Kissinger still at work covering up his war crimes

In an interview broadcast on NPR on Saturday, “realist” supremo, Henry Kissinger, made this extraordinary statement:

I think we would find, if you study the conduct of [the military], that the Obama administration has hit more targets on a broader scale than the Nixon administration ever did. And, of course, B-52s have a different bombing pattern.

On the other hand, drones are far more deadly because they are much more accurate. And I think the principle is essentially the same. You attack locations where you believe people operate who are killing you. You do it in the most limited way possible. And I bet if one did an honest account, there were fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia than there have been from American drone attacks. [My emphasis.]

kissingerObviously, Kissinger’s purpose in making this claim is not to portray President Obama as a war criminal. After all, Obama often acts like one of Kissinger’s most devoted students.

Kissinger wants to be seen as having done during the Vietnam war what any American in his position would have done. And since from the American public there has been little opposition to Obama’s use of drones, Kissinger hopes to liken himself to Obama and thereby shed his image as a war criminal.

There’s no doubt that Obama’s use of drones has been cynical, counter-productive, and indeed a criminal exercise in extra-judicial killing. But for Kissinger to claim that more civilians have been killed by drones than he killed by carpet bombing Cambodia is outrageous, absurd, and patently false.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has been the leader in documenting the effects of America’s drone wars. Its estimate of the number of casualties in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 2002 is at least 571 and at most 1225 civilian deaths.

In the four-year secret bombing campaign of Cambodia which Kissinger instigated, “the U.S. dropped 540,000 tons of bombs, killing anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 civilians.”

The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002) describes how this happened:

Kissinger is now 91 and no doubt increasingly preoccupied with how he will be remembered after his death. Americans born after the Vietnam era might view him as a figure from the past (if they view him in any way at all), but no one should underestimate his enduring influence. Ironically, his realist worldview has tacitly been accepted even by people who identify themselves as anti-interventionists and opponents of war and for whom Kissinger might be one of the despised characters in American history.

In post 9/11 America, even those who are willing to argue that U.S. foreign policy should be informed by humanitarian principles also feel compelled to bow towards U.S. national interests. For instance, in as much as there was any debate about military intervention in Syria after the chemical attacks a year ago, the element in the argument that carried more weight than any other was America’s national interest. The wide consensus that America had no appetite to become entangled in another war and that getting dragged into the war in Syria would not serve our interests, overshadowed any consideration about what might serve the interests of the Syrian people. Their appeals for international support in their struggle to overthrow Assad have fallen on deaf ears among those who believe that there is no cause greater than the pursuit of our national interests.

Likewise, when it comes to a global issue such as climate change, America’s role in having precipitated the crisis and the fact that world’s poor living in flood-prone countries such as Bangladesh will suffer the worst consequences, appear to be of less influence in shaping American public opinion than are perceptions of how much the U.S. will be affected. In other words, to the extent that Americans believe this country can adapt and even prosper, the expectation that we can live while millions of others die, makes climate change look like a manageable problem.

Kissinger doesn’t have to worry about his legacy because with very few exceptions, Americans are all Kissingers now.

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Yemeni victims of U.S. military drone strike get more than $1 million in compensation

The Washington Post reports: The Yemeni government paid the families of those killed or injured in a U.S. drone strike last year more than $1 million, according to documents that provide new details on secret condolence payments seen as evidence that civilians with no ties to al-Qaeda were among the casualties.

The documents, which are signed by Yemeni court officials and victims’ relatives, record payouts designed to quell anger over a U.S. strike that hit vehicles in a wedding party and prompted a suspension of the U.S. military’s authority to carry out drone attacks on a dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate.

The records reveal payments that are many times larger than Yemeni officials acknowledged after the strike. The $1 million-plus figure also exceeds the total amount distributed by the U.S. military for errant strikes in Afghanistan over an entire year.

