Ground All Drones is a committee of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) created to address the use of drones, particularly armed drones. Drones are developed worldwide, not only by the U.S. but by other nations as well. In the U.S.unarmed surveillance drones could be used to spy on citizens, a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment Rights. The current focus of this committee is on the use of weaponized drones.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"The Assassination Complex": Jeremy Scahill & Glenn Greenwald Probe Secret US Drone Wars in New Book

Talking about the global assassination program with Amy Goodman on May 3, 2016 at  Democracy Now. Org

As the Obama administration prepares to release for the first time the number of people it believes it has killed in drone strikes in countries that lie outside of conventional war zones, we look at a new book out today that paints a very different picture of the U.S. drone program. "The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program" is written by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept, and based on leaked government documents provided by a whistleblower. The documents undermine government claims that drone strikes have been precise. Part of the book looks at a program called Operation Haymaker in northeastern Afghanistan. During one five-month period, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.

The book is based on articles published by The Intercept last year. It also includes new contributions from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and The Intercept’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. We speak with Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald.

Guests

Jeremy Scahillco-founder of the The Intercept. His new book is The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. He’s also the author of the best-selling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. His film Dirty Wars was nominated for an Academy Award.
Glenn GreenwaldPulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He is a contributor to Jeremy Scahill’s book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.

Read Transcript below or listen at Democracy Now. Org

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re on the road in Sarasota, Florida. I’ll be speaking in Atlanta, Georgia, tonight. But here in Sarasota, we’re less than an hour from Tampa, which houses the United States Special Operations Command. It’s the epicenter of planning for the global targeted killing program and other covert military action. Well, we turn now to look at President Obama and drones. On Saturday night, Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore criticized Obama’s reliance on drone warfare during his remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. He compared Obama’s foreign policy to that of reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry.
LARRY WILMORE: It looks like you’re really enjoying your last year of the presidency. Saw you hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors. That was cool. That was cool, yeah. You know, it kind of makes sense, too, because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances, right? Yeah, sure. What? Am I wrong?
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Wilmore’s comments come as the Obama administration prepares to release for the first time the number of people it believes it’s killed in drone strikes in countries that lie outside of conventional war zones. Speaking last month in Chicago, President Obama addressed the issue of civilian deaths in drone strikes.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There’s no doubt that some innocent people have been killed by drone strikes. It is not true that it has been this sort of willy-nilly, you know, "Let’s bomb a village." That is not how it’s—folks have operated. And what I can say with great certainty is that the rate of civilian casualties in any drone operation are far lower than the rate of civilian casualties that occur in conventional war.
AMY GOODMAN: A new book being published today paints a very different picture of the U.S. drone program. It’s titled The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. It’s written by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept, based on leaked government documents provided by a whistleblower. The documents undermine government claims that drone strikes have been precise. Part of the book looks at a program called Operation Haymaker in northeastern Afghanistan. During one five-month period, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. The book is based on articles published by The Intercept last year. It also includes new contributions from NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden and The Intercept's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Snowden's introduction to the book has just been published on The Intercept’s website.

Joining us now, still with us, Jeremy Scahill, and Glenn Greenwald is joining us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They founded The Intercept with Laura Poitras. Jeremy, let’s go back to you. Lay out the scope of The Assassination Complex, especially now as President Obama is about to reveal at least what the government is willing to admit are the number of people killed in drone strikes.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right, well, Amy, you know, the covert drone program, for the majority of its lifespan, has been shrouded in secrecy, and it was sort of a kind of macabre joke in Washington, because the entire world could see that the U.S. was raining bombs down on people across the globe and in an increasing number of countries in the early stages of Obama’s presidency, and yet the United States would never officially confirm that it had conducted a drone strike. And instead, you would see President Obama making jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner about how he was going to conduct a drone strike against the Jonas Brothers if they came near his daughters, and everybody yucks it up and laughs in Washington about it. He then answered a question on a Google Plus hangout, but never gave a substantive policy speech on the use of drones, really, until 2013.

And what the Obama administration is doing right now is basically trying to rebrand and engage in historical revisionism about what is going to be one of the most deadly legacies of the Obama era, and that is that somehow they came up with a cleaner way of waging war. I would say that the most significant aspect of what President Obama has done, regarding drones and regarding the so-called targeted killing program around the world, is that Obama has codified assassination as a central official component of American foreign policy. And he has implemented policies that a Republican probably would not have been able to implement, certainly not with the support that Obama has received from so many self-identified liberals. It will be very interesting to see, if a Republican wins, how many of the MSNBC pundits and other, you know, so-called liberals—what their position will be on these very same policies.

But the fact is that the White House—we understand the White House is going to be releasing statistics, that some indicate are going to say that upwards of 60 people—six-zero people—have been killed in drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a—it’s a horrifying piece of propaganda, if that is—if that’s true. The reason that the Obama administration and that the president can say to the American people, "Well, we’ve only killed a small number of civilians," is because—and our documents in the book show this—because they have embraced a system of counting the dead which almost always will result in zero civilians killed, because anyone who is killed in a drone strike, under this administration, is labeled as an enemy killed in action, an EKIA, until or unless posthumously proven to have not been a militant, a terrorist, what have you. This is a global assassination program that is authorized and run under what amounts to a parallel legal system or judicial system where the president and his advisers serve as the judge, jury and executioner of people across the globe. And so, the documents that we obtained will give lie to the proclamations that this somehow is a saner, less deadly form of warfare when it comes to impacting civilians.

And the final thing, Amy, that I would say is that I think what you really see come through in the military’s own assessments, that we’re publishing in this book, of the drone program is that the U.S. is creating self-fulfilling prophecies. Rather than stopping terrorism, the U.S., through its drone program, is encouraging terrorism and providing terrorist organization with recruitment material, just as the Guantánamo prison serves as recruitment material for the people that the Obama administration claims it’s trying stop from conducting acts of terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jeremy Scahill. We’re also joined by Glenn Greenwald. He’s in Rio de Janeiro, and I’m in Sarasota, Florida, right near SOCOM, the Special Operations Command. In the afterword, Glenn, of The Assassination Complex, you say that most of the revelations in the book, quote, "signify one of the most enduring and consequential aspects of the Obama legacy: the continuation of endless war." Can you expand on this?

