusion: A Critical Examination (Palgrave Macmillan 2013; paperback forthcoming in 2016). Visit her website.