The documents also contain other details, including the identities of those killed or wounded in the Dec. 12 operation by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Among them were a father and son with identification cards listing them as associates of a Yemeni organization working to curb Islamist militancy. [Continue reading...]

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Nothing says ‘sorry our drones hit your wedding party’ like $800,000 and some guns

Gregory D. Johnsen writes: Muhammad al-Tuhayf was relaxing at his house late in the afternoon on Dec. 12, 2013, when his iPhone rang. A boxy, tired-looking Yemeni shaykh with large hands and a slow voice, Tuhayf heard the news: A few miles from where he was sitting, along a rutted-out dirt track that snaked through the mountains and wadis of central Yemen, U.S. drones had fired four missiles at a convoy of vehicles. Drone strikes were nothing new in Yemen — there had been one four days earlier, another one a couple weeks before that, and a burst of eight strikes in 12 days in late July and August that had set the country on edge. But this one was different: This time the Americans had hit a wedding party. And now the government needed Tuhayf’s help.

The corpses had already started to arrive in the provincial capital of Radaa, and by the next morning angry tribesmen were lining the dead up in the street. Laid out side by side on bright blue tarps and wrapped in cheap blankets, what was left of the men looked distorted by death. Heads were thrown back at awkward angles, splattered with blood that had caked and dried in the hours since the strike. Faces that had been whole were now in pieces, missing chunks of skin and bone, and off to one side, as if he didn’t quite belong, lay a bearded man with no visible wounds.

Clustered around them in a sweaty, jostling circle, dozens of men bumped up against one another as they struggled for position and a peek at the remains. Above the crowd, swaying out over the row of bodies as he hung onto what appeared to be the back of a truck with one hand, a leathery old Yemeni screamed into the crowd. “This is a massacre,” he shouted, his arm slicing through the air. “They were a wedding party.” Dressed in a gray jacket and a dusty beige robe with prayer beads draped over his dagger, the man was shaking with fury as his voice faltered under the strain. “An American drone killed them,” he croaked with another wild gesture from his one free hand. “Look at them.”

A few miles outside of town, Tuhayf already knew what he had to do. This had happened in his backyard; he was one of the shaykhs on the ground. Only three hours south of the capital, the central government held little sway in Radaa. Like a rural sheriff in a disaster zone, he was a local authority, someone who was known and respected. And on Dec. 12, that meant acting as a first responder. Tuhayf needed to assess the situation and deal with the fallout. Every few minutes his phone went off again, the marimba ringtone sounding with yet another update. Already he was hearing reports that angry tribesmen had cut the road north. Frightened municipal employees, worried that they might be targeted, kept calling, begging for his help. So did the governor, who was three hours away at his compound in Sanaa.

It didn’t take Tuhayf long to reach a conclusion. The Americans had made a mess, and to clean it up he was going to need money and guns.

This is the other side of America’s drone program: the part that comes after the missiles fly and the cars explode, when the smoke clears and the bodies are sorted. Because it is here, at desert strike sites across the Middle East, where unsettling questions emerge about culpability and responsibility — about the value of a human life and assessing the true costs of a surgical war.

For much of the past century, the United States has gone to war with lawyers, men and women who follow the fighting, adjudicating claims of civilian casualties and dispensing cash for errors. They write reports and interview survivors. But what happens when there are no boots on the ground? When the lawyers are thousands of miles away and dependent on aerial footage that is as ambiguous as it is inconclusive? How do you determine innocence or guilt from a pre-strike video? When everyone has beards and guns, like they do in rural Yemen, can you tell the good guys from the bad? Is it even possible? And when the U.S. gets it wrong, when it kills the wrong man: What happens then? Who is accountable when a drone does the killing? [Continue reading...]

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How the U.S. stumbled into the #drone era

The Wall Street Journal reports: On Sept. 7, 2000, in the waning days of the Clinton administration, a U.S. Predator drone flew over Afghanistan for the first time. The unmanned, unarmed plane buzzed over Tarnak Farms, a major al Qaeda camp. When U.S. analysts later pored over video footage from this maiden voyage, they were struck by the image of a commandingly tall man clad in white robes. CIA analysts later concluded that he was Osama bin Laden.

