Category Archives: W. Bush Administration

A Brief Primer on: US Drone Strikes

HuffPost going hard: “A Drone Program That Has Killed Hundreds Of Civilians Finally Killed Some That The White House Regrets,” by Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim.

What follows is some of my thoughts and info that I am aware of regarding drones.

American drone strikes are something that we as a nation do not like to really talk about. We have conducted at least five confirmed drone strikes in 2015 alone. In 2014: 22 confirmed drone strikes (New America, 2015). Moreover, according to PEW and Gallup, Americans tend to support an aggressive foreign policy regarding potential terrorists around the world. To many this debate is over: the U.S. can and should do whatever it takes in this ever-expanding power-vacuum-creating War on Terror. So what if this (or these, potentially) “kill list(s)” grows and grows. What’s the worst that could happen?

In the wake of 9/11, fear became – once again – a dominant political and social force. A ontological phenomenon, if I may say so myself. It’s often been said that a scared population tends to value security – or what they’re being sold as security – over civil liberties, or human rights, for example. History abounds this notion. But does the public and the government, even know who we are killing?

“We’re in a new kind of war,” claimed then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice shortly after America’s first drone strike; which was conducted in 2002 in the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen (Scahill, 2013). Rice would go on to be a persistent vocal supporter of setting us this targeted killing regime. Many critics of drones see them as extra-judicial executions in violation of international human rights law. And by critics I mean everyone from constitutional law scholars, the United Nations, civil liberty and human rights groups, and every day Pakistani, Yemeni, and American citizens. Opponents of drone strikes have well….really good arguments, all around.

The U.S. government has used drones strikes that have killed thousands of people in this last decade during our “War on Terror.” This is on top of the millions of total casualties in the Iraq, Pakistani, and Afghanistan military adventures since 2002 in what can properly be called total war. There has been award winning documentaries produced about our expanded global war that two subsequent administrations, the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration, have started and escalated, respectively. Since Obama, we are now conducting military and intelligence operations in over 100 countries and drone strikes are being conducted by the military and by the CIA. The Obama administration has even constructed a secret air base in Saudi Arabia, to conduct drone strikes(Scahill, 2013).

It is terribly important that the public knows that 8 American citizens – confirmed by the state – have been killed in drone strikes so far. It’s also surreal that, as professor Micah Zenko, currently the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) writes: “The United States simply does not know who it is killing” (ForeignPolicy, 2014). Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with warheads that drop Hell Fire missiles on people in the likes of Pakistan, Somalia (East Africa Al Qaeda cell), Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. Jeremy Scahill writes about how CIA agents, after the aforementioned first strike in Yemen in 2002, “went to examine the aftermath of the strike and to obtain DNA samples from the dead.” Post-mortem is when we really start caring about identifying just who we are killing. Sometimes we drop a bomb on wedding parties. In Somalia, “AC-130 attacks resulted in a shocking number of Somali civilians being killed,” illuminates Scahill. Oxfam warns that the U.S. is ignoring the international mandate to distinguish between military and civilian targets (Scahill, 2013). We don’t know who we are killing, and it honestly doesn’t seem like we really care. Former White House Press Secretary and now MSNBC correspondent, Robert Gibbs is on record saying of one drone victim that he should have had a better father if he didn’t want to be killed by a drone strike in Yemen (Friedersdorf, 2012).

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued many “white papers” with their legal justification for what they do. They often point out that high-level al-Qaeda and affiliate group members are who is targeted. Moreover, the U.S. does not consider drone strikes to be assassinations; they consider them to be “conducted according to the ‘law of war principles’“ (Isikoff, 2013) as well. Media reports paint a different picture: CNN reported on the fact that “a White House evaluation of drone strikes in summer 2011 found that ‘the CIA was primarily killing low-level militants” (Bergen and Rowland, 2012). As “The Civilian Impact Report” issued by the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School in conjunction with the Center for Civilians in Conflict eloquently states: “When the scope of who may be targeted enlarges, the chance that civilians will be caught in the crossfire increases” (2012). The U.S. military and the CIA often do not completely know who they are killing when they issue drone strikes. This has humanitarian implications. This has legal and constitutional implications.

I appreciate the Huffington Post responding this way: A recent drone strike killed two Western hostages, once from Italy and one from the United States, and suddenly we feign concern regarding strikes that have killed thousands of people, including 16 year old Colorado-born Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of the once moderate turned radical jihadist cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. He, too, was killed in an earlier drone strike. (Samir Khan as well.) I’m not saying these former two aren’t horrible people who wanted to kill American civilians; they are and they did. I’m saying that it’s way more complicated and grey than that. I’m saying that this drone issue is a crisis and we as a country really need to understand what is going on. I’m saying that at least 172 children have been killed

Seriously, if you have devoted little time to our disastrous foreign policy, I highly recommend reading Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill and also watching the documentary version as well. Chomsky has been great on this issue too; Zenko has been critical and informative as well.

Other quality sources to learn about U.S. counter terrorism (CT) policy: Brookings, CATO, Helene Cooper & Mona El-Naggar, Dissent, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been an invaluable source as well. New America has compiled good data. The Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School has studied the issue; “The Civilian Impact of Drones,” is one of their most substantive publications regarding them.

Hope this was kind of informative and I hope the hyperlinks can set you in a good direction to learn more about this.

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