Now that Roger Ebert is no longer with us, my favorite film critic is Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant
, an aficionado with interesting things to say about all kinds of movies, from La Notte
to Die, Monster, Die!
. I feel sympatico with him because we traveled in more or less the same Los Angeles film buff circles back in the '70s. Apparently, he and I even attended some of the same Filmex screenings, although I don't recall meeting him. An editor by trade, Erickson combines a thorough awareness of his medium's history with a professional's technical savvy. Perhaps best of all, he also knows more than a thing or two about the real world -- a refreshing change from those '70s-era movie buffs who could talk about nothing but
movies. (At one point, I almost turned into one of those guys.)
Erickson has written a review
of Robert Greenberg's new documentary Unmanned: America's Drone Wars
, a film I've not yet seen. (But I will soon: It is being streamed gratis
for a limited time.) The review brings up quite a few points about Obama's drone program which should interest the political animals who read this blog. I presume that a few long-ish excerpts are permissible...
According to the evidence and testimony presented here, the U.S. military flies constant drone missions over Pakistan, blowing up individuals, vehicles and groups of people based not on reliable intelligence but on tips from questionable sources, and sometimes not even that. Because everything about the program is a classified secret, when information about suspected terrorists turns out to be false, nobody can be held responsible. The docu asserts that, as has been the case with some instances of wrongful detention and torture, civilians are sometimes targeted because a paid informant wants to keep the American $ dollars rolling in. Even worse, a former American drone operator-pilot tells us that he quit because it was not uncommon for his superiors to stretch the definition of 'identified terrorist' to include most anyone found out at night, or congregating in a suspicious manner.
More galling than the innocent loss of life is the attitude of U.S. spokesmen that continue to insist that civilians are never targeted and that the tribal meeting was a terrorist gathering. This goes all the way up the chain of command, to top generals that parrot P.R. talking points about the way the program is conducted and boast about the efficacy of the strikes. Listening to them one would think that the combat was like an episode of TV's N.C.I.S. -- terrorists are on all sides but the vigilant drones are making a real difference. They might as well be paid shills for the drone industry. Drone Wars has more than one clip of President Obama coming forth with what this docu claims are the same evasive untruths -- that all the strikes are done with precise intelligence, and that the few civilian deaths have been tangential accidents. The disc extras state that there have been 340 drone missions since 2004, and 881 civilian kills.
The official story doesn't jibe with convincing testimony that the drone commanders shoot at almost anything that moves. Men carrying rifles aren't hunting, they're terrorists. Kids in a car at night are terrorists. Sealing the deal is the repeated assertion that drone strikes in civilian areas are often followed a few minutes later by a second strike. Assumed to have the purpose of killing the rescuers of the first strike victims, these are commonly called Double Tap Strikes.
The missions are creating thousands of recruits for whatever radical Islamic organizations promise to strike back against the United States. Back home, the drone programs are a win-win choice for politicians and the military. Because no American soldiers are harmed, the President's use of drone strikes has not been given heavy scrutiny -- grievous errors won't even make the front page of the paper.
It occurs to me that the title of Greenberg's documentary may carry a double meaning. Since drones are a cowardly way to fight a war, Unmanned
may refer to the process of eunichization. The drone is the weapon of a military without balls.