GLENN GREENWALD: It seems like a really distant memory now, but if you look back to what President Obama, then-Senator Obama, was saying in 2006, 2007, as his critique of the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism, he was essentially railing against not just the policies, but the mindset and the approach that, once he became president, he ended up not only embracing, but strengthening and increasing. He talked all the time about how terrible it was to treat somebody like a terrorist and punish them with imprisonment in Guantánamo, with indefinite detention, without so much as giving them the right to have a trial. And not only has he continued the system of indefinite detention—and he intended to continue the system of indefinite detention, even if he were able to close Guantánamo; his plan was simply to shift it to American soil—he’s done much more than that. He has institutionalized a program where now we don’t only just imprison people without any charges or due process, we don’t just eavesdrop on them, which was one of his big critiques of the Bush administration, without first giving them due process or a trial, we now just target them for execution, for death, for a death penalty.

You know, for a long time, a staple of Democratic ideology has been that the death penalty is wrong, even with a full trial and appeals and due process and lawyers and all of the constitutional rights that are afforded to criminal defendants. And yet President Obama has embraced a policy that says that he can literally go around the world, target people for death anywhere in the world that he wants, including places where we’re not at war, including even American citizens, and simply eradicate their lives based on his order—not in a war zone, people who are not engaged in combat at the time they’re killed. They’re killed in cars, in their houses, while they’re working, driving with their children, at funerals, rescuing people. Wherever it is that they might be found, they can simply be killed.
And the most extraordinary aspect about it is that Democratic partisans, who were cheering his critiques in 2006 and 2007 and pretending to oppose this approach because it was a Republican who did it, switched completely on a dime. And the minute that President Obama embraced these policies, they, as public opinion polls show, completely switched how they think about all of these policies and started supporting them. And what this has meant is that these policies have shifted from being just a right-wing, extremist, Republican framework into one that is fully bipartisan, and therefore will be institutionalized and has been strengthened for years, if not decades, to come, in a way that George Bush and Dick Cheney could only have dreamed of.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from National Bird, a new documentary on drone warfare that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month. This is Lisa Ling, a former drone system technical sergeant.
LISA LING: This is global. This is getting information anywhere at any time, shooting people from anywhere at any time. And it’s not just one person sitting there with a little remote control, a little joystick, moving around a plane that’s halfway across the world. That’s not all there is. It’s like borders don’t matter anymore. And there’s a huge system that spans the globe, that can just suck up endless amounts of your life, your personal data. I mean, this could grow to get so out of control. And we’re not the only ones that have this. This is going to be commonplace, if it’s not already. It’s a secret program. And what that means is that I can’t just go shouting off the hilltops telling the public what it is. What I can tell you is that, to me, one person who worked within this massive thing, it’s frightening.
AMY GOODMAN: Drone whistleblower Lisa Ling in the documentary National Bird.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How Drone Kills Happen: "Eye in The Sky" Film Dramatizes Techno-Moral Dilemma

Director Gavin Hood sat down with Reason TV's Meredith Bragg to discuss the film, Eye in the Sky.

In a world of secret kill lists and drone operators who routinely blow up terrorist targets from thousands of miles away, ordinary citizens have little understanding of how specific missions are given the green light.

Eye in the Sky, the highly praised new thriller from Oscar-winning director Gavin Hood starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and the late Alan Rickman in his final role, takes us into the secretive world of military operations, forcing the audience to wrestle with the moral, legal, and political questions surrounding a single drone mission.

"We are only at the beginning of where this kind of warfare is going," Hood explains. "I think this is an evolving conversation and I hope that if an audience goes into this film not knowing much about drones they will come out more informed, they will come out having experienced a good movie and a good thriller but they will also be left with a lot to talk about."

Hood sat down with Reason TV's Meredith Bragg to discuss the film, which goes into wide release this weekend, and why he hopes the movie will spark a national conversation about drone warfare.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhkD--W6gB4

Approximately 11 minutes.

Produced and Edited by Meredith Bragg.
Published on Mar 17, 2016

Friday, April 1, 2016

Author Scott Shane on "Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone"

Democracy Now   March 18, 2016   Web Exclusive

In this web exclusive interview, New York Times reporter Scott Shane discusses his new book, "Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone." It just won the 2016 Lionel Gelber Prize. The book tells the story of the first American deliberately killed in a drone strike, Anwar al-Awlaki, and examines why U.S. counterterrorism efforts since 9/11 seem to have backfired.

Read TRANSCRIPT below or Watch HERE
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue our conversation with Scott Shane, the national security reporter for The New York Times. His new book is called Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone. It just won the 2016 Lionel Gelber Prize. The book tells the story of the first American deliberately killed in a drone strike, Anwar al-Awlaki, and examines why U.S. counterterrorism efforts since 9/11 seem to have backfired.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Shane, why don’t you start off with the title of the book, Objective Troy?
SCOTT SHANE: Yeah. If you are added to the kill list, the list of suspected terrorists that, in the Obama administration, have been targeted for killing in drone strikes, the military calls you an "objective" and gives you a codename. And in Anwar al-Awlaki’s case, he was given the name "Objective Troy." You know, at first I wondered if that was some reference to the Trojan horse or something literary or symbolic, but it turns out that they gave the people targeted in Yemen the names of Ohio towns. So Anwar al-Awlaki became Objective Troy because of Troy, Ohio, small town in Ohio.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what this program was, what the Obama administration did and the whole thesis of, well, the subtitle, A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone.
SCOTT SHANE: Well, you know, I wanted to take a look at both sides of the kind of problem that has dominated U.S. foreign policy for 15 years, and that is the threat of terrorism and what the U.S.’s response has been. And the story of Anwar al-Awlaki sort of captures both sides of this, because, on the one hand, he was an American who spent about half of his 40 years in the U.S., had a quite happy life here, had a very successful career as an imam here, denounced 9/11, called for bridge building after 9/11, and yet he ended up with al-Qaeda in his last years plotting attacks on the U.S. So I wanted to sort of understand that trajectory and what made him take that course.
And on the other side, I guess, as a reporter, I’ve been struck by the fact that just about everything the U.S. has done against the terrorist threat or in connection with the terrorist threat since 9/11, whatever its contribution to the U.S. security, has also generated this sort of backlash that has played into the hands of al-Qaeda and, more recently, ISIS. So, you know, I’m talking about the CIA’s black sites, interrogation and torture at Guantánamo, the prison at Guantámao Bay, and, you know, especially under Obama, the drone strikes. You know, all of these things have become sort of recruiting tools for al-Qaeda and ISIS, proof that—you know, for those groups, that the U.S. is at war with Islam, as they say, and therefore, you know, a generator of recruits for the very groups that the U.S. is trying to fight.
And Awlaki’s case also provided insight into that. You know, he was killed in 2011. It took them almost a year and a half to find him. In Yemen, you know, a drone found him. He was killed along with another American acolyte, Samir Khan, and two Yemeni guys from al-Qaeda. And I think, at the time, the Obama administration saw this as a real victory, a sort of feather in their cap. A few months earlier, they had caught and killed Osama bin Laden. But in retrospect, while Anwar al-Awlaki was removed as an operational terrorist—he wasn’t going to actually participate, obviously, in any more terrorist plots—he was a guy whose greatest importance was as the most effective ideologue, propagandist recruiter for al-Qaeda, in English, you know, in its history. And he has lived on on the Internet. I went on YouTube yesterday and put his name into the search engine, and you come up with 67,000 videos, most of which are his life’s work, from the early days when he put out mainstream boxes of CDs, 53 CDs on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, all the way through to the al-Qaeda stuff at the end of his life, when he was instructing Muslims in the West and in the United States that it was their religious obligation to stage attacks. And it’s all there, and it remains very powerful, very influential, more than four years after his death. And not only that, but by killing him, the U.S. government inadvertently promoted him to martyrdom in the eyes of his fans. So if you go on YouTube, you find that they have posted and reposted his videos with tributes to Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, the great martyr. So he speaks from beyond the grave with even more authority and influence than when he was alive.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go back to Anwar al-Awlaki in November 2001. He spoke to The Washington Post then about the significance of Ramadan.
ANWAR AL-AWLAKI: Ramadan is a chance for us to get away from the worldly indulgence in everything that is material. It’s a chance for us to have a more austere life. I think that, in general, Islam is presented in a—in a negative way. I mean, there’s always this association between Islam and terrorism, when that is not true at all. I mean, Islam is a religion of peace.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, less than 10 years later, Anwar al-Awlaki released this al-Qaeda video, "A Call to Jihad."
ANWAR AL-AWLAKI: Do not be deceived by the promises of preserving your rights from a government that is right now killing your own brothers and sisters. Today, with the war between Muslims and the West escalating, you cannot count on the message of solidarity you may get from a civic group or a political party, or the word of support you hear from a kind neighbor or a nice co-worker. The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens. Hence my advice to you is this. You have two choices: either hijra or jihad. You either leave or you fight.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s Anwar al-Awlaki. So, Scott Shane, can you talk about his transformation and how he came to work with al-Qaeda? And also, that video, where was it recorded?
SCOTT SHANE: Well, the first video was recorded by The Washington Post when—at a time right after 9/11, when the media in Washington discovered that there was this young, charismatic imam who spoke native English and native Arabic and was available to explain Islam to Americans, who suddenly had a great interest in this topic. And, you know, he was suddenly in The New York Times and The Washington Post. He was on TV, he was on the radio. And he—you know, he was sort of on a trajectory to become a major public figure in the U.S. He was well on his way—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, he was invited to the Pentagon, right?
SCOTT SHANE: He spoke—he was a luncheon speaker at the Pentagon. He preached at the Capitol. And, you know, looking back, I have often thought that he might have been a national voice for American Muslims in the last 15 years, a voice that has not really existed at the highest level, sort of on the Sunday TV shows and that kind of thing. He was certainly capable of that. And I think that was where he was headed. But some personal things and some external sort of world developments intervened.
The first personal thing that happened was he discovered—he was actually planning—he was very happy in the U.S. He was planning to stay and keep his career going. The FBI, which had looked into him after 9/11, had concluded he had no ties to al-Qaeda and no ties to the 9/11 plot, even though a few of the hijackers had prayed at his mosques, and so they were worried about that, but they had essentially cleared him. But what he found out was that in the process of following him around to see if he had any ties to al-Qaeda, they had discovered that he had the habit of visiting prostitutes in Washington hotels on a regular basis. And one of the managers of one of these escort services that he had been using called him out—called him up and told him the FBI knew all about these visits. And he panicked. And he—you know, he was a conservative preacher with a conservative congregation, and he just could not stand the idea that he would be exposed as a hypocrite before the world. And he flew off to the U.K. and abandoned his career in the U.S. And so, we had this guy with a lot of talent and a lot of ambition, and he was sort of in play at this point, and he was looking for a new place to take his career.
And the other thing that happened, while he was in the U.K. preaching and taking an increasingly radical line, although it was always shaped at that point in terms of Islamic history and sort of the history of jihad in Muhammad’s—in the Prophet Muhammad’s time—but the other thing that happened, of course, was the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan, which Anwar al-Awlaki denounced, but in a fairly modest way, mild way. But when the U.S. invaded Iraq, that had a huge impact on him. And, you know, I think he began to think about what bin Laden had already said, which was that there was a war between the U.S. and Islam, and you had to take sides.
And eventually he ended up in Yemen. He was in prison for a year and a half without charges, in part with the encouragement of the United States, which was worried about his influence as a radicalizer. And when he got out of prison, not long after that, he moved to the tribal territories in Yemen and hooked up with al-Qaeda. And so, when he made that second video, he was, you know, a quite influential member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and he was a part of a small cell within that group that was focused, not as the bulk of the group was on the Yemeni government and the Saudi monarchy, but on the so-called far enemy, as al-Qaeda called it, the United States. So he played a significant role in organizing the underwear bomb attack on Christmas Day in 2009, as folks will remember, when a young Nigerian tried to blow up a plane over Detroit. He played a role in sending two bombs in printer ink cartridges aboard cargo planes addressed to Chicago, clearly chosen because of the association with Obama.
So, you know, you had this peculiar situation where Obama had given the kill order, and the American drones were looking for Awlaki, to send a missile his way in Yemen. And he was, in effect, sending, you know, airplanes back at the U.S. loaded with bombs. But actually, the plots he was involved in all failed. And as I mentioned, he was killed at the end of September in 2011.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Scott Shane, could you talk about the 2010 legal opinion, which made it, in fact, legal and constitutional to kill Anwar al-Awlaki? You write in Objective Troy, "Before 9/11, anyone proposing to use missiles in a country where we were not at war to kill suspected terrorists week after week would have been met with strong opposition." So could you tell us about the people who wrote this opinion, David Barron and Marty Lederman?
SCOTT SHANE: Yeah. I mean, what is sort of striking about the drone program, in general, is the, in my opinion, excessive secrecy that has been attached to it. So, it took years before there was any congressional debate. We still don’t know what the government itself thinks is the record of the drone program. And it took us—I filed a FOIA, a Freedom of Information, request in 2010 for all the Justice Department legal opinions on targeted killing, and it took a long court fight before an appeals court gave us—ordered the government to release redacted copies of two legal opinions that justified the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. So, you know, there’s been a great deal of secrecy even around the legal opinions that the government—in which the government explains why it believes these actions are legal and constitutional.
