Drone Attacks & the Semantics of Responsibility

US Drones are actively used in military and CIA operations abroad, well beyond the boundaries of war.1 The US Media, even when critical, gives autonomy and agency to these devices. Domestic police departments have started using them as well, further warranting a look at the technology and the language that describes it and arguably enables it.

The secretive military missions often target and kill particular individuals without a trial.2 Beyond the ethics and legality,3 the actions are imperfect and sometimes result in undisputed civilian deaths.

The language used to describe drone attacks by US media creates an image of autonomy rarely applied to other military vehicles such as a tank or helicopter. You hear that “a drone attacked a suspected militant” rather than about a squad or platoon engaged in a fight. When something goes wrong for the Air Force or Army, names are named. Drone attacks, however, remain anonymous. While they fly and attack without a person inside, they require many dozens of people to navigate them toward a target and trigger their weapons.4 The operators may be remote, but their involvement is direct.

I propose that we gather data on 1) drone operation, 2) drone activity, and 3) subsequent reports in US media. As domestic police forces begin to acquire and operate drones,5 this work would be a first controversial6 step toward understanding what to expect in the near future in our own back yards.7

  1. CIA drone strikes violate Pakistan’s sovereignty, says senior diplomat, The Guardian.
  2. U.N. to probe drone attacks by U.S., others resulting in civilian deaths, Washington Post.
  3. UN Official: Aspects of US Drone Program Clearly ‘War Crimes’, Common Dreams.
  4. Civilian contractors playing key roles in U.S. drone operations, LA Times.
  5. Police to Use Drones for Spying on Citizens, US News.
  6. Congress likes drones, but now looks at flip side of use, CNN.
  7. Apple Rejects Phone App That Tracks Worldwide Drone Strikes as “Objectionable Content”, Truth Out

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