Bruce Fein writes: Something is rotten in President Barack Obama’s classified, programmatic use of predator drones to target suspected international terrorists for death anywhere on the planet.
The targeting intelligence is suspect.
The program is secret, lawless, and unaccountable to Congress, the Supreme Court, and the American people.
The killings pivot on a principle that will haunt the United States in the future as predator drone capability spreads to China, Russia or otherwise.
And the program is compounding rather than diminishing the international terrorist threat against the United States by creating more revenge-motivated terrorists than are being killing; and, by serving as a calling card for international terrorist recruitment. That explains why high level military and intelligence officials in the Obama administration concede that 14 years after 9/11 the United States is more imperiled by international terrorism than ever before.
Depend upon it. If the predator drone program were suspended for six months on a trial basis, international terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia aimed at the United States would contract. The foundation would be laid for terminating the entire program and making the United States safer. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: About once a month, staff members of the congressional intelligence committees drive across the Potomac River to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., and watch videos of people being blown up.
As part of the macabre ritual the staff members look at the footage of drone strikes in Pakistan and other countries and a sampling of the intelligence buttressing each strike, but not the internal C.I.A. cables discussing the attacks and their aftermath. The screenings have provided a veneer of congressional oversight and have led lawmakers to claim that the targeted killing program is subject to rigorous review, to defend it vigorously in public and to authorize its sizable budget each year.
That unwavering support from Capitol Hill is but one reason the C.I.A.’s killing missions are embedded in American warfare and unlikely to change significantly despite President Obama’s announcement on Thursday that a drone strike accidentally killed two innocent hostages, an American and an Italian. The program is under fire like never before, but the White House continues to champion it, and C.I.A. officers who built the program more than a decade ago — some of whom also led the C.I.A. detention program that used torture in secret prisons — have ascended to the agency’s powerful senior ranks. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: When Giovanni Lo Porto was kidnapped by Al Qaeda in Pakistan in January 2012, the nongovernmental organization he worked for was inundated with emails from around the world expressing concern and care.
“It was amazing how many emails we got saying, ‘We hope he’s well,’ ” said Simone Pott, a spokeswoman for the organization, Welthungerhilfe, one of Germany’s biggest agencies specializing in emergency and long-term aid. She remembered him as a “great colleague,” and “vibrant, full of life.”
His kidnapping prompted a huge response, she said. “He had friends all over the world.”
As those friends and colleagues learned Thursday that Mr. Lo Porto, 37, along with an American hostage, had been killed in a United States counterterrorism operation in Pakistan three months earlier, they recalled a driven and experienced aid worker who was drawn to those in need. Italian opposition parties used news of his death to criticize the country’s leadership and its involvement in the Middle East, and some of his supporters questioned whether enough had been done to secure his freedom. [Continue reading…]
When white civilians die in US drone strikes the President appolgizes, when brown civilians die in US drone strikes it's business as usual.
— Yousef Munayyer (@YousefMunayyer) April 23, 2015
The New York Times reports: Barack Obama inherited two ugly, intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he became president and set to work to end them. But a third, more covert war he made his own, escalating drone strikes in Pakistan and expanding them to Yemen and Somalia.
The drone’s vaunted capability for pinpoint killing appealed to a president intrigued by a new technology and determined to try to keep the United States out of new quagmires. Aides said Mr. Obama liked the idea of picking off dangerous terrorists a few at a time, without endangering American lives or risking the yearslong bloodshed of conventional war.
“Let’s kill the people who are trying to kill us,” he often told aides.
By most accounts, hundreds of dangerous militants have, indeed, been killed by drones, including some high-ranking Qaeda figures. But for six years, when the heavy cloak of secrecy has occasionally been breached, the results of some strikes have often turned out to be deeply troubling.
Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess. [Continue reading…]
Micah Zenko notes: Based upon the averages within the ranges provided by the New America Foundation, the Long War Journal, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been an estimated 522 U.S. targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 9/11, which have killed 3,852 people, 476 (or 12 percent) of whom were civilians.
However, whenever human rights groups produce credible reports about non-American civilians who are unintentionally killed, U.S. officials and spokespersons refuse to provide any information at all, and instead refer back to official policy statements — which themselves appear to contradict how the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations is supposed to be practiced. Moreover, even within traditional battlefields like Afghanistan or Iraq, the U.S. government refuses to provide information about harm caused to civilians. Last year in Afghanistan alone, the United Nations documented 104 civilian deaths “from aerial operations by international military forces.” There were no statements from the relevant military commanders or White House about any of these victims.