But in this particular instance, after the evidence emerged connecting Anwar al-Awlaki to the underwear bomb plot in December of 2009, President Obama essentially asked the Justice Department to take a look at whether it would be legal and constitutional for him to give the order to kill this guy, because he was an American citizen. And, you know, on the face of it, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deprive someone of life or liberty without due process of law. So, Marty Lederman and David Barron were both sort of liberal legal academics who had been highly critical of the Bush administration and its approach to counterterrorism. So, they suddenly found themselves with the job of, in great secrecy, deciding whether it was legal to target and kill Anwar al-Awlaki. And they concluded that it was, and gave the word to the White House. And the White House approved—the president approved on February 5th, 2010, the legality of killing this guy. That was based on one legal opinion, which they completed in written form in February.
Then, out in the world, it had been leaked that Anwar al-Awlaki was on the kill list, and some legal scholars, you know, criticized this decision. And they came up with another legal opinion in July of 2010 sort of plugging the holes that people had poked in this argument. But, you know, what’s interesting is, for my book, with the help of a friend who teaches constitutional law, I organized a sort of unofficial, informal poll of people who had taught or do teach constitutional law, professors of constitutional law. And of about three dozen, I asked them only the question: "Was it legal and constitutional for the U.S. government to kill Anwar al-Awlaki?" And the answers came back very divided. About a third said, yes, it was. About a third said, no, it was not. And about a third said it depended on the details. So, this is far from a settled question—
AMY GOODMAN: And what does it mean if it’s not, Scott?
SCOTT SHANE: —certainly in the scholarly community.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Shane, what does it mean, if it’s not?
SCOTT SHANE: Well, it means that this—that this act, certainly in the opinions of the critics, that it violated the Fifth Amendment and maybe the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. And some would also argue that it violates some statutes, including one called the foreign-murder statute. And so, you know, how this will play out in future administrations, we’ll have to see. But the precedent has been set.
AMY GOODMAN: So then, it could be that President Obama, if it was found not to be legal, could be brought up on war crimes.
SCOTT SHANE: I think that’s highly unlikely, because it’s hard to imagine, you know, how this ever comes before a court. Anwar al-Awlaki’s father Nasser, the former agriculture minister and chancellor of universities in Yemen, twice went to U.S. court. He felt—he was a big fan of America, had spent a dozen years living here, and he felt that he wanted to hold the U.S. to what he saw as its principles, which he had always admired. And so, he went to court twice, first to get his son off the kill list and then to force the government to sort of present the evidence on which—on the basis of which it had killed his son and, actually, his grandson, who had been killed in a second drone strike. And both those cases were dismissed. And so, you know, this question, as has happened often since 9/11, you know, a major question that you would hope and think that American courts would sort of weigh in on, has not actually found a way to come before the justice system.
AMY GOODMAN: And that point you just made about—and then his son was killed. I mean, two weeks later, a 16-year-old boy, right, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who went out to find his father in the desert, who’s sitting at an outdoor cafe, is then killed in a drone strike, born in Denver, Colorado. What is the explanation of this?
SCOTT SHANE: I mean, the explanation that I heard repeatedly from people inside the government was that this was a tragic and colossal screw-up. You know, the claim is—and I believe this—that they had no idea who they were shooting at, which unfortunately has happened too often in the drone war. They believed that they were shooting at a kind of mid-level al-Qaeda guy, an Egyptian named Ibrahim al-Banna. He turned out not to be there. There is some evidence that some of the people—some of the seven men killed in that strike were affiliated with al-Qaeda, but two of the others there were 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki and his 17-year-old cousin.
Abdulrahman, who by all accounts was a very sweet kid, a great kid with no history of any association with radicalism or terrorism, as you say, he had left home. He was living with his grandparents. He had left home to find his father. And this was after—you know, everybody remembers the spring of 2011 and a lot of young people coming out onto the central squares in Arab capitals, including in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. And young Abdulrahman had been part of that and had sort of had a political awakening. And I think that led to his desire to find his father, talk to his father about all these big issues. You know, his father was, by then, essentially a notorious member of al-Qaeda. He did not find his father, but while he was looking for him, he got word that his father had been killed in an American drone strike in another part of Yemen. There is evidence that at that point this 16-year-old kid, you know, said, "That does it, I’m joining the jihad," and that that may be one reason why he was with al-Qaeda figures when he was killed.
But it remains also the case that he was not on any American kill list and that Obama was reportedly furious when he heard that this had happened, because he understood that while a lot of Yemenis understood the death of Anwar al-Awlaki—I mean, he was seen as trying to kill Americans, and the Americans got to him first, and Yemen is a tribal land where people kind of understand that. The death of the 16-year-old made a huge impression. And when I was reporting for the book in 2014 in Yemen, you know, I found that that was still something that caused huge outrage and grief and remained a kind of stain on the American reputation in Yemen, and certainly had played into the hands of al-Qaeda there.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, people in the Obama administration, including Obama himself, have in fact justified the use of drones and targeted killings by saying that it vastly diminishes the number of civilian casualties, or what’s referred to as collateral damage. What do you make of that?
SCOTT SHANE: Well, certainly, in the history of warfare, if you take a long view and you look back at World War I or World War II and the firebombing of Tokyo and of Dresden, let alone the atomic bombs, if you even look at Vietnam, you know, with the Americans dropping huge tonnage of bombs on Vietnamese villages, I mean, the killing in those wars was incomparably greater than in the drone program. And I think what drew Obama to the drone was the idea that you would fit the weapon to the target. He thought the big wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had been, you know, essentially failures, disasters, had not really contributed to making the U.S. safer from terrorism and had these colossal civilian casualties and casualties for American troops, civilian casualties in the hundreds of thousands. So, he thought, if a drone could kill three terrorists, five terrorists, you know, that would—without turning a country upside down, that would make a lot of sense.
I don’t think he has given up on that belief. He’s said to believe that, you know, real attacks on the West had been averted by drone strikes. But I think the administration has also learned that it’s impossible to get perfect intelligence to tell who’s who on the ground thousands of miles away. And so that these drone strikes have, in some cases, [inaudible] maybe as many of—you know, of 10 or 20 percent of the people killed have been innocents. And that’s produced a huge backlash. And the question of sort of the invasion of other countries’ sovereignty has produced a big political backlash in Yemen and Pakistan. So, you know, sort of the bottom line on this program remains to be, you know, judged. What is clear is I’m told that there are now six countries that have used armed drones. You know, the example the U.S. has set is being copied around the world. And I don’t think this weapon is going to go away. So the path that the U.S. has sort of pioneered is going to play out, and we’ll see what the consequences are.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Shane, we don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask about another thread through Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone, in this parallel in the lives of Anwar al-Awlaki and President Obama in how they grew up, their family backgrounds. Can you talk about this and the different paths they took?
SCOTT SHANE: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think—I don’t want to make too much of this. It’s, in a way, a somewhat random observation. But it is remarkable that both Barack Obama and Anwar al-Awlaki were born in the U.S. to fathers of Muslim background who had come to the United States to study as graduate students. Both of them then were taken by their families overseas to Muslim countries, and then they came back to the U.S. Barack Obama, of course, went to Indonesia and came back with his mother. Anwar al-Awlaki came back to go to—was sent back by his father from Yemen to attend college at Colorado State.
And interestingly, this caused them both, I think it’s fair to say, some confusion about identity, some sort of identity crisis, which Obama has famously described in his book, Dreams from My Father. And Obama actually talks in that book about the temptation of radicalism, of militancy, that he felt as a young man, as a young black man in America, with this very colorful and sort of mixed-up background. Anwar al-Awlaki clearly also, ultimately, felt the temptation of radicalism and ended up taking, you know, a very different path from Barack Obama. But it’s sort of fascinating. President Obama wouldn’t talk to me for this book, but maybe after he’s out of office, I would love to sit down with him and talk to him about how he sees all of this.
AMY GOODMAN: And what most surprised you in writing this book, in writing Objective Troy?
SCOTT SHANE: You know, I guess what struck me was—and I guess this is true of all of our lives, but the sort of random twists and turns that have such a profound effect on an individual life and sometimes on the course of history. I think if that escort service manager had not called Anwar al-Awlaki and sent him on the path that ended with al-Qaeda in Yemen, we might be as tired of seeing Anwar al-Awlaki on Meet the Press as some people are of seeing Senator McCain on Meet the Press, and he might be, you know, a sort of prominent American political voice and perhaps a useful voice, given the events of the last 15 years. So, you know, it just struck me in a way how contingent life is, how random life is and how very small events can have profound outcomes.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Shane, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Scott Shane is national security reporter for The New York Times. Along with Jo Becker, he recently wrote a two-part series [part one, part two] in the Times, "The Libya Gamble," but he’s also author of the brand new book, Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone. The book just won the 2016 Lionel Gelber Prize. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Killing Someone Else’s Beloved: Promoting the American Way of War in Campaign 2016

