2010, the year of assassination by drones

The Asian News International news agency reports:

As many as 2,043 people, mostly civilians, were killed in US drone attacks in northwestern parts of Pakistan during the last five years, a research has revealed.

The yearly report of Conflict Monitoring Centre (CMC) has termed the CIA drone strikes as an ”assassination campaign turning out to be revenge campaign”, and showed that 2010 was the deadliest year ever of causalities resulted in drone-hits in Pakistan.

According to the report, 134 drone attacks were reported in Pakistan’s FATA region in 2010 alone, inflicting 929 causalities. December 17 was the deadliest day of 2010 when three drone attacks killed 54 people in Khyber Agency.

Regarding civilian causalities and attacks on women and children, the report said: “People in the tribal belt usually carry guns and ammunition as a tradition. US drone will identify anyone carrying a gun as a militant and subsequently he will be killed.”

“Many times, people involved in rescue activities also come under attack. The assumption that these people are supporters of militants is quite wrong,” The Nation quoted the CMC report, as stating.

The document cited the Brooking Institute”s research, which suggested that with every militant killed, nearly ten civilians also died.

It also mentioned a related research report of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), which underlined that at least 2,100 civilians were killed and various others injured during 2009, in the ongoing war on terror and drone attacks.

The CMC report, “2010, The Year of Assassination by Drones,” can be read here [PDF].


‘Disappeared’ Pakistanis — innocent and guilty alike — have fallen into a legal black hole

Without a single reference to President Obama’s drone war in Pakistan, extrajudicial detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, the torture of suspected terrorists, CIA-run secret prisons, rendition, presidential authorization to assassinate US citizens, or the United States’ long history of supporting governments that use their power to suppress political dissent by making their opponents “disappear,” the New York Times reports:

The Obama administration is expressing alarm over reports that thousands of political separatists and captured Taliban insurgents have disappeared into the hands of Pakistan’s police and security forces, and that some may have been tortured or killed.

The issue came up in a State Department report to Congress last month that urged Pakistan to address this and other human rights abuses. It threatens to become the latest source of friction in the often tense relationship between the wartime allies.

The concern is over a steady stream of accounts from human rights groups that Pakistan’s security services have rounded up thousands of people over the past decade, mainly in Baluchistan, a vast and restive province far from the fight with the Taliban, and are holding them incommunicado without charges. Some American officials think that the Pakistanis have used the pretext of war to imprison members of the Baluch nationalist opposition that has fought for generations to separate from Pakistan. Some of the so-called disappeared are guerrillas; others are civilians.

“Hundreds of cases are pending in the courts and remain unresolved,” said the Congressionally mandated report that the State Department sent to Capitol Hill on Nov. 23. A Congressional official provided a copy of the eight-page, unclassified document to The New York Times.

Separately, the report also described concerns that the Pakistani military had killed unarmed members of the Taliban, rather than put them on trial.

Two months ago, the United States took the unusual step of refusing to train or equip about a half-dozen Pakistani Army units that are believed to have killed unarmed prisoners and civilians during recent offensives against the Taliban. The most recent State Department report contains some of the administration’s most pointed language about accusations of such so-called extrajudicial killings. “The Pakistani government has made limited progress in advancing human rights and continues to face human rights challenges,” the State Department report concluded. “There continue to be gross violations of human rights by Pakistani security forces.”


Obama’s indiscriminate slaughter in Pakistan can only encourage new waves of militancy

Mehdi Hasan writes:

Speaking at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in May, Barack Obama spotted teen pop band the Jonas Brothers in the audience. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but, boys, don’t get any ideas,” deadpanned the president, referring to his daughters. “Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.” The crowd laughed, Obama smiled, the dinner continued. Few questioned the wisdom of making such a tasteless joke; of the US commander-in-chief showing such casual disregard for the countless lives lost abroad through US drone attacks.

From the moment he stepped foot inside the White House, Obama set about expanding and escalating a covert CIA programme of “targeted killings” inside Pakistan, using Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles (who comes up with these names?) that had been started by the Bush administration in 2004. On 23 January 2009, just three days after being sworn in, Obama ordered his first set of air strikes inside Pakistan; one is said to have killed four Arab fighters linked to al-Qaida but the other hit the house of a pro-government tribal leader, killing him and four members of his family, including a five-year-old child. Obama’s own daughter, Sasha, was seven at the time.

But America’s Nobel-peace-prize-winning president did not look back. During his first nine months in office he authorised as many aerial attacks in Pakistan as George W Bush did in his final three years in the job. And this year has seen an unprecedented number of air strikes. Forget Mark Zuckerberg or the iPhone 4 – 2010 was the year of the drone. According to the New America Foundation thinktank in Washington DC, the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan more than doubled in 2010, to 115. That is an astonishing rate of around one bombing every three days inside a country with which the US is not at war.


The leaks that aren’t really leaks

Glenn Greenwald praises the New York Times for an article which “exposed” planning for an imminent expansion of Obama’s war in Pakistan:

In my view, the NYT article represents exactly the kind of secret information journalists ought to be revealing; it’s a pure expression of why the First Amendment guarantees a free press. There are few things more damaging to basic democratic values than having the government conduct or escalate a secret war beyond public debate or even awareness. By exposing these classified plans, Mazzetti and Filkins did exactly what good journalists ought to do: inform the public about important actions taken or being considered by their government which the government is attempting to conceal.

Moreover, the Obama administration has a history of deceiving the public about secret wars. Recently revealed WikiLeaks cables demonstrated that it was the U.S. — not Yemen — which launched a December, 2009 air strike in that country which killed dozens of civilians; that was a covert war action about which the U.S. State Department actively misled the public, and was exposed only by WikiLeaks cables. Worse, it was The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill who first reported back in 2009 that the CIA was directing ground operations in Pakistan using both Special Forces and Blackwater operatives: only to be smeared by the Obama State Department which deceitfully dismissed his report as “entirely false,” only for recently released WikiLeaks cables to confirm that what Scahill reported was exactly true. These kinds of leaks are the only way for the public to learn about the secret wars the Obama administration is conducting and actively hiding from the public.

The question that emerges from all of this is obvious, but also critical for those who believe Wikileaks and Julian Assange should be prosecuted for the classified information they have published: should the NYT editors and reporters who just spilled America’s secrets to the world be criminally prosecuted as well? After all, WikiLeaks has only exposed past conduct, and never — like the NYT just did — published imminent covert military plans.