From that first mission, the drone program has grown into perhaps the most prominent instrument of U.S. counterterrorism policy — and, for many in the Muslim world, a synonym for American callousness and arrogance. The U.S. has used drones to support ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and, particularly under President Barack Obama, to hammer the high command of al Qaeda. A recent study by the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., estimates that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 2,000 to 4,000 people. Other countries are trying to get into the act, including Iran, which U.S. officials say has flown drones over Iraq during the current crisis there.

Drones seem to be everywhere these days, buzzing into civilian life and even pop culture. French players complained before the World Cup that a mysterious drone-borne camera had spied on their training sessions. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos hopes to use drones for faster home delivery. Tom Cruise starred last summer as a futuristic drone repairman in the sci-fi thriller “Oblivion,” and Captain America himself faced down lethal super-drones in this spring’s “The Winter Soldier.” Hollywood is even using drones in real life, helping to film such tricky scenes as the chase early in the 2012 James Bond caper “Skyfall,” when Daniel Craig as 007 races across the rooftops of Istanbul.

But as ubiquitous as Predators, Reapers, Global Hawks and their ilk may now seem, the U.S. actually stumbled into the drone era. Washington got into the business of using drones for counterterrorism well before 9/11—not out of any steely strategic design or master plan but out of bureaucratic frustration, bickering and a series of only half-intentional decisions. [Continue reading...]

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Peter Van Buren: Undue process in Washington

What a world we’re in. Thanks to smartphones, iPads, and the like, everyone is now a photographer, but it turns out that, in the public landscape, there’s ever less to photograph. So here are a few tips for living more comfortably in a photographically redacted version of our post-9/11 world.

Even if you’re a professional photographer, don’t try to take a picture of Korita Kent’s “Rainbow Swash.”  It’s “one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world,” painted atop a 140-foot-high liquefied natural gas tower in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  James Prigoff, a former senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation and a known photographer, tried to do so and was confronted by two security guards who stopped him.  Later, though he left no information about himself and was in a rented car, he was tracked down by the FBI.  Evidently he had been dumped into the government’s Suspicious Activity Reporting program run by the Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security.  (And when you end up on a list like that, we know that it’s always a living hell to get off it again.)  He sums up his situation this way: “So, consider this: A professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark is now considered to be engaged in suspicious terrorist activity?”

And while you’re at it, don’t photograph the water tower in Farmer’s Branch, Texas (as professional photographer Allison Smith found out), or planes taxiing to takeoff at the Denver airport (if you have a Middle Eastern look to you), or that dangerous “Welcome to Texas City” sign (as Austin photographer Lance Rosenfield discovered when stopped by BP security guards and only let off after “a stern lecture about terrorists and folks wandering around snapping photos”), or even the police handcuffing someone on the street from your own front lawn (as Rochester, New York, neighborhood activist Emily Good was doing when the police cuffed and arrested her for the criminal misdemeanor of “obstructing governmental administration”).

The ACLU has just launched a suit challenging that Suspicious Activity Reporting database, claiming quite correctly — as Linda Lye, one of their lawyers, puts it — that the “problem with the suspicious-activity reporting program is that it sweeps up innocent Americans who have done nothing more than engage in innocent, everyday activity, like buying laptops or playing video games. It encourages racial and religious profiling, and targets constitutionally protected activity like photography.”

You know the old phrase, “it’s a free world?”  Well, don’t overdo it any more, thank you very much.  Your safety, your security, and the well-being of an ever-expanding, ever more aggressive national (and local) security state and its various up-arming and up-armoring policing outfits increasingly trump that freedom.  And let’s face it, when it comes to your safety not from most of the real dangers of our American lives but from “terrorism,” freedom itself really has been oversold.  Remember the famous phrase from the height of the Cold War era, “better dead than red”?  It seems to have been updated without the commies.  Now, it’s something like: “better surveilled than sorry.”  And based on that, all behavior is fast becoming potentially suspicious behavior.