Published on Thursday, March 03, 2016 

 Protesters hold a sign during a 2014 drone protest.  (Photo: Susan Melkisethian/flickr/cc)
The crowd that gathered in an airplane hangar in the desert roared with excitement when the man on stage vowed to murder women and children.

It was just another Donald Trump campaign event, and the candidate had affirmed his previously made pledge not only to kill terrorists but to “take out” their family members, too. Outrageous as that might sound, it hardly distinguished Trump from most of his Republican rivals, fiercely competing over who will commit the worst war crimes if elected. All the chilling claims about who will preside over more killings of innocents in distant lands -- and the thunderous applause that meets such boasts -- could easily be taken as evidence that the megalomaniacal billionaire Republican front-runner, his various opponents, and their legions of supporters, are all crazytown.

Yet Trump’s pledge to murder the civilian relatives of terrorists could be considered quite modest -- and, in its bluntness, refreshingly candid -- when compared to President Obama’s ongoing policy of loosing drones and U.S. Special Operations forces in the Greater Middle East.  Those policies, the assassinations that go with them, and the “collateral damage” they regularly cause are based on one premise when it comes to the American public: that we will permanently suspend our capacity for grief and empathy when it comes to the dead (and the living) in distant countries.

Classified documents recently leaked to the Intercept by a whistleblower describe the “killing campaign” carried out by the CIA and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command in Yemen and Somalia. (The U.S. also conducts drone strikes in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya; the leaked documents explain how President Obama has institutionalized the practice of striking outside regions of “active hostilities.”) Intelligence personnel build a case against a terror suspect and then develop what’s termed a “baseball card” -- a condensed dossier with a portrait of the individual targeted and the nature of the alleged threat he poses to U.S. interests -- that gets sent up the chain of command, eventually landing in the Oval Office.  The president then meets with more than 100 representatives of his national security team, generally on a weekly basis, to determine just which of those cards will be selected picked for death.  (The New York Times has vividly described this intimate process of choosing assassination targets.)

Orders then make their way down to drone operators somewhere in the United States, thousands of miles from the individuals slated to be killed, who remotely pilot the aircraft to the location and then pull the trigger. But when those drone operators launch missiles on the other side of the world, the terrifying truth is that the U.S. “is often unsure who will die,” as a New York Times headline put it.
That’s because intel on a target’s precise whereabouts at any given moment can be faulty. And so, as the Times reported, “most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.” In 2014, for instance, the human-rights group Reprieve, analyzing what limited data on U.S. drone strikes was available, discovered that in attempts to kill 41 terror figures (not all of whom died), 1,147 people were killed.  The study found that the vast majority of strikes failed to take down the intended victim, and thus numerous strikes were often attempted on a single target. The Guardian reported that in attempts to take down 24 men in Pakistan -- only six of whom were eventually eliminated in successful drone strikes -- the U.S. killed an estimated 142 children.

Trump’s plan merely to murder the relatives of terrorists seems practically tame, by comparison.

Their Grief and Mine 

Apparently you and I are meant to consider all those accidental killings as mere “collateral damage,” or else we’re not meant to consider them at all. We’re supposed to toggle to the “off” position any sentiment of remorse or compassion that we might feel for all the civilians who die thanks to our country’s homicidal approach to keeping us safe.

I admit to a failing here: when I notice such stories, sometimes buried deep in news reports -- including the 30 people killed, three of them children, when U.S. airpower “accidentally” hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last October; or the two women and three children blasted to smithereens by U.S. airpower last spring at an Islamic State checkpoint in northern Iraq because the pilots of two A-10 Warthogs attacking the site didn’t realize that civilians were in the vehicles stopped there; or the innumerable similar incidents that have happened with remarkable regularity and which barely make it into American news reports -- I find I can’t quite achieve the cold distance necessary to accept our government’s tactics.  And for this I blame (or thank) my father.
To understand why it’s so difficult for me to gloss over the dead, you have to know that on December 1, 2003, a date I will never forget nor fully recover from, I called home from a phone booth on a cobblestone street in Switzerland -- where I was backpacking at the time -- and learned that my Dad was dead. A heart attack that struck as suddenly as a Hellfire missile.

Standing in that sun-warmed phone booth clutching the receiver with a slick hand, vomit gurgling up at the back of my throat, I pressed my eyes closed and saw my Dad. First, I saw his back as he sat at the broad desk in his home office, his spot of thinning hair revealed. Then, I saw him in his nylon pants and baseball cap, paused at the kitchen door on his way to play paddle tennis. And finally, I saw him as I had the last time we parted, at Boston’s Logan Airport, on a patch of dingy grey carpet, as I kissed his whiskered cheek.

