Like a Mosquito

Mattathias Schwartz

  • BuyDirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill
    Serpent’s Tail, 642 pp, £15.99, May 2013, ISBN 978 1 84668 850 8

The Predator drone began its career as a spy. Its first mission was to fly over the Balkans during the late 1990s and feed live video back to the US. In 2001, it was kitted out with Hellfire missiles and promoted to assassin. The CIA reportedly had qualms about operating unmanned killing machines, but these were swept away by the attacks of 11 September. In October 2001, the Washington Post reported that George W. Bush had signed a ‘presidential finding’ that effectively lifted a 25-year ban on assassinations. Although Bill Clinton had previously claimed the authority to mount covert attacks on al-Qaida, Bush’s finding greatly expanded the pool of potential targets and expressly permitted the drawing up of kill lists. ‘Targeted killing’, the new programme, was like ‘clipping toenails’, one official told the Post, because al-Qaida could always generate new leaders. ‘It won’t solve the whole problem, but it’s part of the solution.’

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[*] Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency by David Klaidman (Mariner, 288 pp., £10, April, 978 0 544 00216 6).

[†] Heller traces one signature back to the Vietnam War with this passage from Colin Powell’s memoir, My American Journey: ‘I recall a phrase we used in the field, MAM, for military-age male. If a helo [helicopter] spotted a peasant in black pyjamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM, the pilot would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next burst was not in front but at him. Brutal? Maybe so.’