Earlier this month, during a question-and-answer session at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, CIA director John Brennan pledged:
“We, the U.S. government, the U.S. military, are very, very careful about taking action that’s going to have collateral civilian impact. A lot of these stories that you hear about — in terms of ‘Oh my god, there are hundreds of civilians killed,’ whatever — a lot of that is propaganda that is put out by those elements that are very much opposed to the U.S. coming in and helping.”
“Propaganda.” That’s how U.S. officials deride research that challenges their assertions.
Unfortunately, there have been hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. counterterrorism operations, despite the very real precautions that the CIA and military undertake to prevent them. This is why, as I have written often previously, the United States has an obligation to those American and non-American civilians killed by drones to commission a study into U.S. targeted killing policies similar to the extensive one conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Without a full and complete accounting of this lethal tactic that has come to define U.S. foreign policy throughout the world, we will always be forced to rely upon the selective pledges provided by U.S. officials. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: A U.S. drone strike in January targeting a suspected al Qaeda compound in Pakistan inadvertently killed an American and Italian being held hostage by the group, senior Obama administration officials said.
The killing of American development expert Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto is the first known instance in which the U.S. has accidentally killed a hostage in a drone strike.
The mishap represents a major blow to the Central Intelligence Agency and its covert drone program in Pakistan, which President Barack Obama embraced and expanded after coming to office in 2009.
The incident also underscores the limits of U.S. intelligence and the risk of unintended consequences in executing a targeted killing program which, according to human rights groups, endangers civilians. U.S. officials say the strikes are needed to combat al Qaeda. To mitigate the risks, officials say the CIA won’t launch missiles at a suspected target if they know civilians are present. [Continue reading…]
Jeremy Scahill reports: A top-secret U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.
Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.
The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said. [Continue reading…]
Conor Friedersdorf writes: Some of the most powerful people in the U.S. government wanted to kill Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh. The military, the CIA, and an influential Republican member of Congress all argued that a drone should be sent to kill the American.
Now he is in custody.
And if convicted of all charges that he faces, he’ll get a maximum of 15 years in prison–the same sentence that a brother and sister in Missouri got for growing marijuana.
How can a person narrowly escape extrajudicial assassination, get extradited to the United States, appear inside our judicial system, and face just 15 years in prison? Powerful people were prepared to end his life, but the extent of what they’re willing to prove beyond a reasonable doubt wouldn’t even draw a life sentence. [Continue reading…]
Time: A landmark case may open the door for a possible multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit launched by relatives of the alleged 960 civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan
A senior judge in Pakistan has ordered police to formally investigate former CIA agents for allegedly authorizing a 2009 drone strike.
If the case moves forward, it may subject the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to sensitive police investigations and even result in U.S. citizens for the first time being charged with murder for covert drone strikes in the South Asian nation.
Last Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court ordered police to open a criminal case against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John A. Rizzo for murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.
The New York Times reports: A Texas-born man suspected of being an operative for Al Qaeda stood before a federal judge in Brooklyn this month. Two years earlier, his government debated whether he should be killed by a drone strike in Pakistan.
The denouement in the hunt for the man, Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who was arrested last year in Pakistan based on intelligence provided by the United States, came after a yearslong debate inside the government about whether to kill an American citizen overseas without trial — an extraordinary step taken only once before, when the Central Intelligence Agency killed the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.
Mr. Farekh’s court appearance also came as the Obama administration was struggling to fashion new guidelines for targeted killings. The decision to use an allied intelligence service to arrest Mr. Farekh has bolstered a case made by some that capturing — rather than killing — militant suspects, even in some of the world’s most remote places, is more feasible than the orders for hundreds of drone strikes might indicate.
“This is an example that capturing can be done,” said Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies counterterrorism strikes.
The Obama administration’s discussions about the fate of Mr. Farekh, who used the nom de guerre Abdullah al-Shami, began in earnest in 2012, and in the months that followed the C.I.A. and the Pentagon ramped up surveillance of his movements around Pakistani tribal areas.
Drones spotted him several times in the early months of 2013, and spy agencies used a warrant issued by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor his communications. The Pentagon nominated Mr. Farekh to be placed on a so-called kill list for terrorism suspects; C.I.A. officials also pushed for the White House to authorize his killing. [Continue reading…]
What is left out of this analysis is consideration of the basic premise that any individual suspected terrorist can pose a national security threat.
