Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Joseba Zulaika's "Hellfire from Paradise Ranch"

Joseba Zulaika received his licentiate in philosophy from the University of Deusto, Spain, in 1975, his M.A. in social anthropology from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, in 1977 and his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Princeton in 1982. He has taught at the University of the Basque Country, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at the University of Nevada, Reno, since 1990, where he is currently affiliated as a researcher with the Basque Studies program.

Zulaika applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hellfire from Paradise Ranch: On the Front Lines of Drone Warfare, and reported the following:
Page 99 references Robert Friedman's 1995 conclusion that the CIA's involvement in the first attack on the World Trade Center was "far greater" than the general public knew and that by 1985 "the CIA had inadvertently managed to do something that America's enemies have been unable to: give terrorism a foothold in the United States." This was not a cheap conspiracy theory but a well documented piece published by The New Yorker. The page is within a section entitled "The Terror Factory"--the title of Trevor Aaronson's book devoted to the alleged terrorist plots that took place in the U.S. during the 2001-11 decade. Having examined all the high-profile terrorism plots, his conclusion is chilling: in 2011 there were 508 "terrorists" in U.S. prisons, but "of the 508 defendants, 243 had been targeted through an FBI informant, 158 had been caught on an FBI terrorism sting, and 49 had encountered an agent provocateur. With the exception of three cases, most of them were smalltime criminals." Except for three cases, 505 out of 508 "terrorists" had been created by the FBI. As one defense lawyer put it, "They're creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror." Aaronson's book is not another cheap conspiracy theory but a well documented case by case report. Page 99 completes and extends these findings to the case of the pivotal figure known as the Blind Sheik, the alleged mentor behind the first attack on the WTC, who was condemned to life in prison on the basis of the FBI informer Emad Salem's testimony. The New York Times reported that Salem "began his testimony by admitting that he had lied to just about everybody he ever met" and that his testimony sounded "like sheer fantasy." But this was the "fantasy" that counterterrorism counted on to indict the Blind Sheik and begin a chain of events that, according to experts such as Peter Bergen, led to 9/11. This is again not a cheap conspiracy theory but a proof of the extent to which terrorism has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Page 99 is representative of the book in that it emphasizes the roles played by "fantasy," "playing terrorist," "narrative and discourse," and "self-fulfilling prophecy" in drone warfare. Drone pilots at Creech Air Base near Las Vegas define themselves literally as "hunters" and look at their victims through the phantasy lens of hunting animals. The killings on the ground are "bugsplat." But the problem with the pilot is that he or she watches the victim for hours and days. The pilot becomes a voyeur of his or her own killings. And there is a limit to how much you can watch. One of the former pilots I met in Las Vegas was Brandon Bryant. His problem was that "I got to know them"--the victims he killed--"I saw them having sex with their wives. They were good daddies." One day, Bryant collapsed at work, spitting blood. He was diagnosed with trauma and released. His scoreboard award stated he had killed 1,626 combatants. Bryant had joined the army at 19 out of high school; "I thought I couldn't kill anyone at all." Another former drone operative I met in Las Vegas was Cian Westmoreland. In a talk he gave in Las Vegas he said he had helped kill 359 innocent civilians in 2009--the same year his commander in chief Obama got a Nobel Prize. Westmoreland is also traumatized by his own killings. Both Bryant and Westmoreland had "seen" too much, to the point of losing their sanity. It is when the pilot realizes that the terrorist enemy he/she has vaporized with a Hellfire missile was also a "good daddy," and that the fantasy one is supposed to believe that the victim is a beastly subhuman monster no longer can hold, that the pilot succumbs to trauma. With the collapse of fantasy, the pilot sees himself/herself as a serial killer and the devastation of trauma sets in. The book begins by describing "the real" of the drone pilots life which is nothing but hunting (chapter 1), to then go to "fantasy and the art of drone assassination" (chapter 2), and the self-fulfilling quality of "drone wars returning from the future" (chapter 3). The last two chapters are on "trauma: the killer as voyeur" (chapter 4) and "resistance: a harsh and dreadful love" (chapter 5). The book ends with an Epilogue on "Obama's Troy: kill me a son."
Learn more about Hellfire from Paradise Ranch at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue