Tag Archives: moral predators

Names, Places and Moral Things


How does one reconcile the execution of individuals placed on a secret “kill list” with a national foundational narrative based in the rule of law?

Answer: Black it out. If the obliterated are nameless ciphers from nowhere, then they have no defined existential standing. That makes their outlaw execution a mere technical problem, easily solved by operators stroking keyboards, safely insulated from the imminent carnage.

In the below video, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink disrupts a proclamation by the principle architect of drone assassinations, John Brennan. As Ms. Benjamin gives voice to the names of killed civilians and their families, a large male officer in a “police” vest, wearing the latex gloves that would appear to signify that dissent is now classified as contamination, carries her out of sight while she affirms her love for both country and constitution. Before the door slams shut, she manages to deliver one last sentence to the dronemaster : Shame on you!

The spirit of tyranny thrives in darkness and secrecy: black sites, silence, rendition, redaction and anonymity. Hence the significance of dronestagram, a project initiated by writer James Bridle that synthesizes Google map images with the extensive data base of drone strikes compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

By erasing names on kill lists and obliterating the built reality of specific places that are attached to the names, drones are essentially a weapon of disappearance. The idea of “disappearing” political opposition developed in the course of the Argentine Dirty War; the mothers of the disappeared refused to accept erasure and oblivion, and testified to the humanity of their sons and daughters in the Plaza de Mayo. In time, the architects of disappearance received a degree of justice, themselves named as war criminals. Will the architects of drone assassination eventually meet with a similar fate?


In a past DP post, we discussed certain philosophical weakness in the arguments of Bradley Strawser, who has since clarified his views in the pages of the Guardian:

We are grateful for Mr. Strawser’s clarification, and we certainly agree that the primary discussion must be whether or not the mission is just, a discussion yet to be convened in any public forum. Why is this? Who benefits from this silence?

Mr. Strawser refers to Augustine, who also wrote  (DP editorial emphasis added): “The natural order, which is suited to the peace of moral things, requires that the authority and deliberation for undertaking war be under the control of a leader.

For Augustine, the leader was God’s divine representative, as embodied by the Emperor; in a constitutional republic, the appropriate body would be the congress of elected representatives. The absence of any such legitimate control thereby violates the peace of moral things, as lethal weapons suddenly descend from the heavens, to shatter lives and livelihoods.

Finally, we note that Mr. Bridle’s brave and timely dronestagrams would not be possible without the valuable research performed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, linked below:

Moral Predators


In 2010, philosopher Bradley Jay Strawser published an essay titled “Moral Predators: The Duty to Employ Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles” in the Journal of Military Ethics. The key passage, slightly reformatted below for clarity, reads as follows:

During a recent interview with a correspondent from the Guardian newspaper, Professor Strawser, who now teaches at the elite Naval Postgraduate School, summarized his position as follows:

He also asserts that drone warfare permits greater transparency and accountability, since each deployment is recorded for later analysis:

Yet if such normative gain is achieved outside juridical oversight, then Strawser’s PUV does not meet its own obligation to “the demands of justice”. Where there is no law, there can be no accountability, and evidence for the extralegal murder of non-combatants through the use of UAVS is compelling and well documented. While UAVs project the illusion of greater precision and accuracy, recent historical experience on the ground has presented us with more “downside” than even the upbeat Professor Strawser would wish to accommodate, by his own ethical and philosophical standards.

UAVs are only as accurate as the intelligence gathered regarding human targets, intelligence that is inherently ambiguous, above all in highly complicated regions such as Waziristan. Accuracy and precision of delivery for the lethal force becomes morally repugnant when the target turns out to have been innocent, misidentified as a result of tribal or family feuds, or by in-fighting among various intelligence agencies.

Further, Strawser’s PUV appears to imply that the single driving motivation for the development and increased use of UAVS has been reduction of risk for pilots. Yet the actual motivations shaping drone use have been more complex, including their psy-ops value as exemplary instruments for the strategic doctrine of Shock & Awe.

Finally, physical, visceral confrontation with battlefield carnage remains among the few reliable deterrents to armed conflict, as each generation learns, over and over again, that War Is Hell; with only the “moral predators” of remote controlled UAVs to bear witness to the chaos, we can be sure that the war will go on and on … forever. Maybe that is the deeper play?

We note the following quote on the home page of Professor Strawser’s website:

“Two things fill the mind with ever increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we make ourselves worthy of happiness.”

– Immanuel Kant

Shocked & Awed