The hysteria surrounding terrorism that has become embedded in the American worldview, presupposes that anyone who can be labelled a terrorist is inherently dangerous.
If the same line of thinking was applied across criminal law, then someone could be accused of being a murderer without committing murder.
The task of law enforcement would be to track down individuals who supposedly had a proclivity to commit crimes and could thus be convicted of being murderers, thieves, frauds, and so forth, because criminality was seen to be invested in the person rather than their actions.
This is what makes trials for terrorism difficult: prosecutors often seem to have more conviction that the accused is a terrorist than they have evidence to back up that claim.
Another issue lurking behind the Obama administration’s debate on the expediency of assassination is that the U.S. government and apparently many Americans have far fewer qualms if the targets are non-Americans.
If President Obama was to sign an executive order prohibiting the assassination of American citizens, would the ACLU commend him for doing so?
Why should the assassination of Americans be treated as a graver issue than the practice of targeted killing itself?
Drones seemed to come out of nowhere, sexy as the latest iPhones and armed to kill. They were all-seeing eyes in the sky (“a constant stare,” as drone promoters liked to say) and surgically precise in their ability to deliver death to evildoers. Above all, without pilots in their cockpits, they were, in terms of the human price of war (at least when it came to the lives that mattered to us), cost free. They transformed battle into a video-game experience, leaving the “warriors” — from pilots to generals — staring at screens. What could possibly go wrong?
As it happened, so much went wrong. It often proved hard for the drone operators to tell what exactly they were seeing on those video feeds of theirs and mistakes were regularly made. In addition, drones turned out to kill with a remarkable lack of discrimination, while putting whole rural populations that fell under Washington’s robotic gaze into a state of what, if they had been American soldiers, we would have called PTSD. Worse yet, as recent events in Yemen indicate, drones proved remarkably effective weapons not in staunching terror outfits but in spreading terror, and so became powerful recruitment tools for extremist groups. In rural societies repeatedly attacked by the grimly named Predators and Reapers, the urge for revenge was apparent.
Drones were, that is, terror instigators. Everywhere they were sent by the last two administrations to pursue campaigns of “targeted killing” (i.e. assassination) and “signature strikes” (on suspicious patterns of “behavior” on the ground below, as judged by video from thousands of miles away), extremist groups have grown, societies have fragmented, and things have, from Washington’s point of view, gotten worse. In the process, they turned the White House with its secret “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings into a den of assassins, the CIA into assassination central, and the president into an assassin-in-chief. The drones even took an unexpected toll on their pilots waging a theoretically cost-free war.
From the point of view of drone proponents, one curious thing did go right, however — not in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen or Somalia, but here at home. Even though Americans in multiplexes had for years sided with human rebels against the inhuman gaze of robots on the prowl, they now backed the robots, as opinion polls showed, in part because their reputation here remained remarkably untarnished by their dismal and destructive track record in the distant backlands of the planet.
Now, another kind of “gaze,” another form of “constant stare,” has fallen on the drone and it comes from the least robotic of places. In his new book, A Theory of the Drone, French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou has taken a fresh look at the radically new form of warfare wreaking havoc on fundamental human categories, whether of war, legality, or sovereignty. It’s a fascinating effort to deal with a weapons and surveillance system that turns out not to have arrived out of the blue at all. Today, TomDispatch offers a taste of Chamayou’s original approach, presenting two early chapters from his book on how the drone entered our world and transformed the classic “duel” between warriors into a “hunt” in which an all-seeing, lidless eye-in-the-sky searches out distant humans below as its “prey.” In the meantime, the warriors of the past are, as Chamayou writes, morphing into the executioners of the twenty-first century. It couldn’t be a grimmer tale of post-modernity. Tom Engelhardt
How the Predator and extra-judicial execution became Washington’s calling cards
By Grégoire Chamayou
[The following is slightly adapted from chapters two and three of Grégoire Chamayou’s new book, A Theory of the Drone, with special thanks to his publisher, the New Press.]