Since 2013, State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has been covering our new world of constricting freedoms in what he’s termed “Post-Constitutional America” for TomDispatch.  With this look at the government’s newfound “right” to kill an American citizen without due process, he completes a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights, the previous two parts having focused on the First Amendment and the Fourth AmendmentTom Engelhardt 

Dead is dead
Drone-killing the Fifth Amendment
By Peter Van Buren

You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted — about one-third of the text is missing — Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.

Due Process in Constitutional America

Looking back on the violations of justice that characterized British rule in pre-Constitutional America, it is easy to see the Founders’ intent in creating the Fifth Amendment. A government’s ability to inflict harm on its people, whether by taking their lives, imprisoning them, or confiscating their property, was to be checked by due process.

Due process is the only requirement of government that is stated twice in the Constitution, signaling its importance. The Fifth Amendment imposed the due process requirement on the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment did the same for the states. Both offer a crucial promise to the people that fair procedures will remain available to challenge government actions. The broader concept of due process goes all the way back to the thirteenth-century Magna Carta.

Due process, as refined over the years by the Supreme Court, came to take two forms in Constitutional America. The first was procedural due process: people threatened by government actions that might potentially take away life, liberty, or possessions would have the right to defend themselves from a power that sought, whether for good reasons or bad, to deprive them of something important. American citizens were guaranteed their proverbial “day in court.”

The second type, substantive due process, was codified in 1938 to protect those rights so fundamental that they are implicit in liberty itself, even when not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution. Had the concept been in place at the time, a ready example would have been slavery. Though not specifically prohibited by the Constitution, it was on its face an affront to democracy. No court process could possibly have made slavery fair. The same held, for instance, for the “right” to an education, to have children, and so forth. Substantive due process is often invoked by supporters of same-sex unions, who assert that there is a fundamental right to marry. The meaning is crystal clear: there is an inherent, moral sense of “due process” applicable to government actions against any citizen and it cannot be done away with legally. Any law that attempts to interfere with such rights is inherently unconstitutional.

[Read more...]

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As Israel strikes Gaza, the U.S. strikes Pakistan

The Washington Post reports: A suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least 15 people in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, the deadliest such attack in at least a year.

The strike targeted a house in North Waziristan — where the Pakistani military is engaged in a month-old battle against the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups — as well as a vehicle that was passing nearby, local intelligence officials said. The strike killed at least 15 people, although some officials said at least 20 people died.

“The compound was being used by foreign militants, and some local terrorists were present in the vehicle that got targeted,” said one senior intelligence official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The attack near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan took place in an area suspected of housing fighters affiliated with the Afghan Haqqani network as well as Islamist militants from Uzbekistan, local officials said. One villager said he saw the drone fire at least four missiles.

The last time 15 or more people were killed by a U.S. drone was on July 3, 2013, when a missile strike killed 16 people, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. [Continue reading...]

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Obama’s use of drones for killings risks a war without end

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killings using armed drones risks putting the United States on a “slippery slope” into perpetual war and sets a dangerous precedent for lethal operations that other countries might adopt in the future, according to a report by a bipartisan panel that includes several former senior intelligence and military officials.

The group found that more than a decade into the era of armed drones, the American government has yet to carry out a thorough analysis of whether the costs of routine secret killing operations outweigh the benefits. The report urges the administration to conduct such an analysis and to give a public accounting of both militants and civilians killed in drone strikes.

The findings amount to a sort of report card — one that delivers middling grades — a year after President Obama gave a speech promising new guidelines for drone strikes and greater transparency about the killing operations. The report is especially critical of the secrecy that continues to envelop drone operations and questions whether they might be creating terrorists even as they are killing them.

