Noah Shachtman writes: President Obama doesn’t like to talk about how he uses drones to kill suspected militants — including American citizens. Explanations about who gets picked for remote-control death and who does the picking are left to underlings and aides. Just a few days ago, for example, Obama blew off a local Cincinnati television reporter who asked the president about his “kill list.”
On Wednesday, however, CNN’s Jessica Yellin managed to get Obama to open up, just a little, about his criteria for approving drone attacks. His comments may have been the president’s most extensive so far on robot warfare. They were also total baloney, outside experts say.
As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism notes, Obama told CNN that a terror suspect had to pass five tests before the administration would allow him to be taken out by a drone. “Drones are one tool that we use, and our criteria for using them is very tight and very strict,” the president said.
- “It has to be a target that is authorised by our laws.”
- “It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.”
- “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”
- “We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.”
- “That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots … they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process.”
At least two of those five points appear to be half-truths at best. In both Yemen and Pakistan, the CIA is allowed to launch a strike based on the target’s “signature” — that is, whether he appears to look and act like a terrorist. As senior U.S. officials have repeatedly confirmed, intelligence analysts don’t even have to know the target’s name, let alone whether he’s planning to attack the U.S. In some cases, merely being a military-aged male at the wrong place at the wrong time is enough to justify your death.
“What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a ‘threat that is serious and not speculative,’ and engaged in ‘some operational plot against the United States,’ That is simply not true,” emails the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, who has tracked the drone war as closely as any outside analyst. [Continue reading…]