• $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • other
  • use Paypal

CALLING ALL COUNTERPUNCHERS! CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners to the “new” Cuba. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads or click bait. Unlike many other indy media sites, we don’t shake you down for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it. So over the next few weeks we are requesting your financial support. Keep CounterPunch free, fierce and independent by donating today by credit card through our secure online server, via PayPal or by calling 1(800) 840-3683. Note: This annoying box will disappear once we reach our fund drive goal. Thank you for your support!


Secret Killings


Time and time again, casualties are the fascination of killing establishments.  Militaries find hope that the more they kill, the more effective they are.  Laws tend to lag, limping behind in battered form till they find a place in a court of law.  General Douglas MacArthur’s dictum holds: there is no substitute for victory.  The problems are compounded by the use of modern technologies touted as all-saving devices. Privileging technology over human principle, it is a form of what the Japanese author Yukio Mishima would have called decadent warfare.  Moral flabbiness is bound to be the outcome.

A transformation has taken place in the US military complex.  Secrecy is now the name of the asymmetrical warfare game.  The era of open, declared wars has ended.  Figures of deaths, rather than being lauded, are not released.  When they are, they are modified, severely curtailed in the name of public relations.  The authorities are particularly tight-lipped over civilian deaths. This has propelled human rights agencies to take the accounts of local activists, political figures and families affected by the drone strikes.

The latest chapter in the drone annals and its conflict with human rights was piqued by an interim report from UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, who found that the US had created “an almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency.”  In penetrating the veil, he found that some 33 remotely piloted aircraft strikes had “resulted in civilian casualties”.


Emmerson was scathing of the reticence being shown by the military regarding casualty lists.  “The Special Rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data of this kind.”[1]  Emmerson chose to rely on Pakistani figures on drone casualties – “at least 400 civilians killed as a result of remotely piloted aircraft strikes” with “a further 200 individuals” killed who probably fell into a non-combatant category.


Such figures have been deemed equivocal, as with so much in the field of asymmetrical warfare.  Human calculations are less relevant here than bureaucratic bookkeeping.  One person’s civilian is bound to be another’s combatant.  Al Qaeda operatives taking refuge in a house are fair game for a drone strike, but so is the owner, if one follows US operational practice. Pakistani approaches are different and tend to see such an owner as a non-combatant undeserving of death.


Amnesty International has not retreated from this legal purgatory, claiming that some drone strikes are bound to amount to war crimes.  It has given the US, claims spokeswoman Polly Truscott, “a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts and international standards.”[2]  Truscott points out the case of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi who was picking vegetables in the north Waziristan tribal region when she was slaughtered.


Others, such as those good folks at the Heritage Foundation, simply argue that, in the world of asymmetrical warfare, such calculations are meaningless.  People might have been killed, but we are at war and ground reports as to whether one law or another has been violated have no value.  Steven Groves of the Foundation questions the figures altogether, arguing that what is supplied to human rights groups can’t be trusted.  The suggestion here is none too subtle: that Amnesty International’s first port of call is an al Qaeda spokesman rather than local villagers and families who have suffered.  Such groups “have no interest in reporting factually about what happens on the battlefield”.  That makes al Qaeda and the US drone forces two of a kind.


Lisa Curtis, a Senior Research fellow at the Foundation, has gone further by legitimising the program on the basis of Pakistani naughtiness, for “until Islamabad cracks down more aggressively on groups attacking US interests in the region and beyond, drones will remain an essential tool for fighting global terrorism.”[3]  There are no genuine laws in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan, where al Qaeda roams; no codes of legal operation worthy of consideration.  The laws lie, rather, at the end of the executing Hell Fire missile.  And, as Curtis emphasises, the Pakistanis should be grateful.  “It is no secret,” she draws from the fiction manual, “that the drone strikes often benefit the Pakistani state.”


The point Obama has been making are the old theological principles of just war, much of it outlined in his May address on the subject.  The basis of self-defence is present; the attacks with drones are proportionate.  Harm has been minimised. In June 2011, then White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan delivered his idyllic vision of balanced killing fields, when the bloodletting was kept to a minimum.  Accordingly, “for nearly the past year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency [and] precision” of the strikes.  The numbers did eventually come, and the CIA squeezed about a few to the Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Diane Feinstein, who disclosed in a statement in February this year that the numbers were in “single digits”.


