Loving the Drone Disease


“I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange”

Michael Grunwald, Twitter, Aug 17, 2013

He regrets having tweeted it on Saturday.  According to TIME Magazine, Michael Grunwald’s endorsement of assassinating WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange via a drone strike was “offensive.”  While Twitter is a notorious medium of unreliable guff, its spontaneity, its allowance for rawness, can be a window on the mind.   The mind here was particularly disturbed, and disturbing.

What Grunwald, senior national correspondent for TIME has been doing is glossing the language of murder with “statist” hygiene, showing in turn a fascination for pro-establishment rhetoric. In other words, killing Assange would be, in the manner of killing Anwar al-Awlaki, a matter of state endorsement for the broader good.  Not palatable but generally acceptable; goodness, even legal, something that could be “justified.”  Yes, a few eggs are broken to make a bloody omelette, but (and no doubt Grunwald’s anticipation strikes fever pitch at this point) some things must be done.

Drone strikes are palliatives.  They are deemed to be surgical applications used by democratic states to punish those with conflicting standards.  The civilisational prerogative is thereby upheld – to retain one’s values, a touch of shedding may be required from time to time.  One is patriotic embracing the latest effective killing machine. To do so otherwise would be treasonous.

Indeed, the general culture of extra judicial killing that graces the U.S. security establishment leads to the happy hurrahs that come from those like Grunwald.  The standard in terms of targeting American citizens has already been lowered; the standard regarding non-Americans such as Assange has plummeted even further.

Grunwald’s initial effort at apologia was one of simple deletion of the comment. “Fair point.  I’ll delete,” he responded to an indignant respondent.  But another sentiment was at play as well.  “[M]y main problem with this is that it gives Assange supporters a nice safe persecution complex to hide in.”

It is hard to see what on this unfortunate planet Grunwald is on about, when this “persecution complex” envelopes and plumes like noxious clouds over the entire publishing industry.  Journalists are the obvious target of the state, and his amoral fumbling in the dark may be a symptom of how successful the establishment has been in convincing some that Assange is to be disposed off by any means necessary.  Besides, that dispatch might well be “justified”.

The type of device helps too.  Too much fuss, claim the pro-drone experts, is being made about the slippery slope of legality and their incessant deployment.  In February 2012, Alex Seitz-Wald observed in Salon that even liberal elites with a habitual love affair with liberties were losing the battle against the Democratic base which was “simply” not with them in terms of condemning the use of drones.  Indeed, polling data “shows that Americans really love their flying autonomous death robots.”

Peter Mehlman, writing for The Huffington Post (Sep 28, 2012) was even more descriptive about this insidious love affair, one that corrodes the participants. “If there’s a hawk in the marrow of every liberal, drones have become the above-the-line escape hatch, a place to valet park our conscience and finally let us enjoy a bit of American muscle.”

Broadly speaking, the position by Grunwald has proven estranging to other journalists.  This was particularly the case for Amy Davidson writing in The New Yorker (Aug 18): “It was troubling, too, to read Grunwald’s tweet on the day when journalists were being threatened detained and set upon in Cairo, accused of being terrorist sympathisers or spies, underminers of public safety, for reporting on the violence of the government’s assault on the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Even as Grunwald was entertaining dreams of death by robot, Glen Greenwald of The Guardian was greeted with news that his partner David Miranda was in a pickle with Heathrow authorities in London.  He was being questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.  With such assaults on the journalistic code, the extra-legal fantasies of the drone dreamers are becoming all too real.  Who, indeed, will be on that list?

Grenwald’s own reaction to the blood embracing comment by Grunwald was unsurprising.  “Thing like this make you not just understand, but celebrate, the failings of large media outlets.”

Exposure comes at a price. The journalistic creed, when abided by, may only be as valuable as the fury it inspires.  Attitudes such as those by TIME’s senior national correspondent suggest an almost collaborative attitude with the press officer’s brief.  Government has been given a huge leg over.  Grunwald’s record justifying the use of such killing methods is official and pressing.

A few suggestions regarding the cyber spread gaffe.  Boycott the magazine.  Sack Grunwald, or at the very least, regard his material on WikiLeaks and Assange from now on as suspect.  But Grunwald’s careless fingers are merely the symptom of a broader, intractable disease.  The drone culture, with its magical propensities to undermine legality, has shown itself to be attractive and overwhelming.  Oh, and justifiable.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and is on the Victorian ticket for the Senate, running with Julian Assange and Dr. Leslie Cannold.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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