I wish I shared Greenwald’s enthusiasm for the NYT’s investigative journalism but I’m highly skeptical that the reporting in this instance should be regarded as an exposé.

What seems much more likely is that the newspaper is simply serving as the means through which classified information can be made public because doing so is thought (by the leakers) to serve policymaking goals — such as applying pressure on Pakistan.

This merely illustrates the fact that those who make the rules can — whenever they see fit — break the rules. No one is at risk of being caught having leaked classified information to the New York Times. The “leaking” was almost certainly authorized at the highest levels of the administration and the New York Times merely acted as a dutiful servant. The paper is very well-trained when it comes to distinguishing between classified information that it has permission to print and that which is verboten.


Will Obama’s war in Pakistan soon escalate to a ground war?

The New York Times reports:

Senior American military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas, a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants there.

The proposal, described by American officials in Washington and Afghanistan, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan, where the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash.

The plan has not yet been approved, but military and political leaders say a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold, as the deadline approaches for the Obama administration to begin withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Even with the risks, military commanders say that using American Special Operations troops could bring an intelligence windfall, if militants were captured, brought back across the border into Afghanistan and interrogated.

The Americans are known to have made no more than a handful of forays across the border into Pakistan, in operations that have infuriated Pakistani officials. Now, American military officers appear confident that a shift in policy could allow for more routine incursions.

America’s clandestine war in Pakistan has for the most part been carried out by armed drones operated by the C.I.A.

Additionally, in recent years, Afghan militias backed by the C.I.A. have carried out a number of secret missions into Pakistan’s tribal areas. These operations in Pakistan by Afghan operatives, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, have been previously reported as solely intelligence-gathering operations. But interviews in recent weeks revealed that on at least one occasion, the Afghans went on the offensive and destroyed a militant weapons cache.


How the Afghan counterinsurgency threatens Pakistan

Anatol Lieven writes:

By now, almost all the likely outcomes of US strategy in Afghanistan are bad ones. They range from unending civil war, with government forces barely managing to hold their own against the Taliban, to de facto partition of the country. There is a chance that the Taliban would accept a settlement involving a timetable for the complete withdrawal of US forces and a neutral central government of respected Muslim figures, together with de facto Taliban control of the Pashtun heartland in the south and Western economic aid. In return they would have to promise to exclude Al Qaeda and crack down on opium cultivation in their areas (as they did in 2000).

Given that most ordinary Taliban fighters, as expressed in a survey organized by Graeme Smith of the Toronto Globe and Mail, want the exit of Western troops and a Muslim (but not necessarily Taliban) government, it’s likely that the rejection of such terms by the Taliban leadership would undermine their support on the ground. This solution would, however, be heavily dependent on the help of Pakistan as a mediator and as one of the regional guarantors of the subsequent settlement.

The top leadership of the Afghan Taliban is based in Pakistani Baluchistan under the protection of Pakistani military intelligence, and Pakistan has prevented the United States from launching drone attacks on them there (in contrast with the intensive campaign against targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the north). Taliban forces use Pakistani territory for rest and recuperation, with the support of the local Pashtun population. Pakistan also has close ties to the two other Afghan Pashtun Islamist forces allied to the Taliban, the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network in the Afghan region of Greater Paktika. All of this gives Pakistan considerable influence over the Afghan Taliban—though it must be stressed that this influence is also limited. Any settlement brokered by Pakistan would have to be one the Taliban could accept without humiliation.

But if Pakistan is vital to a settlement, Pakistan is also vital in itself. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the survival of Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is the most important issue for Western and global security in that region. With six times Afghanistan’s population, plus nuclear weapons, a highly trained 500,000-man army and a huge diaspora (especially in Britain), Pakistan would increase the international terrorist threat by orders of magnitude if it collapsed. There is a widespread (though exaggerated) view in the West that the weakness of the Pakistani state and the strength of Islamist support makes the country’s collapse a real possibility. Leaving aside the danger (as exposed by WikiLeaks) of nuclear materials and skills reaching terrorist groups, the disintegration of the Pakistani army, with its highly trained engineers and anti-aircraft forces, would vastly increase the “conventional” terrorist threat to India and the West.


“No Pakistani child is worth one whit less that any American child”

FB Ali at Sic Semper Tyrannis drew my attention to a blog post that appeared in Pakistan’s Express Tribune. It was written by a US Army helicopter pilot, John Bockmann, who was recently deployed to help in relief work, following this summer’s devastating flooding.

US humanitarian aid — especially when provided to a country like Pakistan — often looks like nothing more than a cynical attempt to pacify resentment provoked by the Pentagon’s primary mission: attacking its adversaries. For that reason, American soldiers have good reason to wonder how they will be received when their mission is peaceful.

Bockmann writes:

The days since arriving have passed quickly. Every day we take rice, flour, blankets, housing materials, cooking oil – anything – up and down the Swat and Indus River Valleys. We also bring sick, injured, and displaced people to hospitals and hometowns.

My first mission took us up the Indus river valley, and I embarrassed myself by constantly exclaiming its beauty. Below me was the Karakorum Highway – the old Silk Road into China – and the valley itself, with terraced farmland overshadowed by majestic, snow-capped mountains.

Along with the beauty, though, I see reminders of the flood, bridges that are broken or missing and roads and fields that have been washed away. I am beginning to see widespread reconstruction now as well and feel hope for the people in these villages. They will soon have another way to get help.

I realize that some who read this will question our intentions and some may even wish us ill. I certainly did not imagine that cheering throngs would greet us at each village though — we are always welcomed. I did not expect our goodwill to be taken at face value by all of Pakistan, but we have received immense support.

I have learned in my time here that Pakistani people are truly gracious. Strangers have invited me for chai and conversation. Almost anyone will shake my hand and ask my name, inquire about my health and how I am getting along. Instead of a handshake at our first meeting, I have sometimes been embraced. “Strangers shake hands,” my new friend Mahmood explained, “but brothers hug each other.”

This warms my heart. My mission, our mission, is straightforward, noble, and good. I am deeply grateful to those who support us here, for we need all the help we can get in order to help those in need. I am honored to do this work. I feel at home here beyond anything I could have expected.