The technological and human realities are different.  The drone wars are creating more armed militants.  The false assumptions that underlie the conflict are that such strikes cripple rather than enhance insurgency groups or “terror” organisations.   It is precisely the obscurity of such killings, and the lack of availability of figures, that makes the claims of the Obama administration questionable. Perversely, in a war when gentleman’s agreements are obsolete, the administration is expecting recipients of its goodwill to take what it does on trust.


What this shows is the remarkable and disturbing faith being placed in the latest killing machines.  Technology displaces the ethical imperative. The latest tendency in this direction is affirmed by efforts to translate “super heroes” in comic form to the battlefield, another product of seeing war as video game, celluloid projection, and trigger happy adolescence.  Research is being conducted on creating an “iron” man suit, an advanced garment involving MIT researchers.  This involves developing liquid body armour which can transform from “liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied.”[4]  This is not legal constraint in operation but legal desensitising.  The target at the end of the trigger is emptied of any human reference, other than that of a code, a categorisation, a “target”.

The focus, as it is with all these technologies, is minimising the losses incurred by the military.  Sparing civilians is a by-product.  The TALOS project, as it is termed, has prompted US Special Operations Command Chief Adm. William McRaven to make a striking point.  “I’d like that last operator that we lost to be the last operator we lose in the fight or the fight of the future, and I think we can get there.”  Pity the civilians.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He ran for the Australian Senate with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com


[1] Noted by Michael Isikoff, “US has killed far more civilians with drones than it admits, says UN,” NBC News Investigations, Oct 17, 2013.

[2] Jason Om, “Amnesty International delivers scathing report into US drone strikes in Pakistan,” ABC News, Oct 23, 2013.

[3] Lisa Curtis, “Pakistan Made Drones Necessary,” The Heritage Foundation, Jul 16, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2013/7/pakistan-makes-drones-necessary

[4] Voice of Russia, “Time for Super-humans: US Army Developing ‘Iron Man’ Suit for Soldiers,” Oct 22, 2013, http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_10_22/US-Army-developing-Iron-Man-suit-for-soldiers-8503/

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

October 13, 2015
Dave Lindorff
US Dispatched a Murderous AC-130 Airborne Gunship to Attack a Hospital
Steve Martinot
The Politics of Prisons and Prisoners
Heidi Morrison
A Portrait of an Immigrant Named Millie, Drawn From Her Funeral
Andre Vltchek
Horrid Carcass of Indonesia – 50 Years After the Coup
Jeremy Malcolm
All Rights Reserved: Now We Know the Final TTP is Everything We Feared
Omar Kassem
Do You Want to See Turkey Falling Apart as Well?
Paul Craig Roberts
Recognizing Neocon Failure: Has Obama Finally Come to His Senses?
Theodoros Papadopoulos
The EU Has Lost the Plot in Ukraine
Roger Annis
Ukraine Threatened by Government Negligence Over Polio
Matthew Stanton
The Vapid Vote
Mel Gurtov
Manipulating Reality: Facebook is Listening to You
Louisa Willcox
Tracking the Grizzly’s Number One Killer
Binoy Kampmark
Assange and the Village Gossipers
Robert Koehler
Why Bombing a Hospital Is a War Crime
Jon Flanders
Railroad Workers Fight Proposed Job Consolidation
Mark Hand
Passion and Pain: Photographer Trains Human Trafficking Survivors
October 12, 2015
Ralph Nader
Imperial Failure: Lessons From Afghanistan and Iraq
Ishmael Reed
Want a Renewal? Rid Your City of Blacks
Thomas S. Harrington
US Caught Faking It in Syria
Victor Grossman
Scenes From a Wonderful Parade Against the TPP
Luciana Bohne
Where Are You When We Need You, Jean-Paul Sartre?
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The US Way of War: From Columbus to Kunduz
Paul Craig Roberts
A Decisive Shift in the Balance of Power
Justus Links
Turkey’s Tiananmen in Context
Ray McGovern
Faux Neutrality: How CNN Shapes Political Debate
William Manson
Things R Us: How Venture Capitalists Feed the Fetishism of Technology
Norman Pollack
The “Apologies”: A Note On Usage
Steve Horn
Cops Called on Reporter Who Asked About Climate at Oil & Gas Convention
Javan Briggs
The Browning of California: the Water is Ours!
Dave Randle
The BBC and the Licence Fee
Andrew Stewart
Elvis Has Left the Building: a Reply to Slavoj Žižek
Nicolás Cabrera
Resisting Columbus: the Movement to Change October 12th Holiday is Rooted in History
Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria