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Originally published Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Op-ed: Drone attacks are not precise weapons

Missiles and bombs, even when dispatched by drones, are not precise weapons, writes guest columnist Bill Distler.

Special to The Times

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“Are they ignorant? Or are they liars?” BOTH, ignorant and liars! MORE
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JOHN Brennan, Obama’s nominee for CIA director, says that missiles and bombs from drones are the most “effective” weapon against terrorists. He calls them “precise,” claiming they minimize civilian casualties.

Brennan often uses the word “effective,” a soft and soothing sound.

But the main product of missiles and bombs is shrapnel, a sharp and ugly word. Shrapnel is the jagged bits of metal formed from the casing of an explosive.

I have some experience with shrapnel. My unit in Vietnam was hit at night by shrapnel from our own artillery. The shrapnel killed two and wounded about twelve. The injured moaned and screamed like wounded animals.

As medics stumbled around in the dark, giving morphine to those who were hurt, the screaming subsided.

Medevac helicopters came immediately to carry away the wounded.

I was hit by shrapnel twice. Both times it came from our own side. The first time, I thought my finger had been torn off. The second time, I thought my throat was ripped open and that I was dying. Another time, I was bumped by a piece of shrapnel that landed against my hip. When I tried to pick it up, it burned me.

It came from our own artillery, exploding about 700 meters away, supposedly a safe distance.

I saw three of our men killed by shrapnel from hand grenades and a land mine.

My brother Ken was in the 4th Infantry Division. His left leg was broken by a bullet during a firefight in May, 1969. While he lay there, unable to move, our own artillery landed too close and shrapnel broke his right foot.

When I hear Brennan painting a reassuring picture of precision missiles and bombs, and when I hear the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, describe the drone program as “wise,” I ask myself, “Are they ignorant? Or are they liars?”

The Hellfire missile used by our Predator drones weighs 100 pounds, roughly 80 pounds of which becomes shrapnel, plus whatever gravel, rocks and glass are thrown out by the blast.

The 500-pound bombs carried by Reaper drones are even more destructive. (By the way, what mad scientist names these things?)

How many children are maimed by this shrapnel? There are no medics to help them, there is no morphine to ease their pain, and there are no medevacs waiting to rescue them. As their parents look on helplessly and curse the United States, we should ask ourselves: Is this the most effective way to fight terrorism, or are we creating terror? This is neither precise nor wise.

This is the reality of war as I have seen it, as opposed to the reassuring but false picture painted by our morally hollow politicians. Here at home, we don’t hear the missiles exploding or see the pain and fear on the faces of the wounded children.

Our politicians like it that way. They want to make silent war, using drones, to maintain our silent consent. We should not give it to them.

Our government’s policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan are neither wise nor just. We should speak out against them.

We can start by contacting our U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash. Ask them to vote against Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA and to speak out against never-ending war.

As citizens of the United States we have a responsibility to call on our senators and representatives to help us to, as it says in the Constitution, “establish justice.”

Bill Distler was a fire-team and squad leader in Delta Company, 2/506th (Airborne Infantry Regiment), 101st Airborne Division, in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. He is a member of Veterans for Peace.


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