So is this just the sentimental perspective of an American soldier who believes, almost as a matter of religious conviction, that America is a force of good in the world? The dozens of comments that follow his post suggest otherwise. Admittedly they come mostly from Pakistan’s English-speaking educated liberal elite, but they lead this helicopter pilot to this conclusion:

I know the hearts of many Pakistanis now, but I am still surprised by their outpouring of warmth–especially in such hard times. I read all of the comments — the stories, the blessings, the frustrations — and I am increasingly convinced that international relations are effected more by common people like you and me than by politicians who may never get a chance to have tea and real conversation with “the other side”. I am so privileged to be so well loved while I am so far from home. God’s blessings on Pakistan and her people.

His mother, Maggie Bockmann, adds her own thoughts which reveal that she does not have a sugar-coated view of America’s impact on Pakistan:

I scarcely comprehend where this delightful soul named John might have come from. As Gibran said,
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
I trust John will not mind my telling you that in the early days of our family, we had a particularly heartbreaking religious fracture between his dad and myself. But now, by the grace of God, we are strong in all the weak places.
Thus shall it be between Christians and Muslims, your country and mine: despite the heartbreaking fractures, we shall become strong in all the weak places, and no government policies, no misguided violent people shall prevent it, because God wills it, whether we call him Allah or Jehovah, and we will it, with all our hearts. We shall support each other while respecting our differences.
And though I understand from this newspaper that some of your countrymen support the U.S. drone attacks, and I’m sure they have compelling reasons, which I shall not judge, I want you to know that I am willing to suffer whatever I must suffer to stand with the Pakistani people against such heartbreaking attacks, for no Pakistani child is worth one whit less that any American child, and mothers are the same around the world, as Wajih said.
As Kathy Kelly so poignantly says in this video, no Pakistani children should be quaking in their beds at night for fear of what devastation my countrymen may visit on them from the sky.
CIA Drone Protest, Kathy Kelly – 1/16/2010

For those who disagree, please forgive me, for I do not mean to be contentious. I am but a mother with a mother’s heart. That is my weakness and that is my power.

Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan, a new report by CIVIC, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflicts, reveals that while the local populations in the areas being targeted by drone attacks do not, by and large, question their accuracy, they object to the fact that the losses caused to innocent bystanders are being ignored.

Nadia, 10 years-old, was at school when her house was hit by a drone, killing her father and mother: “My relatives rushed to the spot and tried to recover the dead bodies trapped under the debris but we couldn’t identify them as they were completely burned.” Nadia is an only child and has moved in with her aunt in a nearby town.

She says she has “no source of income with my parents gone… my aunt looks after me now and I help her in the house…but I want admission into school. I want an education. Please ask the government to provide me with a monthly stipend so I can get an education.” The lack of US transparency about the drone program as well as the Pakistani government’s duplicity — public criticism while offering clandestine support — means civilians’ losses are entirely ignored. Civilian victims interviewed by CIVIC demanded an end to the drone strikes and compensation for their losses.

Without exception, drone strike victims interviewed by CIVIC were left to pick up the pieces on their own, denied even the recognition and acknowledgement of their loss by the Pakistani and US governments. Neither the US, FATA Secretariat or the Pakistani Federal Government have any standard, public procedures for investigating civilian losses from drone strikes, acknowledging or recognizing losses, or providing help for victims to recover.

The common denominator here is that human beings, whether they live in North Waziristan, the Swat Valley, Gaza, New Orleans, or Washington DC, all want the same thing: respect.

This is the basis of human relations and human society, that right down on the level at which one person engages with another, the foundation of their transactions needs to be the recognition: your life is worth just as much as mine. As war tramples on this recognition, all other forms of destruction then become possible.


Washington Post calls for escalation of the war in Pakistan

After three Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in a NATO helicopter attack on a Pakistani border post last week, the Pakistani government cut off supplies to Afghanistan by closing the Torkham border crossing. It was the easiest way of sending a message to Washington that killing Pakistani soldiers is unacceptable.

The Washington Post‘s editorial page now shoots back: “[Pakistan’s] resistance to a more muscular U.S. campaign in North Waziristan, where the Haqqani faction is based, is unacceptable.”

So what’s the Obama administration going to do? Show the Pakistanis who’s the boss and threaten to cut off aid to a country currently dealing with an environmental catastrophe worse than the 2004 Asian Tsunami?

For those with an imperial mindset (like the editors of the Washington Post) the issue here is about who has the right and the power to exercise their will. America, land of the righteous, savior of the world, must prevail.

But America’s real military problem is not it’s inability to restore a global consensus about the supremacy of its military might. America’s problem is topography.

It’s because of topography that “Pakistan has a veto over President Barack Obama’s military strategy in Afghanistan.”

It’s because of topography that the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is a contrivance that the Taliban can freely use to their advantage.

Though thanks to Vietnam’s jungles, quagmire remains the metaphor of choice when we talk about unwinnable wars, a more appropriate metaphor for what is now glibly referred to as Af-Pak is The Labyrinth.

When the Pentagon saw it’s opportunity to vanquish the ghost of Vietnam, it knew what it was looking for: a great big cumbersome army in a wide open space.

Victory against Saddam in Kuwait was a foregone conclusion — even if it’s debatable exactly what the US proved when it demonstrated its ability to slaughter thousands.

The Washington Post now sees itself as a valiant bugler leading the charge in the next phase of what it swiftly, justifiably but also cynically dubbed “Obama’s war”. But like all the war’s proponent, it is a victim of an irresistible illusion: that will-power can move mountains. Others have tried — and the mountains are still there.

What will be accomplished by the latest call for what is euphemistically described as a more “muscular” approach in Waziristan is the further reinforcement of a view of America already widely held in Pakistan.

As Mosharraf Zaidi points out:

There is no ideological commitment or religious fervor that fuels the Pakistani public’s anti-Americanism. Nor is there a particularly civilizational flavor to it. Pakistani anti-Americanism comes from a sustained narrative in which Pakistan is the undignified and humiliated recipient of U.S. financial support — provided at the expense of Pakistani blood.

As narratives go, this comes closer to the truth than its comic-book counterpart: the war of necessity (in which Obama heads in deeper on his search for the way out).


Preemptive strikes or preemptive revenge in Waziristan?

Newsweek reports:

For weeks now, as missiles from American drones have snuffed out their leaders and terrorized their recruits in the remote mountains of Pakistan’s North Waziristan area, Al Qaeda fighters have kept their spirits up by telling each other they were about to have their revenge. “It’s like they’ve just been waiting for news, as if they were all excited about something big about to happen in the West,” says an Afghan Taliban intelligence officer known to Newsweek who operates as a liaison between his organization and Al Qaeda. For security reasons he would not allow his name to be published. The source said one senior Qaeda activist told him that Europeans and Americans think “our minds and bodies are in the mountains of the [Pakistan] tribal areas, but soon we will carry out a visible offensive with long-term consequences in their own Western homes and cities.”

Reports out of Britain overnight suggest that more than bravado may be at work here: according to anonymous sources cited by Sky News foreign-affairs editor Tim Marshall, intelligence agencies have uncovered terrorist plans to launch simultaneous commando-style attacks in Germany, France, and Britain that would be reminiscent of the slaughter in Mumbai almost two years ago. Such attacks have been a major concern of Western police forces because they require no special weaponry — just guns, training, and a will to die fighting.

Marshall says that the dramatic increase in drone attacks over the last few weeks is intended to disrupt the plot against European targets. One drone strike reportedly killed the head of Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as Shaikh Fateh, just last Saturday. Marshall quoted his sources telling him the Qaeda plot was in an “advanced but not imminent stage” and that intelligence agencies had been tracking the operatives “for some time.” The implication is that the onslaught of drone attacks, especially in the last month, has succeeded in thwarting the plot.

If the plot is not at an imminent stage, one wonders why the Eiffel Tower has been evacuated twice this month. But whether imminent or advanced, the logic behind the response to the threat — escalating drone attacks in Pakistan — ought to hinge on where these Qaeda commando teams are now located.

ABC News reports on intelligence gathered from a suspected German terrorist who is now being held at Bagram airbase near Kabul. “The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan.”

If they’ve already been dispatched, what’s the point of launching drone attacks on these training camps now? Is this about thwarting terrorism or about adopting a combative posture? A way of saying: we’re not doing nothing; we’re doing something. It might not work, but we sure as hell won’t take this lying down.

Or maybe it’s what might be called preemptive retribution — a foretaste of what will happen after a major al Qaeda attack.

As Bob Woodward’s new book reveals, “if a Pakistani-based terrorist ever managed to strike inside the United States, the CIA had a ‘retribution plan’ to strike at least 150 camps in Pakistan.”

Retribution is another name for revenge and the inchoate rationale that drives revenge is the desire to eliminate the enemy.

Who did we get today,” White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel would ask, as though a finite list of drone targets could be whittled down to zero — even while the director of the CIA warned him that this could go on forever.

Almost a decade after 9/11, the mere fact that a retribution plan with 150 targets could be drawn up, is a clear indication of a failed strategy.

Of course this elimination strategy is doomed because it confuses human bodies with the ideas and sentiments that animate them. The bodies can be destroyed but the spirit moves on to animate another combatant. Indeed, the drone can best be seen as the worst kind of force multiplier — one that invigorates the enemy and boosts support among the local population.

As Stephen Farrell astutely noted after being able to observe the Taliban while he was held captive last year, as much as anything else the significance of the drone is not its destructive power but what it signals: the absence of foreign soldiers.

The US commands the sky over Waziristan because it dare not occupy the land.

As for whether a terrorist attack in France is actually imminent, the raised level of alertness prompted by official warnings has been matched by a raised level of suspicion.

Opposition figures and pundits alike have loudly speculated that the troubling pronouncements are actually a ruse to turn attention away from scandals that have implicated government members and from growing protest against pension reform. French media have even suggested that President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose approval ratings are in the doldrums, has borrowed the tactic of the well-timed terrorism scare from the playbook of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

“The French people aren’t duped,” says Socialist Party official and former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal in a remark typical of the skeptics. “The fight against terrorism is a serious and discreet effort, incompatible with sudden alert announcements — made, by chance, as protests surge. There’s an element of stagecraft in this that’s out of line and even dangerous.”

The lesson of the last decade should be that what governments do to prevent terrorism matter less than what they do afterwards.

Thus far, local horror has been a reliable catalyst for global folly.


“Who did we get today?”

Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, reveals that the White House was so enamored with the CIA’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, that chief of staff Rahm Emanuel would regularly call the CIA director, Leon Panetta, asking, “Who did we get today?”

Emanuel may have been posing the question because, like President Obama, he shares a perverse thrill in remote killing. Or, he might have asked because Predator warfare turns out to be far less accurate than it proponents would like us to believe.

A legal dispute that was being hammered out in a Boston court this summer, revealed that in its haste to deploy drones, the CIA was willing to use location analysis software that could result in strikes that would be as much as 42 feet off target!

That’s the difference between aiming at one house and destroying the house next door.

Leaving aside the question about how accurate ones intelligence might be about who is inhabiting either house, or the legal issues of what constitutes the battlefield and what can justify extrajudicial killing, or the moral issue of defining innocent bystanders as “collateral damage” — this looks like a case of not being able to shoot straight.

The Register reports:

The CIA is implicated in a court case in which it’s claimed it used an illegal, inaccurate software “hack” to direct secret assassination drones in central Asia.

The target of the court action is Netezza, the data warehousing firm that IBM bid $1.7bn for on Monday [Sept 20]. The case raises serious questions about the conduct of Netezza executives, and the conduct of CIA’s clandestine war against senior jihadis in Afganistan and Pakistan.

The dispute surrounds a location analysis software package – “Geospatial” – developed by a small company called Intelligent Integration Systems (IISi), which like Netezza is based in Massachusetts. IISi alleges that Netezza misled the CIA by saying that it could deliver the software on its new hardware, to a tight deadline.

When the software firm then refused to rush the job, it’s claimed, Netezza illegally and hastily reverse-engineered IISi’s code to deliver a version that produced locations inaccurate by up to 13 metres [42 feet]. Despite knowing about the miscalculations, the CIA accepted the software, court submissions indicate.

This report comes on the heals of an earlier report which revealed that the military’s use of unencrypted communications channels in Iraq allowed militants to view live video images being transmitted by drones. As the Wall Street Journal reported in December:

Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

Given that President Obama has authorized as many drone attacks since the end of March as his predecessor did in the previous four years, and given that in Pakistan there is a widespread belief that these attacks indiscriminately kill innocent people, and given that this perception is fueling a deepening hatred of America, one might imagine that revelations about the weaknesses of the drone program would result in a serious reexamination of its value.

On the contrary, the CIA is now intensifying its campaign of missile attacks and launched more drone strikes this month than at any time in the previous six years.

(For more background on the Geospatial story, see this report.)


What really shapes Muslim perceptions of America

As American politicians, administration officials, military leaders and commentators from across the political spectrum denounced a plan to burn Qurans in Florida, preeminent among the reasons given for this condemnation was that such an act would cast the United States in a very unfavorable light and expose American soldiers to greater danger — that it would lend strength to those radical voices who insist that America is hostile to Islam.