Initially, the English word “drone” meant both an insect and a sound. It was not until the outbreak of World War II that it began to take on another meaning. At that time, American artillery apprentices used the expression “target drones” to designate the small remotely controlled planes at which they aimed in training. The metaphor did not refer solely to the size of those machines or the brm-brm of their motors. Drones are male bees, without stingers, and eventually the other bees kill them. Classical tradition regarded them as emblems of all that is nongenuine and dispensable. That was precisely what a target drone was: just a dummy, made to be shot down.
Gary Younge writes: Say what you like about the film American Sniper, and people have, you have to admire its clarity. It’s about killing. There is no moral arc; no anguish about whether the killing is necessary or whether those who are killed are guilty of anything. “I’m prepared to meet my maker and answer for every shot I took,” says Bradley Cooper, who plays the late Chris Kyle, a navy Seal who was reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history. There is certainly no discursive quandary about whether the Iraq war, in which the killing takes place, is either legal or justified. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis,” wrote Kyle in his memoir, where he refers to the local people as “savages”.
The film celebrates a man who has a talent for shooting people dead when they are not looking and who, apparently, likes his job. “After the first kill, the others come easy,” writes Kyle. “I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally. I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people.”
Americans are celebrating the film. It has been nominated for six Oscars and enjoyed the highest January debut ever. When Kyle kills his rival, a Syrian sniper named Mustafa, with a mile-long shot, audiences cheer. It has done particularly well with men and in southern and midwestern markets where the film industry does not expect to win big. And while its appeal is strong in the heartland it has travelled well too, providing career-best opening weekends for Clint Eastwood in the UK, Taiwan, New Zealand, Peru and Italy.
And so it is that within a few weeks of the developed world uniting to defend western culture and Enlightenment values, it produces a popular celluloid hero who is tasked not with satirising Islam, but killing Muslims. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: Death is circling above Helmand Province on the morning of Feb. 7, 2011, in the form of a British Apache combat helicopter named “Ugly 50.” Its crew is searching for an Afghan named Mullah Niaz Mohammed. The pilot has orders to kill him.
The Afghan, who has been given the code name “Doody,” is a “mid-level commander” in the Taliban, according to a secret NATO list. The document lists enemy combatants the alliance has approved for targeted killings. “Doody” is number 3,673 on the list and NATO has assigned him a priority level of three on a scale of one to four. In other words, he isn’t particularly important within the Taliban leadership structure.
The operations center identified “Doody” at 10:17 a.m. But visibility is poor and the helicopter is forced to circle another time. Then the gunner fires a “Hellfire” missile. But he has lost sight of the mullah during the maneuver, and the missile strikes a man and his child instead. The boy is killed instantly and the father is severely wounded. When the pilot realizes that the wrong man has been targeted, he fires 100 rounds at “Doody” with his 30-mm gun, critically injuring the mullah.
The child and his father are two of the many victims of the dirty secret operations that NATO conducted for years in Afghanistan. Their fate is described in secret documents to which SPIEGEL was given access. Some of the documents concerning the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the NSA and GCHQ intelligence services are from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Included is the first known complete list of the Western alliance’s “targeted killings” in Afghanistan. The documents show that the deadly missions were not just viewed as a last resort to prevent attacks, but were in fact part of everyday life in the guerilla war in Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Kenyan police have assassinated nearly 500 terrorism suspects as part of an extrajudicial killing program supported by intelligence provided by Israel and the United Kingdom, an Al Jazeera investigation has revealed.
Officers from four units of Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) said that police assassinated terrorist suspects on government orders.
The police killings, according to an ATPU officer, were ordered by Kenya’s National Security Council and run into the hundreds every year. “Day in, day out, you hear of eliminating suspects,” the officer said.
“Since I was employed, I’ve killed over 50. Definitely, I do become proud because I’ve eliminated some problems,” added another officer.
The ATPU officers contend that Kenya’s weak judicial system had forced them to resort to assassinations, as police have failed to produce strong enough evidence to prosecute terrorism suspects. [Continue reading…]
B’Tselem: During the fighting in Gaza, dozens of residences were bombed while residents were at home. The following infographic lists members of families killed in their homes in 59 incidents of bombing or shelling. In these incidents, 458 people were killed, including 108 women under the age of 60, 214 minors, and 18 people over the age of 60. Mouse over the houses for more details. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: At least 59 Palestinian families suffered multiple casualties over four weeks of Israeli bombardment in Gaza, according to data collated by the Guardian. The youngest casualty was 10-day old Hala Abu Madi, who died on 2 August; the oldest was Abdel al-Masri, aged 97, who was killed on 3 August.