A few days later, after mute weeping won me a seat on a fully booked trans-Atlantic flight, I stood in the wan light of early December and watched the employees of the funeral home as they unloosed the pulleys to lower Dad’s wooden box into the ground. I peered down into that earthen hole, crying and sweating and shivering in the stinging cold, and tried to make sense of the senseless: Why was he dead while the rest of us lived?

And that’s why, when I read about all the innocent civilians we’ve been killing over the years with the airpower that presidential candidate Ted Cruz calls “a blessing,” I tend to think about the people left behind. Those who loved the people we’ve killed. I wonder how they received the news. (“We’ve had a tragedy here,” my Mom told me.) I wonder about the shattering anguish they surely feel at the loss of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, friends. I wonder what memories come to them when they squeeze their eyes closed in grief. And I wonder if they’ll ever be able to pick up the pieces of their lives and return to some semblance of normalcy in societies that are often shattering around them. (What I don’t wonder about, though, is whether or not they’re more likely to become radicalized -- to hate not just our drones but our country and us -- because the answer to that is obvious.)

Playing God in the Oval Office

“It’s the worst thing to ever happen to anyone,” actor Liam Neeson recently wrote on Facebook. He wasn’t talking about drone strikes, but about the fundamental experience of loss -- of losing a loved one by any means. He was marking five years since his wife’s sudden death. “They say the hardest thing in the world is losing someone you love,” he added. I won’t disagree. After losing her husband, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg posted about “the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me, endless and empty.” After her husband’s sudden death, author Joan Didion described grief as a “relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”

That squares with the description offered by a man in Yemen who had much of his extended family blown away by an American drone at his wedding. “I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness,” the man later told a reporter. The drone arrived just after the wedding party had climbed into vehicles strewn with ribbons to escort the bride to her groom’s hometown. Everyone’s belly was full of lamb and it was dusk. It was quiet. Then the sky opened, and four missiles rained down on the procession, killing 12.

U.S. airpower has hit a bunch of other weddings, too. And funerals. And clinics. And an unknown and unknowable number of family homes. The CIA’s drone assassination campaign in the tribal regions of Pakistan even led a group of American and Pakistani artists to install an enormous portrait of a child on the ground in a frequently targeted region of that country. The artists wanted drone operators to see the face of one of the young people they might be targeting, instead of the tiny infrared figures on their computer consoles that they colloquially refer to as “bugsplats.” It’s an exhortation to them not to kill someone else’s beloved.

Once in a while a drone operator comes forward to reveal the emotional and psychic burden of passing 12-hour shifts in a windowless bunker on an Air Force base, killing by keystroke for a living. One serviceman’s six years on the job began when he was 21 years old and included a moment when he glimpsed a tiny figure dart around the side of a house in Afghanistan that was the target of a missile already on its way. In terror, he demanded of his co-pilot, “Did that look like a child to you?” Feverishly, he began tapping messages to ask the mission’s remote observer -- an intelligence staffer at another location -- if there was a child present. He’ll never know the answer. Moments later, the missile struck the house, leveling it. That particular drone operator has since left the military. After his resignation, he spent a bitterly cold winter in his home state of Montana getting blackout drunk and sleeping in a public playground in his government-issued sleeping bag.

Someone else has, of course, taken his seat at that console and continues to receive kill orders from above.

Meanwhile Donald Trump and most of the other Republican candidates have been competing over who can most successfully obliterate combatants as well as civilians.  (Ted Cruz’s comment about carpet-bombing ISIS until we find out “if sand can glow in the dark” has practically become a catchphrase.)  But it's not just the Republicans. Every single major candidate from both parties has plans to maintain some version of Washington's increasingly far-flung drone campaigns. In other words, a program that originated under President George W. Bush as a crucial part of his “global war on terror,” and that was further institutionalized and ramped up under President Obama, will soon be bequeathed to a new president-elect.

When you think about it that way, election 2016 isn’t so much a vote to select the leader of the planet’s last superpower as it is a tournament to decide who will next step into the Oval Office and have the chance to play god.

Who will get your support as the best candidate to continue killing the loved ones of others?

Go to the polls, America.

Mattea Kramer is a TomDispatch regular who writes on a wide range of topics, from military policy to love and loss. She blogs at This Life After Loss. Follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

NYT Contributor Has Multiple Motives for Denying Drone Crimes

A Little Conflict of Interest? 

Published on  Tuesday, February 23, 2016  by    Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of the National Security Agency and the CIA, testifies before Congress last August. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and CIA, began his New York Times op-ed (2/21/16) with 24 paragraphs of dialogue illustrating how carefully the US government chooses drone targets so as not to put the innocent at risk:
The decision maker asks if there are civilians nearby.
“The family is in the main building. The guys we want are in the big guesthouse here.”
“They’re not very far apart.”
“Far enough.”…
He asks the probability of killing the targets if they use a GBU-12, a powerful 500-pound, laser-guided bomb.
“These guys are sure dead,” comes the reply. “We think the family’s OK.”
“You think they’re OK?”
“They should be.” But the analyst confesses it is impossible to be sure.
The “decision maker” opts for using smaller Hellfire missiles, with which “the family’s safe, but the bad guys might survive.” Then he goes with the 500-pound GBU, after learning that the targets are “big AQ operators. We’ve been trying to track them forever. They’re really careful. They’ve been hard to find. They’re the first team.”
Only after bringing this elaborate story to a happy ending—“The two targets are dead. The civilians have fled the compound. All are alive”—does Hayden reveal that the whole story is fiction (emphasis added):
The dialogue above, representative of many such missions, shows how hard the commanders and analysts work to get it right.
Well, no—since the dialogue is made up for an op-ed, it illustrates how far a former “decision maker” will go to convince the public that his hands are relatively free of innocent blood. Independent analysts, actually, say that a large number of civilians have been killed by the decisions Hayden made as CIA chief, as he acknowledges:
Critics assert that a high percentage of the people killed in drone strikes are civilians—a claim totally at odds with the intelligence I have reviewed—and that the strikes have turned the Muslim world against the United States, fueling terrorist recruitment.
Yes, “critics”—that is to say, people who have actually investigated the results of drone strikes, like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism—have found that at least 10 percent, and perhaps 24 percent or more, of people killed in Pakistan by US drones since 2004 were civilians. US drones have killed at least 172 Pakistani children, the BIJ found.

