Monday, February 18, 2013

Honoring Torturers and Cold-Blooded Murderers

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced this week that the military will award a new medal to “drone warriors” who kill via remote controlled aircraft. The Distinguished Warfare Medal will provide “recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails," said Panetta. [1] In other words, you don’t to have courage to win this medal. You just have to be an extraordinarily efficient, cold-blooded killing machine. No mention is made of innocent civilians, including children, who have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia,[2] perhaps because they are Muslims, Afro-Asian, and regarded as “bug splat” by our brave drone warriors. According to a report in Al Jazeera, “bugsplat is the official term used by US authorities when humans are killed by drone missiles.” [3] This dehumanizing term probably refers to the fact that dead bodies on computer screens resemble dead insects on your car window.

In addition to honoring drone warriors for their risk-free killings, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has nominated for several Academy Awards a film called “Zero Dark Thirty” whose heroine is a CIA agent who tortures someone to death in her quest to kill Osama bin Laden. In this film torture is seen as a necessity when combating "evil doers."

Rev George Regas and David Clennon
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and the Religious Campaign Against Torture has been mobilizing the religious community to oppose torture and drone strikes. Yesterday seventy of us gathered at the Hollywood Methodist Church, listened to speakers and then went to a busy intersection in Hollywood to hold up signs protesting the use of torture and the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”
One of the leaders in this effort has been the actor David Clennon. He has spoken out passionately and eloquently against awarding an Academy Award to this film. He created a stir when he publicly stated:
"The Motion Picture Academy clearly warns its members not to disclose their votes for Academy Awards. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the film Zero Dark Thirty promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America’s so-called War on Terror. In that belief, following my conscience, I will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category. I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture."
Others, such as Ed Asner and Martin Sheen, joined in this protest. See

George Regas and Anthony Manousos
Just to be clear, no one is calling for censorship of this movie. We feel we have a right to censure the movie for its inaccuracy (it falsely claims that torture was necessary to find and kill bin Laden) and for not displaying any moral concern about the use of torture. We also feel that giving such a movie an Academy Award would send the wrong signal to the world and indicate Hollywood’s (and America's) approval of torture.

Writers in the LA Times have recently tried to justify the “culture of violence” in Hollywood, arguing that there is no correlation between violence on screen and violence in real life. Many psychologists would dispute this assertion: what we watch profoundly influences our psyche, often at an unconscious level, though different people react differently to violence in films or video games. If Hollywood believed that visual images have no influence on our behavior, why does it spend a fortune on bill boards and other advertisements to induce Americans to go to these movies?

What we watch and what we honor says a lot about our culture. The Greeks invented drama; and even though they were a warrior culture, they never depicted violence on stage. The Roman, on the other hand, did show violent acts on stage and in the gladiatorial arenas, a form of entertainment very similar to many Hollywood films. A major difference between the Greeks and Romans is that the Romans were imperialists, and empires require a cult of violence and torture.  The Romans invented crucifixion and used other forms of torture to terrorize and subdue populations. The US has used torture against slaves, Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese and others.

That’s what drone warfare and torture have in common: they are instruments of terror used to subdue populations that resist American control. Hollywood is complicit in this culture of empire when it honors those who justify torture, and when it produces films that glorify violence.
In addition to our lurid history of violence and torture, America has a bright and noble side. At the founding of our country, we passed the Eighth Amendment forbidding "cruel and usual punishment" to those found guilty of crimes. This was a moral rebuke to the British and Europeans who used torture and vicious forms of punishment, like drawing and quartering. America was going to be different. After WW II, America took the lead in crafting the UN Declaration of Human Rights. 
America once aspired to be "city on the hill," a beacon of light in a violent and wicked world. As long as drone warriors and movies about torturers are honored, the world will regard us as no different from any other empire.
Here's a letter to the LA Times written from ICUJP, followed by a statement by Medea Benjamin (founder of Code Pink) who has written a well-researched and powerful book about drone warfare.
Dear Editor,

As people of faith and conscience, we oppose drone warfare on moral, legal and pragmatic grounds. We believe The Golden Rule as reflected in several theistic and non-theistic religious traditions teach that we shall not to do unto others what we would not want others to do unto us.

    We certainly would not want a foreign government to send drones to fly over our communities to kill people it deems a threat. Evidence shows that targeted drone killings of alleged terrorists and innocent civilians incites hostility against America and is a recruiting tool for terrorists. Further we note the inherent penchant for exclusively vilifying and targeting Afro-Asiatic populations as explicitly racist (white supremacist).

    We advocate the rule of law and due process. We call for transparency and believe that the CIA should not be allowed to conduct drone warfare in secret, without judicial accountability. We firmly believe that the President does not have the moral or legal authority to kill anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the world without due process of law.

Drone warfare destroys the moral basis of our democracy and must be ended immediately.
Signed, Steve Rohde and Grace Dyrness, co-chairs of ICUJP


A Call from the Faith-Based Community to Stop Drone Killings

As representatives of faith-based communities, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of lethal unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. The United States is leading the way in this new form of warfare where pilots in US bases kill people, by remote control, thousands of miles away. Drones have become the preferred weapons to conduct war due to the lack of direct risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers, but these drone strikes have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in countries where we are not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Some aspects that we find particularly disturbing include:
  • The President and his aides draw up a Kill List in which they play the role of prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. People on this secret Kill List have never been charged, tried or convicted in a court of law, and are given no opportunity to surrender;
  • The labeling of all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, thus justifying their murder, is an extreme and macabre form of profiling;
  • Drone strikes kill not only their intended targets, but innocent people, including children, violating the sanctity of human life;
  • Drone strikes violate other nation’s sovereignty (Pakistan’s elected leaders, for example, have repeatedly called for an end to the strikes);
  • Drones in the hands the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command keeps the program veiled in secrecy. The lack of transparency and accountability violate the basic tenets of a democratic society;
  • Drones make killing more abstract, impersonal, antiseptic, convenient and “easy”;
  • The Administration insists that because drones do not risk American lives, Congress need not be consulted, leading to a dangerous abuse of executive power;
  • Drone strikes have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants. They fuel anti-American sentiment, radicalize local populations and perpetuate an endless cycle of violence.
  • The example being set by the United States that a nation can go anywhere it wants and kill anyone it wants on the basis of secret information is leading to a world of chaos and lawlessness.
The world’s great religions teach us to cherish human life. This impersonal, risk-free killing of people on the other side of the globe runs counter to religious belief and the teachings of our traditions.

We urge our government to put an end to this secretive, remote-controlled killing and instead promote foreign polices that are consistent with the values of a democratic and humane society. We call on the United Nations to regulate the international use of lethal drones in a fashion that promotes a just and peaceful world community, based on the rule of law, with full dignity and freedom for every human being.



[2] Here are some facts about drone warfare from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Total US strikes: 364
Obama strikes: 312
Total reported killed: 2,640-3,474
Civilians reported killed: 473-893
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,270-1,433
Total confirmed US operations (all): 54-64
Total confirmed US drone strikes: 42-52
Possible extra US operations: 135-157
Possible extra US drone strikes: 77-93
Total reported killed (all): 374-1,112
Total civilians killed (all): 72-178
Children killed (all): 27-37
Total US strikes: 10-23
Total US drone strikes: 3-9
Total reported killed: 58-170
Civilians reported killed: 11-57
Children reported killed: 1-3

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Anthony of posting this incredibly horrendous account of drone and torture used by our US government. I pledge to work to aide in stopping this horrific reality for peace-caring and innocent people everywhere!

    Roberta Llewellyn
    Berkeley Friends