The figures are based on data from three independent Palestinian human rights organisations – the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al Mezan, both based in Gaza, and the West Bank-based Al-Haq; the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem; and the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
However, it is almost certainly an incomplete picture. Systematic identification of bodies and logging of data have been hampered by the sheer scale of the casualties in Gaza – about 2,000 killed in total, and 10,000 wounded – types of injuries, and the need for swift burial.
Among families in which four or more people died, 479 people were killed in total, including 212 children under the age of 18, and 15 people aged 60 and over. The deadliest day was 30 July, when 95 members of 10 families were killed. On 20 July, 65 members of 10 families died, and on 21 July, 71 members of six families were killed.
The Guardian has interviewed six families who suffered multiple casualties. In each case, relatives say there was no warning of attack, and all deny any connection with militant organisations in Gaza.
However, in many cases there may have been a military target among the dead. But the number of women and children killed in such attacks has led human rights organisations and international observers to question whether Israel’s use of force was proportionate and in keeping with the obligation under international law to protect civilians in war.
Hamdi Shaqqura, of the PCHR, said: “What has been significant about this onslaught is the deliberate attacks on families – whole families have been smashed under the rubble. We have documented 134 families, in which two or more members have been hit by Israeli forces – a total of 750 people. [Continue reading…]
Human Rights Watch: Horrific accounts by former detainees in Syria corroborate allegations of mass deaths in custody by a military defector. Four former detainees released from the Sednaya military prison in 2014 described deaths in custody and harsh prison conditions that closely match the allegations of the defector, who photographed thousands of dead bodies in military hospitals in Damascus.
In January, a team of senior international lawyers and forensic experts published a report concluding that Syrian authorities had committed systematic torture and killing of detainees. According to the report, a military defector, code-named Caesar, had taken 55,000 photographs of an estimated 11,000 bodies in military hospitals and other locations in Damascus. The bodies showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing.
“The accounts of the four recently released detainees we interviewed lend further credibility to the already damning evidence about mass deaths in Syria’s prisons,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher. “When the Syrian authorities are held to account, the deaths in custody will be one of the first crimes they will have to answer for.”
All four former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they had witnessed the death of fellow detainees in Sednaya prison in Damascus following a combination of beatings, torture, malnutrition, and disease. The former detainees, who were held for between 21 and 30 months, most of the time at Sednaya, described abhorrent conditions, including overcrowding, lack of food, inadequate heating and ventilation, poor medical services, and extremely poor sanitary conditions that caused detainees to develop skin diseases and diarrhea. The detainees said that they had lost significant weight during their detention. One said that he lost more than half of his body weight, weighing only 50 kilograms when he was released. [Continue reading…]
Jameel Jaffer writes: A federal appellate court’s publication on Monday of the so-called “drone memo” finally allows the American public to evaluate the legal theories that were the basis for one of the Obama administration’s most controversial acts – the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen.
Authored three years ago by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the 41-page memo contends that the president has broad power to carry out the targeted killing of terrorism suspects, even in geographic areas far removed from conventional battlefields.
The publication of the memo is a victory for transparency – the result of hard-fought litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times. (I argued the ACLU’s case before the appellate court.) It is a very rare thing for a federal court in the United States to order the release of information that the government contends is properly classified. In transparency litigation in the national-security sphere, the courts almost invariably defer. That the court declined to defer here suggests that it found the arguments from the Obama administration to be not simply unpersuasive but wholly without foundation.
But despite the release of the drone memo, the American public still does not have the information it needs in order to evaluate the lawfulness and wisdom of its government’s policies. Indeed, to read through the memo is to be reminded of how successful the Obama administration has been at rationing even the most basic information. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: One week after the Obama administration said it would comply with a federal appeals court ruling ordering it to make public portions of a Justice Department memo that signed off on the targeted killing of a United States citizen, the administration is now asking the court for permission to censor additional passages of the document.
In the interim, the Senate voted narrowly last week to confirm David Barron, the former Justice Department official who was the memo’s principal author, to an appeals court judgeship. At least one Democratic senator who had opposed Mr. Barron over the secrecy surrounding his memo voted for him after the administration said it would release it.
The 41-page memo, dated July 16, 2010, cleared the way for a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011 that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen accused by intelligence officials of plotting terrorist attacks. The American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times are seeking the memo’s public disclosure in lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act.[Continue reading…]