Drones, Torture and the Media

 “Americans are great and heedless adopters of new technologies, and few technologies are as seductive, promise so much at so little political and financial and human cost, as drones. They give us tremendous  new powers, and they seem to ask very little of us in return. President Obama captured the singular quality of drone warfare precisely in a remark that appears in Mark Bowden's recent book The Finish. "There's a remoteness to it," he said, "that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems." That illusion is just what makes drones such a challenge, especially as we introduce them into our own country. Drones don't just give us power, they tempt us to use it.”  “Drone Home” published in the February 11 issue of Time Magazine can be accessed at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2135132,00.html

A recent New York Times (NYT) editorial stated that ‘it was disturbing to see the twisted logic of the administration’s lawyers laid  (regarding killing of US citizens with links to Al-Qaida) out in black and white. It had the air of a legal justification written after the fact for a policy decision that had already been made, and it brought back unwelcome memories of memos written for President George W. Bush to justify illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention, kidnapping, abuse and torture.’  This article from the NYT can be accessed at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/us/politics/us-memo-details-views-on-killing-citizens-in-al-qaeda.html.  A 16 page “White Paper”, entitled “Lawfulness of Lethal Operations Directed against a US Citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al-Qaida or an associated force” obtained and made public by NBC News, was written by the Justice Department and coyly describes another, classified document  that actually provided the legal justification for ordering the killing of American citizens. The 16 page white paper can be downloaded at: http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/news/020413_DOJ_White_Paper.pdf

Of all the ways in which our political culture has changed since 9/11, the widespread acceptance of torture may be the most profound. Before America went haywire, many of us would have imagined such a change impossible. We were a people who didn’t torture—whether or not this has ever been completely true, it was a bedrock element of our idea of ourselves. Zero Dark Thirty, the new Catherine Bigelow’s film on the hunt for Bin Laden), uninteresting as a film, is notable as a symptom of the damage done to our sensibilities by the “War on Terror.” The fact that so many journalists and historians and elected officials have condemned the movie’s distortions is a welcome sign. This Dissent Magazine article can be found at: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/torture-as-a-growth-experience-zero-dark-thirty.  An article by David Danzig of Human Rights First explains that there is every reason to believe that torture actually hindered, rather than helped, U.S. efforts to find Bin Laden. This article can be accessed at: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2011/05/03/five-reasons-why-torture-did-not-help-us-forces-find-bin-laden/

The US Department of Defense (DOD) has relied extensively on contractors for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. At the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the number of contractors exceeded the number of military personnel, and a similar situation is occurring in Afghanistan. In January 2011, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum noting the risk of DOD's level of dependency on contractors and outlined actions to institutionalize changes necessary to influence how the department plans for contracted support in contingency operations.  A Government Accountability Office (GAO) asks how is the US government integrating these civilian contractors into the US Military. The full GAO report can be accessed at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/652052.pdf

A report by an EU High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism published recently states that the reports’ authors believe that the EU can, and should, have a bigger role in supporting media freedom and pluralism in the EU and beyond. Its recommendations are intended as an encouragement to develop the overall EU framework, ensuring that high quality media can continue to contribute to European democracy across the EU.

The report notes that there are currently a number of challenges which can potentially restrict journalistic freedom or reduce pluralism, whether through political influence, undue commercial pressures, the changing media landscape with new business models, or the rise of the new media. The final report can be accessed at: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/media_taskforce/doc/pluralism/hlg/hlg_final_report.pdf

The Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies (IRISS) project was funded by the EU 7th Framework Programme to investigate the emergence, development and deployment of surveillance technologies, their impact on basic rights and their social and economic costs. It has produced an initial Deliverable - A report addressing and analysing the factors underpinning the development and use of surveillance systems and technologies by both public authorities and private actors, and their implications in fighting crime and terrorism, social and economic costs, protection or infringement of civil liberties, fundamental rights and ethical aspects.The first project deliverable can be accessed at: http://irissproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/IRISS_D1_MASTER_DOCUMENT_17Dec20121.pdf