Monday, May 3, 2010

Why's Obama Joking About Killing w/Predator Drones?

Adapted from a diary originally posted at Daily Kos

Take a look at this YouTube video clip of a portion of Barack Obama's speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner the other day.

President Obama made the following "joke" about killing the Jonas brothers with predator drones. Given that this comes from the man who orders such strikes, which have killed hundreds of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, I don't find it funny. In fact, if Bush had made such a joke, the progressive community would have been all over it.
"The Jonas Brothers are here; they're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But boys, don't get any ideas. I have two words for you, 'predator drones.' You will never see it coming."

(Link if the embed doesn't work for you)

The drone killings have been quite controversial. Human rights organizations have criticized them. Even with conditional support, the conservative Brookings Institute noted last summer:
Critics correctly find many problems with this program, most of all the number of civilian casualties the strikes have incurred. Sourcing on civilian deaths is weak and the numbers are often exaggerated, but more than 600 civilians are likely to have died from the attacks. That number suggests that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.
New America Foundation reported that from 2006 through part of 2009, over 300 innocent people were killed by U.S. predator drones in Pakistan. Adding even more controversy, the New York Times reports that contractors from Blackwater have been assembling and loading the pilotless drones from secret bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Of course, the government is currently saying (reported via Reuters) that the drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas "have killed more than 500 militants -- the vast majority of them low-level -- but fewer than 30 civilians..." Meanwhile, the ACLU is suing to see government documents that might tell us more about the program.

As controversial as their purported effectiveness, and the human cost of its killings, is its supposed legality. DefenseNews recently reported that assassinations by drones may bring legal trouble for the Obama administration:
Speaking on March 23 before the House Oversight and Government Reform national security and foreign affairs subcommittee, American University law professor Kenneth Anderson said "at some point, there will be a collision" between the U.S. government and the international legal community unless the Obama administration moves to address the legality of drone strikes over nations with which the United States is not at war.
In an article at The New Yorker, Jane Mayer described what a Predator attack looks like:
People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. “You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,” a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. (He watched the carnage on a small monitor in the field.) Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: “squirters.”
Given all the above, what do you think about Obama's "joke"? Vote in the poll below. I'm sure I'll also get some, ahem, comments. [Note: In the original Daily Kos diary, I put in a poll asking how people felt about the joke. At Daily Kos, approximately half felt it was "funny, harmless, no big deal, etc"; a quarter thought it was "tasteless, outrageous, obscene, etc"; approximately 10% thought "Obama should apologize for his remarks," while another 12% or so thought my diary "another Obama-bashing outrage". All together, the poll as of writing had 307 votes.]

H/T for the video to Adam Serwer at the American Prospect (via Jamelle Bouie at Attackerman/FDL)


Yzetta said...

I had a different take than you on this when you posted it at Daily Kos. However, I say with all my heart I never wanted you chased off of there. I find your work so valuable and plan to follow it here. I feel sorrowful to think my comments played any part in you leaving. I never wanted you to leave.

Valtin said...

I wasn't "chased off", Yzetta. I'm still there, if not as often. Your comments played no role in my leaving, because I never left.

Readers can follow my Daily Kos diaries at My last diary there, on May 8, made the recommend list. My last two diaries had about 1,000 comments together.

Thanks for your kind words about my work.

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