“There is no indication that a U.S. strategy to destroy Al Qaeda has curbed the rise of Sunni Islamic extremism, deterred the establishment of Shia Islamic extremist groups or advanced long-term U.S. security interests,” the report concludes. [Continue reading...]

The complete report, “Recommendations and Report of the Stimson Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy,” can be read here.

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Obama’s ‘Yemen model’ doesn’t work in Yemen — it’s unlikely to work in Iraq

PRI reports: President Barack Obama sees success against al-Qaeda in Yemen, and wants to use the same model to overcome ISIS in Iraq.

Middle East watcher Gregory Johnsen thinks that’s a bad idea; he’s not even sure what Obama is seeing in Yemen should be called success.

“It just seems that the US doesn’t have a very good grasp of what’s happening on the ground in Yemen or what’s happening on the ground in Iraq, or how to solve either of these problems,” he says.

Johnsen says the US military strategy used to hunt al-Qaeda members in Yemen has been ineffective, or even counterproductive.

“About four-and-a-half years ago, when the US started this program of drone strikes, special forces advisors on the ground, al-Qaeda in Yemen numbered about 200 to 300 people. Now today, there are several thousand people. So what the US is doing in Yemen isn’t working.” [Continue reading...]

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Obama’s ‘drone memo’ is finally public. Now show us the library of secret law

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...]

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Taliban warned U.S. that drones nearly killed Bergdahl

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Taliban warned the U.S. during prisoner-exchange negotiations that led to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl that U.S. drone strikes had come close on several occasions to killing the soldier while he was in captivity, U.S. officials said.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe Sgt. Bergdahl was being held at the time in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where the Central Intelligence Agency carried out an estimated 27 drone strikes in 2013, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank that tracks the drone program. The CIA hasn’t conducted any drone strikes in the tribal areas since Dec. 25, the foundation said. [Continue reading...]

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Obama administration continues to obstruct release of drone strike memo

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...]

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Most U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan attack houses

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: Domestic buildings have been hit by drone strikes more than any other type of target in the CIA’s 10-year campaign in the tribal regions of northern Pakistan, new research reveals.

By way of contrast, since 2008, in neighbouring Afghanistan drone strikes on buildings have been banned in all but the most urgent situations, as part of measures to protect civilian lives. But a new investigative project by the Bureau, Forensic Architecture, a research project based at London’s Goldsmiths University, and New York-based Situ Research, reveals that in Pakistan, domestic buildings continue to be the most frequent target of drone attacks.

The project examines, for the first time, the types of target attacked in each drone strike – be they houses, vehicles or madrassas (religious schools) – and the time of day the attack took place. [Continue reading...]

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The year of living more dangerously: Obama’s drone speech was a sham

Andrea J Prasow writes: A lot can happen in a year. And a lot can’t.

Twelve months ago today, Barack Obama gave a landmark national security speech in which he frankly acknowledged that the United States had at least in some cases compromised its values in the years since 9/11 – and offered his vision of a US national security policy more directly in line with “the freedoms and ideals that we defend.” It was widely praised as “a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America“.

Addressing an audience at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, the president pledged greater transparency about targeted killings, rededicated himself to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and urged Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has been invoked to justify everything from military detention to drones strikes.

A year later, none of these promises have been met. Instead, drone strikes have continue (and likely killed and wounded civilians), 154 men remain detained at Guantanamo and the administration has taken no steps to roll back the AUMF. This is not the sort of change Obama promised. [Continue reading...]

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Drones banned in Yosemite, still buzzing over Yemen

Vanity Fair: Drones are gaining popularity in the United States, as hobbyists and professionals turn to the unmanned aerial vehicles for everything from delivering packages to filming athletes during spring training. But as more and more plastic buzzards take to American skies, authorities continue to fight back against their use. The Federal Aviation Administration has long enraged drone entrepreneurs by dragging its feet when it comes to setting up efficient regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles, and now the National Park Service is piling on as well, reminding visitors of Yosemite that the use of U.A.V.s is prohibited.

