A General Atomics YMQ-9 Reaper "Predator B" Drone. (Photo: John Sloan / Flickr)
Unarmed Predator B drones, the same unmanned aircraft used by the CIA for targeted killings in the Middle East, began patrolling the US-Mexico border between Arizona and southwestern Texas this week.
Top lawmakers from Texas and Arizona, several of whom have recently received campaign contributions from drone makers, have asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to approve drone flights over the entire Texas border despite recent reports that the border is the safest it's been in years.
The announcement came amid rising tensions in the region, where US Border Patrol officers have killed two Mexican citizens in as many weeks, including a teenage boy who was shot after throwing rocks.
"I'm pleased to see that the FAA has finally approved Predator patrols over this portion of the Texas-Mexico border," said Sen. Kay Hutchinson (R-Texas). "This is progress, but we have much more work to do to secure our borders. The American people are terribly upset, scared, and angry with the Federal Government, and they don't understand why we aren't doing more."
The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has operated four drones out of Arizona since 2005, but that was not enough for Hutchinson and her allies. In late May, she introduced an amendment to the emergency supplemental war funding bill that would give the CBP $144 million to monitor all 2,000 miles of the border with drones seven days a week.
A spokeswoman for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the company that manufactures the Predator B drone, told Truthout that the price of a Predator varies per customer, but usually runs between $10 and $12 million.
The political watchdog web site opensecrets.org reports that, in 2010, Hutchinson has received $15,000 in campaign contributions from a Political Action Committee (PAC) affiliated with Vaught Aircraft, a company that manufactures wings for the Global Hawk, a drone flown by the Air Force and Navy. Amendment co-sponsor Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) received $25,350 this year from a PAC and individuals in the Raytheon Co., a large military contractor that makes detection and ranging equipment for the Predator B drone.
A recent Associated Press report suggests that the intensifying militarization of the border is more about politics than addressing any legitimate security concerns.
"The border is safer now than it's ever been," CBP spokesman Lloyd Easterling told The Associated Press.
The top four big cities with the lowest violent crime rates in the US are located in border states, according to the report. The cities are Phoenix, San Diego, El Paso and Austin. Violent crime along the border declined in 2009 for the first time in seven years, and only 3 percent of border patrol officers were assaulted last year, compared to 11 percent of police officers and sheriff's deputies.
Violent crime rates in the state of Arizona, home to the controversial immigration law that has angered civil rights and immigrant supporters, dropped 19 percent between 2002 and 2008, according to the US Department of Justice.
Just don't tell that to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. In late May, she wrote a letter to the White House requesting dozens of drones and helicopters be deployed in her state to hunt illegal immigrants. Her letter likened the immigration issue to the wars overseas.
Brewer should be careful what she wishes for. The CIA's habit of using drones for assassinations and targeted killings overseas recently came under international scrutiny. A report presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday claims that, while targeted killings of combatants may be permitted in armed conflict situations, the tactic is increasingly being used far from any formal battlefield. The report states, "this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other States can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial killings."
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the government on March 16 over a Freedom of Information Act request on the legal justification for the use of drones in the war on terror. The original request, filed in January, specifically seeks information on when, where and against whom the drone strikes can be authorized, and any information on the rate of civilian casualties caused by unmanned drones.