For the last three years, the House Unmanned Systems Caucus has fought for the interests of drone manufacturers in the House of Representatives. “The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus’ goal is to educate members of Congress on every facet of this industry,” reads their Chairmen’s message. “We are this industry’s voice on Capitol Hill, and will work closely with industry to ensure we continue to expand this sector through efficient government regulation and oversight.” And now, the House has a sister drone caucus in the Senate.
Everyone is well aware that the drone industry is expanding rapidly. According to a recently unclassified Government Accountability Office report, the number of countries that possess drones rose from 41 in 2005 to 76 by the end of 2011. The report was released shortly after the Defense Department identified 66 countries that are eligible to purchase drones from the United States. As for that business about the industry needing a voice, it’s certainly something it lacks, as the makers and users of the devices refuse to divulge information about them to the public.
How well does that voice reverberate? Pick a member of the caucus and follow the echo to his campaign coffers. During the 2010 election cycle, for example, the drone industry bestowed over $1.7 million on the caucus, securing them ample pull in the south wing of the Capitol. These numbers are pretty good, even by the lofty financial standards of American democracy, so it’s no surprise that the Senate is attempting to get in on the ground floor of this investment. It now has a designated drone faction as well: the Senate Unmanned Aerial Systems Caucus. In a gushing press release, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, praised the bipartisan group and explained, “Unmanned systems extend human potential, allowing us to execute dangerous or difficult tasks safely and efficiently. Whether bolstering search and rescue efforts; studying and aiding in natural and man-made disasters; or supporting security missions and protecting the environment, unmanned systems are capable of saving time, saving money and, more importantly, saving lives.”
The Senate Unmanned Aerial Systems Caucus was formed by Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Manchin has his problems. His career as Senator has been defined by allegiance to his corporate backers. It can be reasonably assumed that he’ll be going on the offensive for the drone lobby: Manchin is the former president of Energysystems, a gig which earned him over $1.7 million and solidified his political interests for the cause of coal. He’s fought against health regulations on the business and directed a lawsuit against the EPA to fight against their mountaintop removal standards. “He’s been nothing but a mouthpiece for the coal industry his whole public life,” Jim Sconyers, of the Sierra Club, has observed.
However, none of this chicanery comes close to the issues that arise when contemplating the fact that Jim Inhofe is also running the caucus. The economics of the situation seem clear enough. Inhofe envisions Oklahoma as a leader in drone technology – and there are reasons to take him seriously. It was picked as the first state to be used as a testing site for drones that could be used for first responders; the Tulsa area has a booming aerospace industry; and a sensor system center is planned for the University of Oklahoma. According to Oklahoma’s Governor, Mary Fallin, “Oklahoma is committed to becoming the number one place for [unmanned aerial systems] operations, research, experimentation, design and testing in the country.”
There’s another element to Inhofe’s support of drones, beyond the predictable narratives of unfettered capitalism, which should warrant examination: His religious beliefs and opinions. In his books on the religious right, investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet has detailed Inhofe’s role as a member of, the controversial religious organization, The Family. “When he first campaigned for Senate in 1994, he told voters that he was running on the ‘three Gs—God, gays, and guns,‘" writes Sharlet. “He once took to the floor of the Senate with a giant photograph of his children and grandchildren and announced, ‘I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.’"
Inhofe has taken a number of trips to Africa to spread what he calls his “Jesus thing”, to the tune of $187,000 in public funds. These missions won him the confidence of David Bahati, author of the Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would bestow the death penalty on gays. It’s a connection that Inhofe denied this past March, when interviewed by Rachel Maddow, but Sharlet quickly debunked the Senator’s assertions via Twitter.
A glaring fact about American drone strikes: they primarily kill Muslims. Where has Inhofe’s faith led him on the subject of Islam? Let’s take a look at five intriguing Inhofe facts that concern Muslims.
He doesn’t think Muslims were Tortured at Guantanamo
“There has never been a case of torture [at Guantanamo Bay],” Inhofe declared at Town Hall meeting in 2009. “The people there are treated better than in the federal prisons”
He Thinks the West Bank Belongs to Israel because The Bible Says So
From a Senate Floor Statement in 2002: “I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel; that it has a right to the land. This is the most important reason: Because God said so. As I said a minute ago, look it up in the Book of Genesis. It is right up there on the desk. In Genesis 13:14–17, the Bible says: ‘The Lord said to Abraham, “Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward and westward: for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever . . .. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to thee.” That is God talking.’
“The Bible says that Abraham removed his tent and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar before the Lord. Hebron is in the West Bank. It is at this place where God appeared to Abraham and said, “I am giving you this land — the West Bank”. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.”
That same year Inhofe suggested the 9/11 attacks were God’s retribution for the United States failing to adequately back Israel.
He Thinks Judge David Hamilton is a Secret Muslim
After being nominated to the federal bench by Obama, Inhofe explained, “Many remember David Hamilton because of his 2005 decision as a Federal district court judge presiding over the case Hinrichs v. Bosmah, in which he enjoined the Speaker of Indiana’s House of Representatives from permitting ‘sectarian’ prayers to be offered as part of that body’s official proceedings, meaning that the chaplain or whomever opened the proceedings with prayer could not invoke the name of Jesus Christ…Hamilton stated that invoking the name of ‘Allah’ would not advance a particular religion or disparage another. So, praying to Allah would be perfectly acceptable.”
What Hamilton actually said was this: “The Speaker has also asked whether, for example, a Muslim imam may offer a prayer addressed to “Allah.” The Arabic word “Allah” is used for “God” in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures. If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others. If and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court.”
He Thinks America’s Reaction to the Libyan Embassy Attack Appeased Muslims
He was completely pissed over Hilary Clinton’s boring speeches about how, “we have to respect the Muslims.” “The mindset in the Middle East doesn’t respond to appeasement,” Inhofe explained. “They only know strength and conflict.”
He Supports Profiling Because “Probably 90 Percent” of Terrorists are Muslims
From a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing on the Fort Hood Shooting: “I’m, for one — I know it’s not politically correct to say it — I believe in racial and ethnic profiling. I think if you’re looking at people getting on an airplane and you have X amount of resources to get into it, you get at the targets, and not my wife. And I just think it’s something that should be looked into. The statement that’s made, it’s probably 90 percent true with some exceptions like the Murrah federal office building in my state, Oklahoma. Those people, they were not Muslims, they were not Middle Easterners. But when you hear that not all Middle Easterners or Muslims between the age of 20 and 35 are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims or Middle Easterners between the age of 20 and 35, that’s by and large true.”
Inhofe’s anti-Muslim bias should be a teachable moment for those skeptical about America’s drone use. While many drone critics focus on issues of privacy, transparency, and legality, they often neglect to strongly identify the biggest problem with the devices: they are being used, by our government, as instruments of war and killing a great number of people. In an essay criticizing this incomplete critique, the journalist Madiha Tahir writes, “The only question here is how many ‘civilians’ versus ‘militants’ are killed; that is, if we could just get the calculus right, there would be no further ethical or political questions. Such a position merely calls for the legalization of an illegal war. It is a sensibility of rules without a sense of principle. Rather than questioning from where we have come and where we are going, it simply asks that the trains run on time.”
“Federal policies and legislation relating to unmanned systems are still in its infancy and concerns of the platforms need to be addressed,” says Inhofe.
If any of those concerns involve a multitude of dead Muslim civilians, do you really think he will take them to the drone industry?