The park code in question mandates that “delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit” is illegal. In a Friday press release, the park also noted that the humming of drones “can impact the natural soundscape” and create “an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel,” “cause confusion and distraction for rescue personnel,” and “have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use.”

It’s interesting that potential human inconveniences are noted before concerns about the environmental effect of a would-be army of toy helicopters outfitted with GoPro cameras, but, then again, at least there is any human concern at all. As we’ve noted before, the paranoia and fascination that underlines our domestic discourse about relatively harmless drones is wildly disproportionate to our national disinterest in the use of lethal drones abroad. [Continue reading...]

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Iran’s drone war in Syria

The Daily Beast reports: Iran has been providing Syria’s regime with drones—some of them inspired by American technology—and they’re already playing a significant role in keeping Bashar Assad in power. On Sunday, Tehran announced it had replicated a top-of-the-line U.S. drone it claimed it captured in 2011, raising the possibility it will send still more sophisticated aerial robots into the skies over Damascus.

In some respects, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Iran’s robust drone program dates back to the early 1980s, and it first tried to weaponize the birds some 30 years ago, long before American Predators and Reapers first soared aloft.

The Middle East was the first great proving ground for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as they’re called. During the 1980s, Israel flew drones over Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to spot Syrian artillery and anti-aircraft positions, allowing the Israeli Air Force to knock out the Syrian air defenses with minimal risks to its pilots. At about the same time, Iran began using drones to spy on Iraqi positions in its epic war against Saddam Hussein. It was during that bitter conflict that Iranian engineers crudely mounted Soviet rocket-propelled grenades on their drones and fired them at Iraqi troops. [Continue reading...]

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Pratap Chatterjee: The true costs of remote control war

It’s rare to hear a government official speak in contrite tones; rarer still if that official represents the National Security Agency.  Recently, however, Anne Neuberger, a special assistant to former NSA Director Keith Alexander, did just that.

A year of revelations, courtesy of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, prepared the way.  Since last June, the world has learned that the agency collects information on almost all U.S. domestic phone calls, spies on Internet activity — courtesy of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and Facebook — taps fiber optic cables and other key Internet infrastructure, uses digital dirty tricks to undermine worldwide computer security, breaks its own internal privacy rules, and as Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept revealed earlier this year, is using “complex analysis of electronic surveillance… as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes — an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.” And that’s only the beginning.

In the wake of all of this, Neuberger offered a reply, though you could be excused for not noticing.  After all, she took to DefenseNews TV with her mea culpa.

“Above all, NSA feels a sense of responsibility,” she told interviewer Vago Muradian.  She sounded earnest and everything about her look and gestures suggested penitence.  She talked of understanding and appreciating people’s “concerns” and skated to the very brink of apology more than once.  Was she there to ask for forgiveness?  To admit the NSA had violated the public trust?  To offer up the first evidence of soul-searching at an agency that has, for years, spied upon the most intimate communications of untold numbers of people?

In a word: no.

She was there, it turned out, not to express regret to the many millions of people around the world who have been touched by the agency’s digital tentacles, but as part of a charm offensive aimed at wooing tech companies, whose long-secret cooperation with the NSA has angered their global customers, back into the espionage fold.  “We hear the private sector concerns,” she said.  “We didn’t get out as quickly as we could have, following the media leaks… to explain the roles of the companies, the fact that they are compelled to participate by law, the fact that such programs are really common and almost uniform among Western democracies looking to gather data.”  This was as close as she came to apology for anything. 

The NSA had not done right by its industry partners and, claimed Neuberger, whose official title is director of the agency’s Commercial Solutions Center, was looking to make amends.  The idea was to pave the way for the spy agency and the tech industry to resume their long-running relationship in the digital shadows.  “The core concern we hear,” she told Muradian in a fog of vagueness, “is companies saying ‘we’re global businesses, so while we appreciate the protections for U.S. persons, you need to extend those protections.’” The NSA and the U.S. government, she insisted, hadreally begun taking big steps to address some of those concerns.”

