Since Wired announced last week that a computer virus has infected the Ground Control stations of the USAF Reaper and Predator drone fleet at Creech Air Force Base, the blogosphere as well as the general media have been awash with the story.
While many commentators have jokingly refered to the Terminator movies, the reality is that the virus isn’t that serious. While it is worrying that a so-called secure network controlling lethal weapons can become infected with a computer virus (and one that is apparently resisting attempts to delete it) it is seemingly a fairly common piece of malware that records keystrokes.
Much more serious is the ‘drone virus’ that has infected the body politic. Created in military labs by scientists looking for the quick, easy and profitable cure for the world’s security problems, the drone is now spreading virus-like around the world. Before the drone virus spread, the idea that nations could simply, publicly and illegally assassinate individuals and their families without causing outrage would have seemed incredible. Now we have been infected, the military can ‘take out’ targets of opportunity thousands of miles away before heading home for dinner with the kids. Now we have been contaminated by the drone virus, Presidents can command the killing of citizens without any charges being filed or indeed any due legal process. This is the real drone virus and we must find a way to cure ourselves.
Th press too has become infected with the drone virus. With little exception the vast majority of the media has lauded President Obama for the drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen on 30September. Before any charges have been filed and without any chance to defend himself al-Awlaki was sentenced to death by US official and “senior lawyers from across the administration” following the drafting of a secret memo.
What criticism there has been in the mainstream media has focused on the fact that al-Awlaki was an American citizen (seemingly it is not so much of a problem to assassinate non-Americans) or the fact that other nations may also now think the have the right to assassinate people with drones.
Perhaps this piece, entitled ‘Drones and the Law’ from the Economist typifies the response. Mildly chastising Obama by arguing that drone assassinations should be carried out by the armed forces not the CIA – and suggesting that perhaps there could be secret court hearings to give the appearance of due process – the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan is nevertheless described as “legitimate self defence”.
A notable exception to the supportive remarks of the drone virus infected press is a piece by Andreas Whittam Smith in the Independent. Whittam Smith seems to be immune to the drone virus. In the end, he says, the killing of al-Awlaki was murder. He is right.