grim reaper

grim reaper

I heard a report today on NPR about the next generation Predator, a military drone called the MQ-9 Reaper. The Defense Update website says of the Reaper:

The availability of high performance sensors and large capacity of precision guided weapons enable the new Predator to operate as an efficient “Hunter-Killer” platform, seeking and engaging targets at high probability of success.

It is, in short, a highly effective killing machine … operable from a comfortable desk chair in Nevada. You go to work, kill a few terrorists by remote control, then go home for dinner with your wife.

A colonel interviewed by NPR extolled its usefulness in the war on terror. The first generation Predator was able to hunt and uncover al-Zarqawi, he said, but then they had to call in F-16’s to drop the bombs that took out his hiding place and killed him. But the Reaper can carry 300 pounds of weapons. It could have done the whole thing all by itself … from Nevada. Because it’s a drone, because it’s lighter than a standard fighter plane, it can simply hover and wait for its target to appear and then …

I find it profoundly disturbing. How easy it will be to hunt down and take out … whomever you want. Without breaking a sweat, from half a world away, at absolutely no risk. That’s the most disturbing part to me — you can take out whomever you want.

But, you protest, it is war. Maybe so. People are dying like it’s war. But it is not war in the classic sense. In war, you can readily identify the combatants, but in this “war” it is not at all easy to identify the combatants or restrict the exposure to “the combatants.” Terrorists intentionally target non-combatants, and counter-terrorists target the terrorists, and their aid-ers and abet-ers.

With this efficient “Hunter-Killer” we can eliminate whomever we want, whomever we decide is a terrorist, whomever we decide is a threat. But how can we be sure who is the enemy and who is a threat? Our track record of identifying terrorists and gathering reliable intelligence is rather suspect. And even if we can positively determine an individual we count as a threat, what gives us the right to take his life, preemptively, because he might do something to threaten Americans? As the NPR reporter suggested, if you can find him, why not arrest him, detain him, try him?

For what do we want our nation to be known? For our justice and fairness, for our defense of the human rights of any and all persons, for strict adherence to the rule of law? Or for having the best killing machines?

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