The killing of Iranian General Soleimani was big news. There were a few points made in the Western mainstream media about its legality being dubious, but nobody seems to be concerned that it contravened international law, in addition to be totally amoral. One wonders if any of the drone operators, the little key-tapping techno-dweebs thousands of miles away, were awarded a medal for their gallantry in prodding buttons to blast human beings to shards of flesh and bone.
It’s not impossible that such awards will be handed out, because there is a notorious precedent. The captain of the warship USS Vincennes which fired a missile that shot down an Iranian airliner killing 254 Iranians and 36 equally innocent citizens of other countries, was awarded the Legion of Merit for “exceptionally meritorious conduct.” And we’ll pass over the fact that those responsible for shooting down the Ukrainian airliner on January 8 are to be punished and that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani declared the incident to have been an “unforgivable error”, while there was never an apology from the United States for killing 254 Iranians, or anyone else. Indeed, Newsweek noted that then-Vice President George HW Bush told an August 1988 election campaign rally a few weeks after the incident that “I will never apologize for the United States—I don’t care what the facts are. I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”
GHW Bush has a notable successor in Donald Trump, who is not the kind of guy who apologises for anything. His confused and semi-coherent reasoning for killing Soleimani included such gems as he “was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act” and “We caught a total monster and we took him out.” In a television interview he declared that “plus, he was going after—in our opinion, our very intelligent opinion, he was going after our embassies, and things could have happened.”
But as reported by the Washington Post, “No warnings were issued to staff at the embassy in Iraq or any other unnamed embassies” concerning any “imminent” attack. In other words, Trump was telling yet more lies, and in this case lying to justify an illegal killing.
The murders in Iraq were the latest in a long line of assassinations and collateral killings by US drone-fired missiles all over the world. The worst incidents last year included a video game shoot in September when in Afghanistan, according to Reuters, “a US drone strike intended to hit an Islamic State hideout . . . killed at least 30 civilians resting after a day’s labour in the fields, officials said. The attack also injured 40 people after accidentally targeting farmers and labourers who had just finished collecting pine nuts. Haidar Khan, who owns the pine nut fields, said about 150 workers were there for harvesting, with some still missing as well as the confirmed dead and injured.” There was no inquiry, no explanation, no expression of regret—it was the normal, the usual, the always-expected condescending drivel from a Pentagon spokesman that “we are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts.” Then silence, apart from the grieving of widows and orphans.
On December 1, the New York Times told us that “an American drone strike on a car carrying a woman who had just given birth in south-eastern Afghanistan left five people dead, including the mother, three of her relatives and the driver . . . The woman, Malana, 25, had given birth to a son, her second child, at home. But her health had deteriorated soon after and relatives had been taking her to a clinic. On their way home, their vehicle was hit.” Out trotted the usual hogwash from a US spokesman that “We are aware of the allegations of civilian casualties and working with local authorities to determine the veracity of these claims.” And ever afterwards—silence. The dead woman’s new baby wasn’t in the car that was blasted to bits by the drone-fired missile, and will no doubt grow up a lover of Western culture.
On and on they go, with one of the latest atrocity being on January 8, when “more than 60 civilians were killed or wounded in a US drone attack targeting a top Taliban splinter-group commander in the western Afghanistan province of Herat.” NATO was in on this one, and its spokesman said there had been “a defensive air strike in support of Afghan forces”, confirming it was carried out by a US drone. Nobody apart from local Afghan officials knows anything about it, because it’s too dangerous for western reporters to travel in Afghanistan trying to investigate deception and lies about drone strikes or anything else. Afghanistan’s Khaama Press agency reported that “tribal elders in southern Herat province called on the government to launch an immediate investigation about the attack that took the lives of innocent civilians” but nothing will be done. After all, there are only a few dozen utterly stricken Afghan families, and they don’t matter to the Kabul government any more than they do to the video game missile controllers launching death and hideous destruction from thousands of miles away.
The drone expert Professor Peter Lee of the University of Portsmouth in the UK put it well in early January by observing that “When Reaper [drone] crews have followed someone for days or weeks, their target is not just pixels on a screen but a living human being. Operators watch targets spend time with family and friends and even playing with their children. Crews, commanders and image analysts also continue to watch from above after a missile or bomb strike, conducting battle damage assessment. They see the bits of bodies being collected and taken for burial. They see grieving, devastated family members.”
Trump says he killed Soleimani because he was “the world’s top terrorist” who “viciously wounded and murdered thousands of US troops” which is absolute rubbish. But even if it were true, and there was something in international law that permitted his murder, what about the others who were killed by Trump’s Hellfire missiles? It is said there were nine other people blown to pieces, one of whom was head of Iraq’s militia forces. There was no explanation from Trump or any of his people concerning why these people were killed along with Soleimani, because it could hardly be claimed that they too were planning to blow up US embassies or plotting “imminent attacks”. Some were bodyguards, for example, and while it may be considered wrong that anyone should have worked for General Soleimani in that or any other capacity, their employment did not merit being killed by a US drone strike.
Which brings us to their widows and orphans, because it would be interesting to know what story Trump and his people could come up with that could possibly justify their punishment.
The assassination of Soleimani was a flagrant crime, but the general feeling in the US is that it was vindicated because he was an evil person who hated America. The button-pushing drone assassins most probably feel professionally and even morally satisfied that they carried out the orders of the president to kill him. But how can they—how can anyone—come to terms with the “grieving, devastated family members” of the anonymous people who die as what used to be called “collateral damage”? The innocent widows and orphans are on the conscience of the world, but the drone attacks will continue.
This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal.
Brian Cloughley is a British and Australian armies’ veteran, former deputy head of the UN military mission in Kashmir and Australian defense attaché in Pakistan.