Has the CIA used drones to engaged in contract killing?

Rolling Stone: In a major story in Sunday’s New York Times, national security reporter Mark Mazzetti details the troubling origins of the CIA’s targeted killing program in Pakistan – which he says began in 2004 with the killing of one of that country’s internal enemies, not a member of al Qaeda. The piece, which is adapted from Mazzetti’s new book, The Way of the Knife, also claims that the agency switched to killing accused terrorists – rather than capturing them – because of a 2004 internal review that was highly critical of the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

Targeted killing gave the CIA a way out of the prison business – but into the assassination business – and, as Mazzetti tells it, also a way to get access to Pakistani skies by taking out one of their enemies. Nek Muhammad was a tribal leader who had led a rebellion against Pakistan’s army and had been declared an “enemy of the state.” Pakistan wanted him dead. The CIA wanted access to airspace to conduct drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions, which that country had previously considered a breach of sovereignty. The two countries made a deal – a high-stakes game of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” – that resulted in the CIA killing Nek Muhammad with a Predator drone, and Pakistan opening up part of its skies for CIA use. Pakistan’s military claimed responsibility for the killing, which Mazzetti notes was a lie, and to this day neither country has publicly given the real story.

The revelation that this first target was not part of al Qaeda, but rather a target picked by an ally country, has raised serious questions for critics of the CIA’s actions. “How many other killings have been carried out not pursuant to a strict legal analysis and examination of threat to the U.S., but rather as a bargaining chip, at the request of another government?” Sarah Knuckey, a lawyer and the director of NYU Law School’s Project on Extrajudicial Executions, asks Rolling Stone.

The secrecy in which the targeted killing program is shrouded makes that question impossible to answer conclusively at this time, but there is reason to believe that some of the individuals on the kill list (or lists) are known as “side payment” targets – people who are enemies of a U.S. ally, not the U.S. itself. Blogger Marcy Wheeler has argued that Nek Muhammad’s case “is surely” such a side-payment strike. [Continue reading…]

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