Droning On

 
 

With Apple banning software that records drone killings by the US military from its App Store, Evan O’Quigley investigates secrecy in modern warfare.

When Drones+, an application created to raise awareness of attacks abroad by the United States government, was last month rejected for a third time by the Apple Store in the US, technology critics were left largely puzzled by this turn of events. The app itself is a fairly simple one, based on a fairly simple idea. Whenever a remotely controlled robot kills someone in one of America’s various foreign policy adventures, the application sends a pop-up notification to the user.
The application is fed news reports that are published as drone strikes are carried out, usually long after the strike has actually been carried out. The application then strikes up a Google-powered map, aggregating public news from countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, where drone attacks have been carried out over the past number of months and years on various terrorist suspects.

Drones+ was created by Josh Begley, who told the New York Times that he wished himself to have a “more granular sense of what drone strikes really did look like”, and that he wished to get general public to pay more attention to what he deems to be the U.S’ “secretive, robotic wars”, which led him to create the software. The app itself is at this point unlikely to feature in the iTunes store, which is known to be strict with what it allows featuring on its pages, but may feature on the Android store, which is often less stringent about its marketplace.
The fact that the largest store of its kind, run by Apple, would reject an App that reports basic news information is troubling to many. Drones+ was rejected not because the information was deemed to be unreliable, or because it violated any law, but because it violated a provision of the Apple Store which doesn’t allow for “excessively objectionable or crude content.” Some might argue that it is in poor taste to report on killings of different people, but many more would put forward that this is the job of the news media.

There is a tendency among many to rather live in blissful ignorance of the atrocities committed by their own people, and their own government, while happily condemning those committed by others. One might argue there is a moral difference between killing people that are known members of terrorist organisations, and ordinary citizens. One might have a strong point arguing that case, but this can’t justify the blatant hypocrisy by Westerners to fail to condemn, or even acknowledge killings committed by their own governments.

Due to the fact that these are undeclared and generally secretive wars, there is significantly less knowledge of what is actually going on by the general public. If you asked most American citizens about drone killings, which are arguably the key component in President Obama’s foreign policy effort, most would not know much about them. This is particularly disappointing as Barack Obama was elected on a platform promising to reverse the worst excesses of the Bush administration’s approach to anti-terrorism.

Some liberals who spoke out against such abuses of power under George Bush are more comforted that Obama is able to make the choices of who is not to be taken out in drone strikes, but would these so called liberals be comfortable about the same thing in a Republican Romney administration? According to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 551 civilians have been targeted and killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, although the figure could be higher still, as likely not all have been documented. Criticism of Obama’s drone attacks have been mostly left to fringe left-wing commentators, who do not receive much air time. One such example is Jeremy Scahill, a writer for The Nation who controversially referred to drone attacks by the US in Yemen as “murder”, in an interview with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, a liberal news channel.

Take the case of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, a known Al-Qaeda recruiter, described as the “Bin Laden of the internet”, due to his many YouTube videos, his blog and his connections to terrorists who both successfully and unsuccessfully carried out attacks against the United States. Last year the Obama administration approved a drone strike that took out Al-Aulaqi. Apparently there was no need to be upset about this though as he was a bad man. This might be true, but he was also an American citizen, which is where the trouble begins. It is true that the Yemini Imam had long renounced his US citizenship and become public enemy number one to the country, but what is the legal difference between taking him out, compared to any other American accused without trial? It seems for now that it is only wrongdoers that have been targeted by drone attacks, but if the public are not keeping watch of the government, and future governments, we should not trust that it will stay this way.

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