A New Form of MI “Terrorist”: The Friendly Fire One

There was a weird period last spring, as all the fearmongering in the country focused on the underwear bomber sitting in a jail just nineteen miles from me, after the autopsy of an African American imam in Detroit raised new questions about FBI’s pursuit of him as a terrorist, and after some of the only white people indicted under the WMD charges usually reserved for Muslims were arrested in my county, when it felt like Michigan was the melting pot of terrorism. Our local news was full of coverage of the al Qaeda terrorist, the purported black Muslim terrorist, and the alleged Christian militia terrorists all at one time.

Not that it gave me any special wisdom about terrorism, but from my vantage point in MI, self-confident claims about what made and did not make a terrorist always seemed too confident to me.

Which is why I find it particularly tragic that our abstract certainty about who is and who is not a terrorist has led to this: the friendly fire death of two Americans last week–including Navy medic Benjamin Rast from Niles, MI–in a Predator drone strike in Afghanistan.

The investigation is looking into the deaths of a Marine and a Navy medic killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator after they apparently were mistaken for insurgents in southern Afghanistan last week, two senior U.S. defense officials said Tuesday.


Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith of Arlington, Tex., and Seaman Benjamin D. Rast of Niles, Mich., were hit while moving toward other Marines who were under fire in Helmand province.

Perhaps appropriately, the LAT just laid out in chilling detail the ways in which our drone targeting is prone to human error (the LAT article appeared after Smith and Rast were killed but before DOD admitted they were killed by a drone strike). In an effort to bypass unreliable Afghan partners, we have moved increasingly to targeting people who act or look like insurgents. But from 15,000 feet above the ground, with analysis conducted 7,000 miles away, it seems Americans own troops can look like insurgents, too.

My condolences to the families and friends of these men. May we learn a lesson from this about the false certainty that drives our war against terrorism.

  1. orionATL says:

    why would you use a drone and a missile to kill (only) two soldiers.

    why was a drone being deployed in the vicinity of a sweep/search mission or a battlefield?

    apparently, drones are now allowed to circle around troops and pick off whomever the drone operator chooses (of course, with all appropriate up-and-down-the-chain authorizations.

    in other words, drones are now being used like helicopters or tanks, rather than flying missions against the houses and cars of “the enemy”.

    robotic war is now officially on; the future will never be the same. i just can’t wait for the dod budget that funds r&d of american military androids.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    And the peculiarly American certainty that new military “technology” will cure all problems, which adds a painful irony to the term “artificial intelligence”.

  3. MadDog says:

    OT – The DOJ recently sent a letter (7 page PDF) to Spain dated March 1, 2011 (and received by Spain’s Justice Ministry April 8, 2011) regarding Spain’s “Request for Assistance from Spain in the Matter of Addington, David; Bybee, Jay; Feith, Douglas; Haynes, William; Yoo, John; and Gonzalez, Alberto…” (Fredo’s last name is misspelled in the letter but I don’t know whether that was the DOJ or Spain).

    Though the entire letter is “interesting”, I would briefly note this from page 2 after having described why Bybee and Yoo faced no criminal charges or other consequences from the DOJ’s investigation of their work:

    …In addition, the Department of Justice has concluded that it is not appropriate to bring criminal cases with respect to any other executive branch officials, including those named in the complaint, who acted in reliance on these and related OLC memoranda during the course of their involvement with the policies and procedures for detention and interrogation…

    Not fookin’ “appropriate”?

    Other parts of the letter insist that the Durham investigation is still ongoing.