By contrast, the “intelligence” finds that drone strikes have killed almost no civilians because intelligence officials take the Orwellian position that “military-age males” in the vicinity of a drone strike are by definition not civilians, a grim fact that the New York Times (5/29/12) has reported before:
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: People in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths.
You think?
Hayden painted a picture of US intelligence officials who anguish over the death of a child whose “grandfather had a garage full of dangerous chemicals, and he intended to use them, perhaps on Americans”—suggesting that drone strikes are a scalpel that occasionally and unavoidably nicks an innocent while surgically removing supervillains. That picture is belied by incidents like the December 12, 2013, drone strike on Aqabat Z’aj, Yemen, which killed 12 people—all members of a wedding party transporting a bride from her home village to that of her groom (Human Rights Watch, 2/14).

Such attacks result from the use of “signature strikes”—targeting unknown people whom the US deems to be acting suspiciously (like traveling in an armed convoy through the desert, which is not actually unusual behavior in Yemen). Wrote Hayden:
Critics said these so-called signature strikes were indiscriminate. They were not. Intelligence for signature strikes always had multiple threads and deep history. The data was near encyclopedic.
Here’s a suggestion: If your encyclopedia is telling you to bomb wedding parties, it’s time to get a new encyclopedia.

But killing civilians because they didn’t know who they were bombing is not the worst thing that the drone program had done. Hayden writes that a review of video following a “successful strike” showed that the attack had killed
a frightened woman responding to another weapon that had just detonated…. We realized, once our after-action review was done, that we needed to put even more eyes on targets as they were being struck to try to avoid any future civilian casualties.
Actually, the drone program has deliberately targeted people like that—civilians responding to drone strikes—using a technique known as a “double tap,” when a lethal attack is followed shortly by a second strike to kill those who come to the scene to help. “The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals,” the BIJ (2/4/12) reported.

Hayden’s op-ed is long on fictional accounts of ultra-scrupulous drone planners worrying about striking civilians and completely lacking the real-life incidents where the US has mistakenly targeted weddings and deliberately hit funerals. That’s to be expected when you ask someone who has carried out what the United Nations and other international law experts have called illegal attacks to justify what they’ve done: They’re unlikely to confess to how many innocent lives their criminal actions have lost.

It’s especially unlikely when that person continues to benefit personally from the illegal program, as Hayden does. As the government transparency project Little Sis (2/22/16) noted after the op-ed was published, Hayden sits on the board of Motorola Solutions, which last year “made a strategic investment in CyPhy Works, a leading developer of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones,” as a press release (3/16/15) from the company declared. Motorola Solutions paid Hayden $240,125 for his services last year, Little Sis noted.
Little Sis‘s graphic (2/22/16) showing Michael Hayden’s official and financial ties to the drone program.Little Sis‘s graphic (2/22/16) showing Michael Hayden’s official and financial ties to the drone program. 
The muckraking site also pointed out that Hayden served from 2010 until 2015 on the board of Alion, a company that in 2012 “was awarded a $24 million contract to develop the US Navy’s unmanned and automatic weapons systems.” Alion is not required to disclose compensation for its board members.

The New York Times did not disclose Hayden’s conflict—though the Timesethics rules would seem to prohibit outside contributors advocating on behalf of industries that they have a direct financial stake in. Why such rules would be broken or bent to allow a writer to make self-serving claims that have been disproved by the Times‘ own reporting is a question that op-editors ought to answer.

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Naming the dead: Only 10 of scores killed by US drones in Pakistan last year have been identified

Jack Serle,
Photos for nine of the 10 killed in 2015 for whom we have names, including Warren Weinstein (bottom left) and Giovanni Lo Porto (top left). Qari Ubadiullah’s picture is not available.
Just 10 of the scores killed by US drones in Pakistan last year have so far been identified, according to data collected by the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project.

The names for all 10 came from either terrorist propaganda or the US government, with officials from Pakistan’s government, military and intelligence services declining to provide any names of those killed by the CIA for the first time since strikes started in 2004.

Only a minority of those killed are ever identified, but the number of those named in 2015 was particularly low. In total, according to Bureau research, of the minimum 2,494 people killed by US drones since 2004, only 729 have been named. At least 1,765 victims remain nameless.

The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project is an attempt to identify more of these victims to better ensure accountability for the drone strikes. The CIA continues to carry out signature strikes in Pakistan – attacks on people it claims are terrorists from extensive surveillance and data analysis operations – but the targets’ names are often not known.

In 2015, at least 60 people were killed by 13 strikes.

Of the 10 victims named, two were civilians: westerners Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, who were both aid workers taken hostage by al Qaeda when they were killed in a calamitous drone strike on January 15.

Five more were from al Qaeda and the remaining three were part of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).
Of the 10, four names were provided by the US after weeks of CIA investigations, while the other six emerged from al Qaeda and TTP propaganda.

Name Nationality Group affiliation or job Source
Giovanni Lo Porto Italian Aid worker The White House
Warren Weinstein US Aid worker The White House
Ahmed Farouq US Al Qaeda The White House
Adam Gadahn US Al Qaeda The White House
Qari Ubaidullah Pakistani Al Qaeda Al Qaeda propaganda
Mohammad Ashraf Dar Indian Al Qaeda Al Qaeda propaganda
Talwar Shaheed Pakistani Pakistan Taliban Pakistan Taliban propaganda
Umar Shaheed Pakistani Pakistan Taliban Pakistan Taliban propaganda
Kharey Mehsud Pakistani Pakistan Taliban Pakistan Taliban propaganda
Burak Karlier Turkish Al Qaeda Al Qaeda propaganda

Little or nothing is publicly known about the remaining 50 people. Most were described as “militants” of varying nationalities by intelligence and government officials, and military officers who were quoted anonymously in Pakistani and international media.

In six of the 13 strikes in 2015, the unnamed sources labelled some if not all the people killed as “Uzbeks”.

In four more strikes, the dead were described by their affiliation to an armed group, such as a TTP faction under a specific commander.

Although Pakistani officials were happy to brief journalists throughout last year on the nature of the drone strikes and the nationalities or terrorist affiliations of those killed, it was the first time since 2004 they did not help in the identification process.

They have previously leaked the names of those killed.

Why so few named in 2015?

It is unclear why 2015 was different. It could be that the identities of those killed were not known before Hellfire missiles struck and unless friends, relatives or comrades come forward their names might never be known.

Alternatively, victims’ names could have been caught in the information lock down put in place in the tribal areas by ISPR – the Pakistani military’s propaganda wing.

The Pakistani military has been fighting terrorists and other non-state armed groups in Waziristan since June 2014. Since then there has been a tight control on information released to the press about the campaign.

CIA drone strikes may be subject to the same strict information control.

Spies, officials and terrorist propaganda: How we get the names

It is not unusual for the those carrying out drone strikes – nor for communities on the receiving end – to give out the names of the dead, though they have never been the only sources of names.

