University of Colorado at Boulder

Other Event

Friday March 01, 2013. 10:45 am. British Studies Room, Norlin Library

"Listening to Kill: The Signature of Drone Strikes" presented by Najeeb Jan

Najeeb Jan

Assistant Professor of Geography, CU-Boulder

Join CAS for the Second Annual Center for Asian Studies Symposium, an interdisciplinary inquiry into contemporary Asian societies and cultures. This year, they explore the sounds of love and war, the voices of the subaltern and the middle classes, and music and dance from throughout the region. See full schedule and presentation abstracts.

"Listening to Kill: The Signature of Drone Strikes" Najeeb Jan.
This paper will seek to raise a number of juridical, political, ethical and ontological issues raised by the CIA’s clandestine use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or Drones, to carry out “targeted assassinations” of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in the Federally Administrated Tribal Regions (FATA) of Pakistan. Equipped with high resolution camera’s and acoustic sensors, the Predators were initially conceived in the early 1990s for reconnaissance, observation and “intelligence gathering” roles. In the winter of 2000-2001, Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), became a leading advocate for weaponizing the drones. The Predator drones were eventually modified and upgraded to carry and launch two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Currently there are two types of lethal drones being used by the USAf and the CIA: the MQ-1B Predator, the world’s first-ever weaponized unmanned aircraft system, and the multi-purpose MQ-9 Reaper. The CIA carried out its first targeted drone killing in February 2002 in Afghanistan. From 2002 to 2004, the US used Predator drones over Pakistani airspace strictly to undertake reconnaissance and forward observation missions. But then, in June 2004, with explicit backing from General Pervez Musharraf, the US launched its first strike in Pakistan against a local Taliban commander. When President Bush left office in 2009, the US had carried out at least 50 drone strikes inside Pakistan. Since then, President Obama has reportedly carried out more than five time that number: 300 strikes in just over three and a half years. This dramatic escalation in the US use of drones to carry out “signature” and “personality” strikes has not only resulted in over 1000 civilian deaths (including 130 children) but has brought with it escalating tensions between the US and Pakistan, the only ‘democratic’ ally that Washington now regularly bombs. Drones have become the counterterrorism weapons of choice for the Obama administration, and efforts are underway to normalize these exceptional practices. Today drones buzz over the entire region of FATA 24/7, terrorizing the region and its inhabitants, whose way of life has been transformed by the daily presence of these automated killing machines. While the drones are highly effective observation and listening devices, they are, I suggest, deaf to their own “signature”. In this paper I argue that the use of drones is not rapidly transforming the American way of war, it is also redefining the space, form and exercise of American global sovereignty. The paper will thus seek to not only problematize what, under the Obama administration, is an effort to effectively normalize a form of extra-judicial murder, but also – drawing on Foucault’s work on modernity and war and Agamben’s exploration of the exception – I shall seek to disclose the onto-political stakes of drone warfare.