Robert Greenwald on How America Embraced Drone Warfare

Activist documentarian Robert Greenwald can be relied on to address the most topical issues of the moment, ranging from Wal-Mart’s dubious employment practices to corporate war profiteering in Iraq, exposing the Koch Brothers or showing what happens to whistleblowers.

Unmanned

His latest film is Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars. Jesse Hicks interviews Greenwald for The Verge:

What drew you to this topic in the first place? Did your perspective change as you worked on the documentary?

I was drawn to it because I’ve done a series of films and investigations around the war issues. I did the first film around the Iraq war and the reasons we were given for it; I did another film called Iraq for Sale about war profiteering; I went to Afghanistan and did a film challenging the military policy there. I see the idea of the bipartisan militarization of policy — the bipartisan belief that we will be safer by invading or occupying or droning — as one that is highly questionable. The drones were another example to me of a belief that there is a silver bullet. Is it counterinsurgency; is it counterterrorism — whatever is the philosophy of the moment or, in this case, the tool of the moment. It’s consistent with what I’ve been interested in, what I’ve done a series of films on.

When I did the research, it didn’t seem possible that what we were hearing was accurate. That here was this new tool, and it was only getting very dangerous people. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, and this seemed really, really questionable. But I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t know how much damage was being done. I thought maybe, in the larger scheme of things, there is some rationale for it. The people advocating for this are not stupid people.

But when I interviewed people — “game-changer” is an understatement. It was an extraordinary experience to talk to person after person who clearly is innocent, who clearly has had family members killed who shouldn’t have been killed. Then to speak to experts in Pakistan: most notably Imran Khan saying to me, “Yes, there were 100, maybe 200 fanatics in the tribal area, and now you have 80,000 people who hate you. How will that make you more secure?”

I started more with questions, and then it moved to a stronger and stronger opposition. The people made it clear to me that the policy was not one that could be justified, on any level. Ultimately, none of the arguments held up for me, over the course of a little over a year of working on the film.

What are the arguments in favor of using drones this way?

The first argument was that they’d target only high-value targets. They’re not doing that. We’re seeing thousand and thousands of people in different countries who are not high-value targets. How do we know? Because whenever there is a high-value target, they announce that. But those numbers are 2 percent, 3 percent. So you can’t say this is a policy of going after high-value targets when it’s such an incidental percentage of what we’re doing.

Why is it expanding like that? Is it the philosophy, is it the CIA, is it bureaucrats taking over? We’re never going to know that, but it’s clearly gotten beyond what was initially suggested.

That’s one argument. The second argument is of an imminent threat: somebody’s going to do something now and the only way to stop him — this is partly a legal argument — is with a drone. Well, I don’t believe even the government or the CIA or the White House has articulated a single case where someone represented an imminent threat, say a person holding someone hostage or a person who has a gun and is about to shoot someone. I’ve never seen that argued; based on the information that we’re getting, it seems hard to believe we’d have that kind of situation…

[continues at The Verge]

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  • Anarchy Pony

    Imperialism gets a lot easier when you can put a machine in harm’s way rather than your sons and daughters.

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