While the National Security Agency may not be engaging in soul-searching, some of the men and women who have been involved in Washington’s drone assassination campaigns in distant parts of the world using the fruits of the NSA’s electronic surveillance and other technological wizardry are stepping forward to do so in an impressive way, as TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee reveals in his latest investigation.  While the NSA works to smooth things over with the tech industry, others are hoping to draw attention to the grave costs of some of the NSA’s activities that Neuberger neglected to mention. Nick Turse

The three faces of drone war
Speaking truth from the robotic heavens
By Pratap Chatterjee

Enemies, innocent victims, and soldiers have always made up the three faces of war. With war growing more distant, with drones capable of performing on the battlefield while their “pilots” remain thousands of miles away, two of those faces have, however, faded into the background in recent years. Today, we are left with just the reassuring “face” of the terrorist enemy, killed clinically by remote control while we go about our lives, apparently without any “collateral damage” or danger to our soldiers. Now, however, that may slowly be changing, bringing the true face of the drone campaigns Washington has pursued since 9/11 into far greater focus.

Imagine if those drone wars going on in Pakistan and Yemen (as well as the United States) had a human face all the time, so that we could understand what it was like to live constantly, in and out of those distant battle zones, with the specter of death. In addition to images of the “al-Qaeda” operatives who the White House wants us to believe are the sole targets of its drone campaigns, we would regularly see photos of innocent victims of drone attacks gathered by human rights groups from their relatives and neighbors. And what about the third group — the military personnel whose lives revolve around killing fields so far away — whose stories, in these years of Washington’s drone assassination campaigns, we’ve just about never heard?

[Read more...]

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How many have we killed with drones?

David Cole writes: On Monday, The New York Times reported that “the Senate has quietly stripped a provision from an intelligence bill that would have required President Obama to make public each year the number of people killed or injured in targeted killing operations in Pakistan and other countries where the United States uses lethal force.” National security officials in the Obama administration objected strongly to having to notify the public of the results and scope of their dirty work, and the Senate acceded. So much for what President Obama has called “the most transparent administration in history.”

The Senate’s decision is particularly troubling in view of how reticent the administration itself continues to be about the drone program. To date, Obama has publicly admitted to the deaths of only four people in targeted killing operations. That came in May 2013, when, in conjunction with a speech at the National Defense University, and, in his words, “to facilitate transparency and debate on the issue,” President Obama acknowledged for the first time that the United States had killed four Americans in drone strikes. But according to credible accounts, Obama has overseen the killing of several thousand people in drone strikes since taking office. Why only admit to the four Americans’ deaths? Is the issue of targeted killings only appropriate for debate when we kill our own citizens? Don’t all human beings have a right to life?

In the NDU speech, President Obama also announced new limits on the use of drones “beyond the Afghan theater.” He proclaimed that drone strikes would be authorized away from the battlefield only when necessary to respond to “continuing and imminent threats” posed by people who cannot be captured or otherwise countermanded. Most important, he said, “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set.” Yet in December, a US drone strike in Yemen reportedly struck a wedding party. The New York Times reported that while some of the victims may have been linked to al-Qaeda, the strike killed “at least a half dozen innocent people, according to a number of tribal leaders and witnesses.” [Continue reading...]

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U.S. senators remove requirement for disclosure over drone strike victims

The Guardian reports: At the behest of the director of national intelligence, US senators have removed a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the president to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and their victims.

The bill authorizing intelligence operations in fiscal 2014 passed out of the Senate intelligence committee in November, and it originally required the president to issue an annual public report clarifying the total number of “combatants” and “noncombatant civilians” killed or injured by drone strikes in the previous year. It did not require the White House to disclose the total number of strikes worldwide.

But the Guardian has confirmed that Senate leaders have removed the language as they prepare to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured them in a recent letter that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes. [Continue reading...]

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