Terrorist propaganda has been a rich seam for identities and background information. Similarly, intelligence service and government officials in Washington have also quietly revealed to reporters the names and potted histories of some of the senior terrorists killed in the strikes.

Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI, may know the identities of many if not all of the dead. It is believed to have kept a record of the names of the people killed in the tribal areas, by drones and other means. Its officers have been sources of names of the dead in strikes from 2004 to 2014.

Why this stopped in 2015 is all the more confusing considering unnamed “Pakistani security officials” told the Express Tribune the first and so far only CIA strike of 2016 killed senior Taliban commander Maulana Noor Saeed, along with four others, on January 9.

Although the ISI enjoys a reputation for omniscience it is still possible even its officials do not know who died.

The same officials, intelligence officers and soldiers in Pakistan, however, told journalists the names of TTP and al Qaeda terrorists killed in US strikes across the border in eastern and southern Afghan provinces.
The Pakistani army has slowly worked its way across the tribal areas that run along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, driving the various armed groups deeper in to the mountains that run across the boundary separating the two countries.

Many of these fighters appear to have been forced across the border.

Afghan officials in Kabul and the provincial capitals also identified people killed in strikes in Afghanistan. The Bureau has recorded more than 100 names from over 700 people reported killed last year in Afghanistan.

The true death toll is higher. The Bureau’s tally of people killed relates to 187 US strikes in Afghanistan last year for which there are media or other open source reports. The US says it carried out 411 air and drone strikes in total. The US will not provide individual details on each of these attacks and most of them go unreported – leaving a considerable gap in public understanding of the ongoing US war in Afghanistan.

Picture credit: Composite of images from terrorist propaganda videos, except Giovanni Lo Porto which is adapted from Nazionale Anpas/Flickr (Creative Commons).

The Naming the Dead project is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Follow Jack Serle on Twitter and sign up for the monthly update from the Bureau’s Covert War project.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Drones and 'What Makes Us Different'

by Joseph Nevins  Published on  Monday, January 25, 2016 by Common Dreams
The documentary Drone makes painfully clear that it is the U.S. government’s ability to kill at a distance—with impunity and with widespread support, or at least resignation, of the citizenry—that "makes us different" from other nations. (Still image: Drone, The Documentary)
Seven years ago this month and three days after Barack Obama assumed the presidency on January 20, 2009, the first drone strike of his administration took place--in a small village in the region of Pakistan known as North Waziristan. It targeted the family compound of Faheem Qureshi, fracturing the young teen’s skull and destroying one of his eyes, while killing, among others, two of his uncles and a 21-year-old cousin. The White House’s intended target, it was later revealed, was not, nor had he ever been, present at the site. About ten months later, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced its decision to award Obama the annual Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

In his speech at the Oslo City Hall upon accepting the prize on December 10, 2009, Obama insisted that “the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war,” suggesting that U.S. war-waging is somehow superior, more ethical, than those of the country’s adversaries. “That is what makes us different from those whom we fight,” he proclaimed. “That is a source of our strength.”

No doubt there are many things that distinguish the United States—not least the enormity of its military budget, and its global network of military bases. But as the documentary Drone (which premiered in the United States and Canada in late November and which includes footage from Obama’s speech) makes painfully clear, it is the U.S. government’s ability to kill at a distance—with impunity and with widespread support, or at least resignation, of the citizenry—that also “makes us different.”

Remotely piloted aircraft, what are popularly known as drones, allow the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence apparatus to track and monitor individuals from afar with little risk. According to Brandon Bryant, a former drone operator interviewed in the film states, “We’re the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate peeping toms. No one is going to catch us.”

It also allows the Pentagon to engage in what is effectively a global assassination program with little domestic cost. “It’s never been easier for an American president to carry out a killing operation at the ends of the earth at any time in American history,” explains Mark Mazzetti, a reporter with The New York Times. “And when you define the world as a battlefield, that’s a very broad range of operations you can carry out.”

An explosive series of articles published in October by The Intercept shows just how far-reaching—and, perhaps most damningly, indiscriminate—these operations are. Based on classified documents leaked to the online magazine by an unnamed whistleblower within the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the series exposes the falsehoods underlying official Washington’s spin on drone strikes. While Obama administration officials claim that civilian casualties are not common in drone strikes, the documents make clear that the Pentagon typically does not know who it has killed.
 
U.S. airstrikes carried out in northeastern Afghanistan between January 2012 and February 2013 (as part of Operation Haymaker), for example, killed more than 200 people, only 35 of whom were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. In Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.

That the U.S. government can and does kill in this way, and often in countries with which the United States is not even at war, with little protest at home, demonstrates one of the ways imperialism functions: the deaths of “others,” particularly those associated, even if only by virtue of where they happen to reside, with people and places constructed as threats, are not only undeserving of sympathy, they’re also barely noticed.

Writing soon after the November release of the video of the horrific police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald—shot 16 times as he was moving away from Chicago police officers—New York Times columnist Charles Blow argues that the “only reason that these killings keep happening is because most of American society tacitly approves or willfully tolerates it. There is no other explanation. If America wanted this to end, it would end.”

Blow goes on to say that the “exceeding sad and dreadfully profound truth is that America — the majority of America, and that generally means much of white America — has turned away, averted its gaze and refused to take a strong moral stance in opposition. That’s the same as granting silent approval.”

These observations could just as easily apply to the Obama administration’s brutality toward Faheem Qureshi and the killing of his loved ones—and of so many others around the world. Just as white America must be made to overcome what Blow calls an “endemic anti-black bias” to help bring an end to the grossly disproportionate killing of African Americans by police, so, too, must the United States as a whole be made to “see the issue [in this case drones] as an intolerable human cruelty” to stop the Pentagon’s killing ways abroad.

Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based human rights organization Reprieve, offers a similar analysis while speaking to a crowd of Pakistanis during the film Drone: “Until America sees your children as they see my children, we will never get justice in the world.”

Realizing the radically egalitarian vision implied by these words is obviously no easy task. This makes it all the more important that those of us who see all children, and adults, as being inherently of equal worth back the efforts of those opposing killer drones—from those of courageous U.S. air force veterans publicly denouncing the drone program to peace groups such as CODEPINK.

Supporting such efforts would be one small way to acknowledge what the United States has done to Faheem Qureshi and his family, something the Obama administration has thus far refused to do, and constitute a step in the long journey to a more just world. As Brandon Bryant, one of the air force whistleblowers has asserted, “At the end of our pledge of allegiance, we say ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ I believe that should be applied to not only American citizens, but everyone that we interact with as well, to put them on an equal level and to treat them with respect.”

In other words, we need to act in a fundamentally different way than one which involves the nationalist proclamation of “what makes us different” (and supposedly better).

Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at Vassar College. His latest book is Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books).