5,000 feet is the best: re-viewing the politics of unmanned aerial systems

Publication date:
Katherine Chandler

Less than six months into the American-declared Global War on Terror, military officials announced an unprecedented success: "[A]ll major U.S. television networks reported that an unmanned Predator drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency fired a missile […] at a group of people believed to be senior al-Qaeda leaders meeting near a cave complex known as Zawar Khili near the border with Pakistan" (National Post News Services, 2002: A10). The events were described as a "tactical innovation of the highest order" and marked the first time that a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial system (UAS) killed suspected militants (Sisk, 2002: 20). The reports indicated that the men attacked were wearing traditional Arab garments and one man was taller than the others; consequently, analysts claimed the strike may have killed Osama bin Laden, known for his height (National Post News Services, 2002: A10). Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld used the opportunity to testify before Congress, promoting the new weapon. "If you have an unarmed Predator that’s out there gathering intelligence information and you replace it with an armed Predator, that not only can gather intelligence information, but then can actually fire a Hellfire […] you’ve got different lethality" (in Shanker & Risen, 2002:12).