The US has spent most of the last decade at war in Muslim countries, as a result of which hundreds of thousands have died and millions been forced to abandon their homes, but it’s as though these facts alone would not have been sufficient to color Muslim perceptions of America.

Occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks in Pakistan, missile strikes in Yemen and Somalia, thinly veiled threats against Iran, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret prisons, renditions and torture — all of these merely raised doubts about US intentions. It was Pastor Terry Jones who had the power to solidify anti-American hostility across the Muslim world.

I guess if you believed that, then it would also somehow make sense that two recent reports about the actions of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have been given so little attention in the media.

The Seattle Times reports:

As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses.

The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.

The most serious charges involve the alleged slayings of three Afghans in January, February and May. Five soldiers, all stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, are accused of involvement in one or more of the murders. They face penalties that range up to life imprisonment or death.

Meanwhile, Robert Fisk, in an article on the brutal practice of ‘honor’ killing refers to terrible stories of gang rape by United States personnel in Abu Ghraib.

You hear this repeatedly in Amman, and a very accurate source of mine in Washington — a man who deals with military personnel — tells me they are true. This, he says, is why Barack Obama changed his mind about releasing the photographs which George W Bush refused to make public. The pictures we saw — of the humiliation of men — were outrageous enough. But the ones we haven’t seen show Americans raping Iraqi women.

Lima Nabil, a journalist who now runs a home for on-the-run girls, sips coffee as the boiling Jordanian sun frowns through the window at us. “In Abu Ghraib,” she says, “women were tortured by the Americans much more than the men. One woman said she witnessed five girls being raped. Most of the women in the prison were raped — some of them left prison pregnant. Families killed some of these women — because of the shame.”

Obama’s refrain has been that we need to look forward, not back — that it’s time to turn the page — but the past lingers. Turning away usually simply means that we are choosing to ignore the ways in which the past is still present.

In an interview with Paul Jay from the RealNews Network, David Gardner, foreign affairs editor at the Financial Times talks about the UK’s ongoing investigation into the war in Iraq and some of the ways history may be repeating itself as the West confronts Iran.


Risk-free killing and the fear of death

There was an age when those afraid of dying knew they should, if they could, stay away from war. They could instead, if so inclined, read about war and fantasize about battlefield heroics from the comfort of an armchair. Nowadays, America’s newest class of warriors enjoy the same comfort with as little risk.

Tom Engelhardt writes:

The drone is our latest wonder weapon and a bragging point in a set of wars where there has been little enough to brag about.

CIA director Leon Panetta has, for instance, called the Agency’s drones flying over Pakistan “the only game in town” when it comes to destroying al-Qaeda; a typically anonymous U.S. official in a Washington Post report claims of drone missile attacks, “We’re talking about precision unsurpassed in the history of warfare”; or as Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command told author Peter Singer, speaking of the glories of drones: “They don’t get hungry. They are not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.”

Seven thousand of them, the vast majority surveillance varieties, are reportedly already being operated by the military, and that’s before swarms of “mini-drones” come on line. Our American world is being redefined accordingly.

In February, Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post caught something of this process when he spent time with Colonel Eric Mathewson, perhaps the most experienced Air Force officer in drone operations and on the verge of retirement. Mathewson, reported Jaffe, was trying to come up with an appropriately new definition of battlefield “valor” — a necessity for most combat award citations — to fit our latest corps of pilots at their video consoles. “Valor to me is not risking your life,” the colonel told the reporter. “Valor is doing what is right. Valor is about your motivations and the ends that you seek. It is doing what is right for the right reasons. That to me is valor.”

There is a simple calculus upon which American warfare depends: the fewer Americans get killed, the longer the war can continue.

Maimed Americans don’t count. As for dead or maimed non-Americans, they are a variable part of the calculus, problematic or not depending on the circumstances.

The Pentagon’s love of the drone is Washington’s dread of the dead — let’s not pretend that valor has any place in this equation.

When through the press of a button a soldier in an air-conditioned office rains down death and destruction thousands of miles away, whatever military virtues he might possess, there’s no reason to assume they include bravery. Indeed, the risk-free killing of remote warfare is really the most cowardly form of combat, far removed as it is from battlefields that demand courage because the killers risk being killed.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, as the Battle of Agincourt is about to commence, the king addresses his men — “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” — heavily outnumbered by the French and facing the risk of imminent slaughter.

Henry — a king who fights with his men and doesn’t simply issue commands — declares:

… he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

To the extent that there is a noble dimension to warfare it is this: that those willing to kill are also willing to die. Those taking the lives of others do so knowing that just as easily they could lose their own.

The technological advance of war has broken this equation and broken it so thoroughly that not only does the new class of drone-armed killers face no risk of being killed; they may not even lose any sleep.


Is Obama moving to escalate the war in Pakistan?

The United States is at war in Pakistan. It will be up to historians to decide when this war began.

“Drone Strikes Pound West Pakistan” says the headline above a brief report in the New York Times. After the CIA fired 18 missiles resulting in at least 14 deaths on Tuesday, the operation was described merely as “a continuation of the air campaign to degrade the capabilities of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban fighters now working together in North Waziristan” (my emphasis).

“Continuation” is another name for escalation when developments that should prompt alarm have already been inoculated with the name “necessity.”

A course of action that if it initiated by George Bush might have been seen as an expression of his intemperate nature, when pursued by no-drama Obama is instead billed as a judicious expansion in the use of force.

But the danger of escalation — now as always — is that the seemingly carefully calibrated expansion of a war has unintended and far-reaching consequences. Only after it’s too late do we learn that the calibration rested on nothing more than wishful thinking.

The logic behind the apparent necessity of expanding the war into Pakistan has been evident ever since the war in Afghanistan began. For Bush, the dangers implicit in crossing the Durand Line seemed to provoke fear, but his successor seems intent on showing he lacks such trepidation. North Waziristan is where Obama gets to prove that he has the steel that Bush lacked — or so the script says.

In this context the Times Square attempted bombing has acquired particular significance. If the lack of a credible endgame in Afghanistan would make it even more difficult to justify expanding the war, then a scare in New York could be useful in prompting a renewed sense of urgency.

In Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper today, Rafia Zakaria writes:

Security experts in Washington have since begun to call Shahzad’s bombing attempt a “game changer” in the war against terror and have been signalling the possibility of an incursion of US forces into Pakistani territory. Several factors point to the fact that such an option is indeed being considered by the Obama administration and Pentagon officials. First, conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill have long been sounding alarm bells asking for a wider presence in Pakistan to accomplish the goals of the war on terror. Recent hearings held on Capitol Hill have focused on groups such as Jaish-i-Muhammad and Lashkar-i-Taiba that do not operate in the areas currently being targeted by aerial drone attacks.

In a hearing held in March, several US congressmen noted that the Lashkar “had put the world on notice that they intend to escalate the carnage and take it worldwide”. Other analysts have repeatedly pointed to the necessity of expanding drone strikes into Quetta to target the Quetta shura which supposedly runs the Taliban operations. While Shahzad’s connections are not currently traced to groups other than the Taliban, the fact that he spent time in Pakistan bolsters the position of those who insist that a wider military presence in Pakistan is crucial to eliminating the threat to the American homeland.

Second, the problems faced by the highly publicised US/Nato initiatives in Marja and Kandahar in Afghanistan have created a political demand for a more decisive endgame in the region. In the footsteps of the Marja offensive in early April, The New York Times reported that many of the gains made in the area by the US Marines’ costly offensive had largely been reversed and many Taliban had moved back into the area. The Kandahar offensive due to start soon has also been the subject of lowered expectations, with experts saying that the easy absorption of Taliban fighters into the local population and the lack of visible centres of Taliban control make it difficult to win a decisive victory in the area.

The reason why the failure of both offensives — one yet to begin — is relevant to the Pakistan equation is simple: with the beginning of a US withdrawal already announced for 2011, there is immense political pressure on the Obama administration to produce some semblance of victory. The expansion of the Afghanistan war into Pakistani territory would not only be a culmination of the Obama campaign’s slogans of Pakistan being the real problem, it would also provide a visible endgame to the vexing and increasingly intractable issue of whether the war in Afghanistan has really eliminated global terrorism.

If Obama is now a victim of his own campaign logic — the repetition of half-baked slogans must surely be as harmful to those who utter them as it is to those who hear them — this logic is nevertheless looking less persuasive outside the administration.

Noah Shachtman notes that the skepticism once only voiced by counter-insurgency wonks like David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum has now percolated right into the mainstream media.

“If you go into Pakistan and talk to college kids, which is what we did, these drone attacks are feeding this narrative: this is what we [Americans] are aiming to do. We’re aiming to kill Muslims,” Leslie Stahl said today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“Let’s say China was launching drone attacks on Idaho, we would be pretty angry too. We are launching attacking against a people were not at war with, officially,” Joe Scarborough responded. “I would rather us go after the terrorists — individual terrorists — drag ‘em out, interrogate ‘em, get information — instead of dropping bombs that kill four year-old little girls. That dismember grandmoms that happen to be in the family compound. That seems immoral.”

The decision to dramatically escalate the drone war was done behind closed doors, with no public debate about whether the strikes were the best way to smash the jihadist networks based in Pakistan’s tribal wildlands. Perhaps now, we’ll have that discussion.

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The terrorism recruiting myth

After almost a decade of a US-led global war on terrorism, America’s approach to the issue has barely advanced from being a deadly game of Whack-a-Mole.

On CBS, Scott Pelley asked Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton: “I wonder if there’s anything about U.S. foreign policy that needs to change in your estimation to put more pressure on these terrorist groups where they live, like in Pakistan?”

“Well, we are doing that. And we’re increasing it. We’re expecting more from it. This is a global threat. We have probably the best police work in the world. But we are also the biggest target. And therefore, we just have to be better than everybody else,” Clinton replied.

Earlier in the interview she said: “We’ve made it very clear [to the Pakistani government] that, if, heaven forbid, that an attack like this [in Times Square], if we can trace back to Pakistan, were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences.”

The US will start bombing Pakistan? Special Forces will start conducting operations in North Waziristan? Clinton would not specify what form these severe consequences might take.

In response to the Times Square incident, Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism coordinator for the Bush administration writes:

The reason such attacks are hard to stop is rooted in the identity of the attackers. They often seem to be successful or well-educated members of society, uninvolved in any form of radicalism. But then, the drip-drip of terrorist propaganda — either on the Internet or circulated through friends — has its effect. They quietly make contact with radical groups overseas, perhaps even traveling abroad for training and indoctrination. They throw away the life they have made in the West and agree to stage an attack. Faisal Shahzad, the alleged Times Square terrorist, fits that profile, as have others in the United States and Europe.

For U.S. intelligence and law enforcement authorities, these newly minted terrorists are the hardest to stop. They may not be part of any known cell; there is no reason for their phones or e-mail accounts to come under surveillance. When they buy rifles, handguns, tanks of propane gas or fertilizer, they are doing nothing out of the ordinary in American society.

If they succeed in inflicting harm on us with terrorist acts designed to rivet media and public attention, our political debate may once again be as wrongheaded as it will be predictable. Some elected officials will claim that their party would have done a much better job protecting the country. Critics of America’s Middle East policy — or our energy policy, or our foreign policy writ large — will also fault whatever administration is in power.

Likewise, in a 60 Minutes report that aired last night, the prism through which the issue is filtered is one in which individuals are turned into the tools of a deadly ideology. Vulnerable young men are in jeopardy of being recruited by merciless ideologues and terrorist planners.

But as Scott Atran points out, the idea that Shahzad and those like him have to be recruited, does not fit the evidence.

Shahzad was also apparently inspired by the online rhetoric of Anwar al-Awlaki, a former preacher at a Northern Virginia mosque who gained international notoriety for blessing the suicide mission of the failed Christmas airplane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallib, and for Facebook communications with Major Nadal Hasan, an American-born Muslim psychiatrist who killed thirteen fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in November 2009. Although many are ready to leap to the conclusion that Awlaki helped to “brainwash” and “indoctrinate” these jihadi wannabes, it is much more likely that they sought out the popular Internet preacher because they already self-radicalized to the point of wanting reassurance and further guidance. “The movement is from the bottom up,” notes forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman, “just like you saw Major Hasan send twenty-one e-mails to al-Awlaki, who sends him back two, you have people seeking these guys and asking them for advice.”

The CBS report, stuck on the track that recruitment is a central issue, homes in on the role of the internet. The would-be terrorist is someone whose deadly intent is sure to be triggered by something he sees online.

