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The Grim Reapers

The Power Behind the Drone

by JAYNE LYN STAHL

Dick Cheney, a former vice president, just accused Barack Obama, a sitting president, of "dithering around" and not moving quickly enough when it comes to deciding whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. But, why does Dick Cheney care? What is his interest in the current administration’s decision, one way or another?

His investment in Halliburton, a company that provides technical products and services for oil exploration, as well as construction of refineries, and pipelines, is well-known. And, despite Mr. Cheney’s claim to have divested himself from Halliburton after taking office, there is strong evidence he retained stock options, received deferred compensation, long after he took the oath of office for the first time, and maybe even the second time. His interest in Halliburton should be no more the public’s concern now that he is out of office than a current commander in chief’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan should be his concern.

And, despite what he may want you to think, this is no longer about Dick Cheney. The former vice president is survived by a hearty squad of Republicans in the House and Senate appropriations committees whose mission is closely aligned with the previous administration’s when it comes to contacting with private military contractors, however dubious, to develop drones, aka unmanned aircraft vehicles, small planes hands-free operated aircraft.

From its first flight, on February 2, 2001, the drone to end all drones, the MQ-9 Reaper, aka Predator B, has, in the words of Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley, moved from primarily being used for "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaisance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom to a true hunter-killer role," a vehicle which essentially amounts to a robotic attack squad. When used as directed, Predator B is one piece of equipment designed and intended to kill by remote control.

There are 28 Reapers, or Predator Bs, in existence, and each one costs approximately $10 million to build. They are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems— a San Diego based company that supplies both the U.S. Air Force, and Navy with its equipment. The company’s Web site states that it "provides unmanned aerial vehicles and radar solutions for military and commercial applications worldwide." Our interest is in the aerial solutions it provides for our military and with our tax dollars.

Notably, GAAS parent company, General Atomics, was reportedly the single biggest corporate underwriter of congressional trips between 2000 and 2005. General Atomics spent more than $500,000 on close to 90 trips taken by members of Congress, at taxpayer expense, most of which were supposedly focused on the unmanned Predator spy planes used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, in 2002, a top aide to a Republican California congressman, Jerry Lewis, was allegedly paid by General Atomics to vacation with her husband in Italy. Shortly after returning from her trip, Letitia White resigned her position, and went on to become a lobbyist for—you guessed it, General Atomics.

It does get dicey. While she was still working for Rep. Lewis, who represents a district conveniently close to GAAS headquarters in San Diego, the congressman just happened to be at the helm of the House Defense Appropriations Committee.

Oh, and right around the time of the first MQ-9 flight, in 2001, General Atomics was sued for overcharging the U.S. government, and taxpayers, for projects the company completed between 1992 and 2001.

Rep. Lewis currently serves as the ranking Republican member on the House Appropriations Committee which is responsible for funding all federal programs, a fact Mr. Cheney, no doubt, finds heartening given that Lewis was among those who signed off on unmanned aircraft vehicles in much the same way that Cheney effectively converted the executive branch into a vehicle that can be run by remote control

Should the president choose to listen to those, like Dick Cheney, or anyone in a congressional appropriations committee who can justify spending close to $300 million on drones and, at the same time, argue that there’s no money for a public health care option, he will not only be "dithering," but he will be complicit with the ongoing gang rape of American taxpayers by defense contractors.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.