A Secret History of Unmanned Bombing

Last week America’s drone war was brought back into sharp focus when President Obama admitted that a US drone strike in January killed two al Qaeda hostages, an American and an Italian. “It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally, and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” Obama told the nation.

Writing in the New York Times, Peter Baker noted that the apology underscored “the perils of a largely invisible, long-distance war waged through video screens, joysticks and sometimes incomplete intelligence.” Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post put it more directly in their piece, “A Drone Program That Has Killed Hundreds Of Civilians Finally Killed Some That The White House Regrets.”

Two days before Obama’s press conference I was on a long drive, binging on podcasts, and found myself immersed in a kind of secret history of unmanned bombing. Two random podcasts came on almost back-to-back that were haunting in their description of the lengths humans will go to drop bombs on each other. The two stories are powerful in and of themselves, but were made all the more striking in light of Obama’s comments.

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Syria, War and the Democratic Demands of Journalism

Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval for a military strike on Syria is a critical moment for our nation, and our nation’s media. It is a realignment of executive power, which has for years been expanding, especially in terms of international affairs, surveillance and national security. And it is a reassertion of the role of citizens in a self-governing democracy.

The president made clear that his decision was not just a matter of involving lawmakers, but also involving the nation in this decision. “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” he said on Saturday. In calling on Congress to take up this debate he is also calling on the American people to make their voices heard.

While he asserted his right to move forward without a Congressional vote, he argued, “The country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual.”

In a moment of such profound consequence, what is the role and responsibility of journalists? If we are to have a meaningful debate about our next steps in Syria, what do we need from our media to facilitate that? Continue reading