Phillip Mudd, who until a few months ago was the senior intelligence advisor to the FBI and its director says:

They’re seeing images, for example, of children and women in places like Palestine and Iraq, they’re seeing sermons of people who explain in simple, compelling, and some cases magnetic terms why it’s important that they join the jihad. They’re seeing images, and messages that confirm a path that they’re already thinking of taking.

CBS helpfully provides such an image, but predictably neglects to add any commentary.

What are we seeing? An Israeli soldier terrorizing a Palestinian mother and her two girls.

And there we have it: exactly the kind of image the foments terrorism.

Viewed through the American counter-terrorism lens, the problem lies with the propagation of the image and the violent reaction such an image can provoke. Why? Because any serious consideration of the foreign policy issues that the image signals is still off-limits.

But here’s what everyone in the Middle East sees: An Israeli Jew brandishing an American-made weapon, serving America’s closest ally in the Middle East, is threatening a Muslim family. This is the narrative that no amount of spin or cleverly fought battles in a war of ideas, can undo.

Yet here is the foreign policy dilemma for Washington: How can the United States adopt a posture in the Middle East that acknowledges the role America has played in fueling terrorism, without appearing to capitulate to terrorist demands?

The answer is to trust in the universally recognized truth: actions speak louder than words.

What Obama does in Pakistan matters more than what he said in Cairo.

In April 2003, the Bush administration made a step in the right direction when it withdrew American troops from Saudi Arabia. The moved turned out to be of little consequence since it was triggered by utterly false expectations about the war in Iraq. Yet there was an implicit recognition: the presence of American soldiers in close proximity to Islam’s holiest sites sends an ugly message to the Muslim world.

Seven years later, as the Obama administration puts increased pressure on the Pakistani government to launch a major offensive in North Waziristan — an operation that would yet again result in the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians — and as the CIA continues to expand a drone war that has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, what kind of signal is this sending to those who might now contemplate following in the footsteps of Faisal Shahzad?


An arrest warrant needs a name on it; a death warrant needs none.

In the narrative that sketches the legality of the war on terrorism, the tribal nature of the “battlefield” is the pretext used to justify killing people instead of attempting to arrest them. Counterterrorism experts scoff at the notion that FBI agents (or Pakistani law enforcement officials for that matter) could possibly waltz into a village in South Waziristan and handcuff a Taliban or al Qaeda suspect. The logistics of such an operation would indeed be daunting.

But here’s the thing: The United States is now killing people when it doesn’t even have a legal basis for even initiating their capture.

In the US — and most other legal jurisdictions — an arrest warrant needs to show probable cause connecting a crime that has been committed to the person named on the warrant.

In Pakistan, the CIA can target someone for assassination without knowing their name, without witnessing them commit a crime — simply on the Orwellian pretext that their “pattern of life” can be deemed a threat to the United States.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list.

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

At a time when Faisal Shahzad — a name that might not evoke much terror — is a name uppermost in many people’s minds, it’s worth remembering Mir Aimal Kasi.

In 1993 he too had conducted a pattern of life analysis, having noted the turn lane that directed traffic into the CIA’s Langley headquarters. In his targeted killing operation, he too had found the high-value targets of his choice — James Woollsey and Robert Gates — were too illusive and so he opted to shoot CIA employees whose names he didn’t know.

Soon before receiving a death sentence in 1998, Kasi told Salon:

“I am not against the USA or the American people. I am against the policies of the U.S. government toward Islamic countries or toward Muslims.”

“A lot of young people in Pakistan,” he said, “think mostly the same.”

Whoever follows in the footsteps of Faisal Shahzad may have less interest in constructing a Rube Goldberg type contraption than in causing mayhem the America way — as did Mir Aimal Kasi, John Allen Muhammad, and Nidal Malik Hasan.

“This is a blow back. This is a reaction. This is retaliation. And you could expect that,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahkdoom Qureshi told CBS News after the Times Square bombing attempt. “Let’s not be naive. They’re not going to sort of sit and welcome you eliminate them. They’re going to fight back.”


The myth of Talibanistan

Pepe Escobar’s analysis is interesting as always — though one note of warning: In writing about Baitullah Mehsud I think Escobar is actually referring to Hakimullah Mehsud. Reports that Baitullah was killed last August, have, as far as I’m aware, not been disputed. It was Hakimullah who reemerged this week after he was reported to have been killed in January.

What is never mentioned by US corporate media is the tremendous social problems Pakistan has to deal with because of the mess in the tribal areas. Islamabad believes that between the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and NWFP, at least 1 million people are now displaced (not to mention badly in need of food aid). FATA’s population is around 3.5 million – overwhelmingly poor Pashtun peasants. And obviously war in FATA translates into insecurity and paranoia in the fabled capital of NWFP, Peshawar.

The myth of Talibanistan anyway is just a diversion, a cog in the slow-moving regional big wheel – which in itself is part of the new great game in Eurasia.

During a first stage – let’s call it the branding of evil – Washington think-tanks and corporate media hammered non-stop on the “threat of al-Qaeda” to Pakistan and the US. FATA was branded as terrorist central – the most dangerous place in the world where “the terrorists” and an army of suicide bombers were trained and unleashed into Afghanistan to kill the “liberators” of US/NATO.

In the second stage, the new Obama administration accelerated the Predator “hell from above” drone war over Pashtun peasants. Now comes the stage where the soon over 100,000-strong US/NATO troops are depicted as the true liberators of the poor in Af-Pak (and not the “evil” Taliban) – an essential ploy in the new narrative to legitimize Obama’s Af-Pak surge.

For all pieces to fall into place, a new uber-bogeyman is needed. And he is TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud, who, curiously, had never been hit by even a fake US drone until, in early March, he made official his allegiance to historic Taliban leader Mullah Omar, “The Shadow” himself, who is said to live undisturbed somewhere around Quetta, in Pakistani Balochistan.

Now there’s a US$5 million price on Baitullah’s head. The Predators have duly hit the Mehsud family’s South Waziristan bases. But – curioser and curioser – not once but twice, the ISI forwarded a detailed dossier of Baitullah’s location directly to its cousin, the Central Intelligence Agency. But there was no drone hit.

And maybe there won’t be – especially now that a bewildered Zardari government is starting to consider that the previous uber-bogeyman, a certain Osama bin Laden, is no more than a ghost. Drones can incinerate any single Pashtun wedding in sight. But international bogeymen of mystery – Osama, Baitullah, Mullah Omar – star players in the new OCO (overseas contingency operations), formerly GWOT (“global war on terror”), of course deserve star treatment.


