Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review: Scahill's *The Assassination Complex*

(If you want to buy this book online, I recommend doing so at powells.com.)
The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare ProgramThe Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program by Jeremy Scahill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a collection of articles based on leaked material published on the web site The Intercept at https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/ with a foreword by Edward Snowden and an afterword by Glenn Greenwald.

The Assassination Complex covers the US policy of assassination using electronic surveillance and drone aircraft as it has developed since 9/11, with side trips into the use of similar electronic surveillance technologies by civilian police in the USA. There is much horrifying and terrifying information given here, but perhaps the central terror is the lawlessness of the practice: people, US citizens and not, are condemned in secret courts and executed without a chance to see their accusers or defend themselves. The executions are usually made based on electronic surveillance without on-the-ground checks, with the result that sometimes the wrong people are killed; not even questionable execution but simple murder.

So far as is known, civilian police in the USA are not using armed drones, but they are using the same electronic surveillance technology, and the idea of sloppy, over-worked, trigger-happy US police with even that much power is not a happy one.

This is an important book and anyone who cares about such matters should read it. I think, also, a companion volume on the legal issues this technology raises is badly needed. There are issues of both international and domestic law. I am not even sure assassination is forbidden by any treaty. It has been used historically, but it has never been common; it is far too difficult to carry out with human agents and it seldom achieves useful military objectives. With electronic surveillance and drones, it has become routine, though, as with other forms of air war, though, if TAC is to be believed, it is apparently largely effective at terrorizing civilians and still ineffective at achieving military objectives. Beyond that is the shadow of proliferation. For the moment, this is a technology limited to a few governments, but that will change; unless international treaties are drawn up, it will come to pervade the world. In US domestic law, it is simply not permitted, unless one adopts the most tortured readings of the law: the Framers forbade execution or even legal punishment without trial because of bitter personal experience, and the Constitution and Bill of Rights forbid them, unless, perhaps, there is a declared war. It has never been mooted in court that I know of, but I do not see how the law reasonably allows the United States to declare war on an abstract noun: wars are between governments and peoples, not simply on "terror" or "drugs."

I will venture, now, two criticisms: first, that it is a poorly-designed book; the use of red backgrounds and text detracts from the work, and the fonts chosen are jarring and distracting. Simon and Schuster is a major publisher, and they can do better. Second, I do wish that paper copies of the online documents the book relies on had been archived and published. It is so very easy for electronic evidence to be erased.

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1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

The book is available in ePub from Kobo.
Between USA, Russia and China, we appear to be facing an Orwellian world. Each country uses its own methods of controlling the population and waging war on its perceived enemies. Nuclear weapons make the difference as we edge closer to world war.