Drone strikes like “canon fire”

CNN reports:

Drone-launched missiles are now hitting lower-level al Qaeda and Taliban personnel, camps, training areas, bomb makers, buildings and other targets in the remote region.

“You’ve had an expanded target set for time now, and given the danger these groups pose and their relative inaccessibility, these kinds of strikes — precise and effective — have become almost like the cannon fire of this war. They’re no longer extraordinary or even unusual,” the official said.

The US counterterrorism official who likened Hellfire missile attacks to cannon fire, reached for a comparison which though perhaps ill-conceived is also revealing. If drone warfare is meant to epitomize precision, nothing represents blunt force more than a cannon.

As for the claim that big-name targets have now given way to an expanded range of lower level targets, US officials who still insist that there have been no more than a handful of civilians killed in drone attacks might be posed a basic challenge: How often can they even name the dead?


Drone attacks provoke calls for revenge

In a report on the CIA’s campaign of drone warfare in Pakistan, the Los Angeles Times recounts the stories of some of the civilian victims of the attacks.

Many of the boys that Zaman Khan grew up with in the South Waziristan town of Shakai eventually joined the Taliban. He knew they had become militants, but he never thought it odd to have them over for tea.

Whether it was because of Taliban visits or the proximity of a regular Taliban meeting place 30 yards away, Khan’s house became a target March 15, 2008.

The missile struck while everyone slept, killing Khan’s brother, Wazir Khan, 40; Wazir’s wife, Zara Bibi, 30; and their 4-year-old son, Irshad. The left half of Wazir’s body had been sheared off. Zara’s and Irshad’s bodies were charred from head to toe.

Wazir’s two other children, Noor Rehman, 10 at the time, and Ishaq Khan, 3, survived. Physically, they recovered but suffer from psychological problems, Zaman Khan said.

“Ishaq doesn’t talk at all,” Khan said. “He can’t recognize his family, and he drinks only if someone helps him.”

Three weeks after that strike, a house full of civilians in the same neighborhood was struck, instantly killing cousins Sher Maan, 20, and Azeem Ullah, 30, and Azeem’s wife, Gul Anama, 25.

“It was a huge blast that shook the ground,” said Amin Ullah, 20, a Shakai farmer.

“I believe that most of the victims of these drone attacks are innocent people,” Ullah said. “Pakistan should be carrying out these attacks. Pakistan knows the terrain, knows its people and knows the militants.”

Andrew Exum, a former Army officer in Afghanistan and Iraq, has declared the drone program counterproductive and called for an end to it. In an analysis published last year, Exum and David Kilcullen, a former counterinsurgency advisor to the head of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, dismissed drones as technology substituting for strategy.

“Every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement,” they wrote.

Drones have proved invaluable in Afghanistan, where they focus on surveillance, intelligence-gathering and watching over coalition troops, Exum said in an interview. But in Pakistan, the U.S. and the government in Islamabad need to make the case that the attacks are part of a joint strategy supporting Pakistani policy, he said.

“I’m not saying drones can’t be part of the solution, but right now I think they’re part of the problem,” Exum said.

Drone attacks have enraged men such as Momin Khan. On a September morning last year, Khan heard the thunderclap of a drone strike in Machis, his village in North Waziristan, and ran to see what had happened.

As he joined other villagers running down a dirt road, the 50-year-old unemployed teacher saw black smoke and flames curling out of a house about 60 yards away. The missile had killed two people there. As he ran closer, a second missile strike shook the ground.

Shrapnel from the blast cut into his shoulder and legs. He woke up in a hospital.

Four people were killed in the second strike, he said. Although Taliban militants have often used Machis as a haven, Khan said he was sure the house initially targeted had only civilians in it.

“These drones fly day and night, and we don’t know where to hide because we don’t know who they will target,” he said. “If I could, I would take revenge on America.”

Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, said that without full disclosure of the CIA drone program, “the opportunities for abuse are immense.”

“The CIA is running a program that is killing a significant number of people, and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international law,” he said.

Scott Horton, while considering some of the legal issues surrounding the program notes:

No weapons system remains indefinitely the province of a single power. Drone technology is particularly striking in this regard, because it is not really all that sophisticated. It seems clear that other powers have this technology–Israel and Iran have each been reported to be working with it, Russia and China could obviously do so easily if they desired, and the same is probably true for Britain, France, and Germany, not to mention Japan and Taiwan, where many of the cutting-edge breakthroughs in robotics actually occur. The way America uses this technology is therefore effectively setting the rules for others. Put another way, if it’s lawful for America to employ a drone to take out an enemy in the desert of Yemen, on the coast of Somalia, in a village in Sudan or Mauretania, then it would be just as lawful for Russia, or China–or, for that matter, for Israel or Iran. What kind of world is this choice then creating? Doesn’t it invariably lead us closer to the situation in which a targeted killing will be carried out in a major metropolis of Europe or East Asia, or even the United States? And doesn’t that move us in the direction of a dark and increasingly lawless world?

This is not idle speculation. The choices the United States has made are being studied very closely in capitals around the world. In Russia, for instance, national-security analysts have noted the American drone strikes with a measure of approbation, because they see such strikes as justifying lethal countermeasures of their own against perceived terrorist enemies. A number of enemies of the Russian government who were critical of policies or actions connected with the Second Chechen War have recently met violent death, often after Russian authorities linked them to Chechen terrorist groups. The Polonium poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London, for instance, or the assassination of Umar Israilov in Vienna, which Austrian prosecutors linked earlier this week to a Putin-protégé, the president of Chechnya, are two examples that suggest that Europe may have been cleared as a theater for targeted killings by a great power. The 2004 killing of former Chechen President Zelimkhan in Qatar is an example of another Russian targeted killing in the Gulf. The recent likely Israeli assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai is another instance. Targeted killings of this sort have always been with us, of course, but with the Bush-era “War on Terror” they are making a strong comeback and are gaining in claims of legitimacy and legality. The drone technology promises to take targeted killings to a whole new level.

My point here is a simple one. The United States cannot assume exclusivity in this technology, and how it uses the technology will guide others. The United States has to decide now whether it wants to legitimize a broader right of sovereign states to assassinate their enemies using drones. The consequence of such a step to the world as a whole will be severe. This also points to the danger of the United States using drones for targeted killings and keeping silent about the process, which invites the view that the practice involves an arbitrary and capricious use of power. If the United States elects to continue on its current path, it also owes the world a clear accounting for its use of drones as a vehicle for targeted killings.