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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In Yemen, Drones Don't Kill Innocents

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Common Dreams

When US military strikes kill civilians, it seems there's always someone ready to claim that US weaponry doesn't kill anyone who doesn't deserve it.
Over the weekend, there were reports that noncombatants were among the dead after the US carried out drone strikes in Yemen on what were said to be suspected Al-Qaeda affiliates. And, sure enough, one of the first CNN segments managed to find  someone to deny that this could happen.
On CNN Newsroom (4/19/14), host Fredricka Whitfield interviewed Christopher Hill, former US ambassador to Iraq:
WHITFIELD: So in your view, how significant is this strike, hitting three well-known operatives?
HILL: Well, first of all, I think our services do quite a job tracking these people. And, you know, coming a few days after that brazen effort by the Al-Qaeda leadership to show that they're around, we, I think, demonstrated that we can hunt them down.
I have seen a number of these strikes, and it is amazing how accurate and how well-targeted they are. I mean, the idea that innocents are being killed, it's really not the case.
CNN's Barbara StarrCNN's Barbara Starr.But even by initial government accounts coming out of Yemen, that first strike did in fact kill three civilians, as CNN (4/19/14) and plenty of other outlets were reporting.

But even when that issue of civilian deaths came up, there was a curious spin on the news. Here's how Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr  (4/19/14) explained it:
It looks like three civilians were killed, and that is always a big problem for the United States, because the government of Yemen is very sensitive to these drone strikes.
Perhaps one could see the US government killing innocent people as a "big problem" even if those people's government was not "very sensitive" to the issue of a foreign military killing its citizens by remote control?

On the other hand, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen (4/20/14) did point out on the following day that there are reasons to be skeptical of any of the official claims:
You know, one of the themes of the program is if you're a military-age male in an area where a drone strike is happening, the US will often regard you as a combatant when often that is not the case. Not every military-age male is, in fact, part of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Nonetheless, the reporting on shadowy military strikes that are part of a program that US government does not officially speak about is bound to rely on mostly unnamed government officials, either here in the US or in Yemen.

Just look at today's New York Times story (4/22/14), with the headline "US Drones and Yemeni Forces Kill Qaeda-Linked Fighters, Officials Say." The paper explains that those targeted were "militants who were planning to attack civilian and military facilities, government officials said in a statement." The Times report, entirely reliant on official sources, seemed to acknowledge its own limitations:
Given that the administration would not even confirm that American drones carried out the strikes over the weekend, it was unclear how the people targeted in the strike posed a threat to Americans.
While it's possible that the strikes are indeed targeting and killing terrorists on the verge of launching attacks, history suggests that initial claims can be flat-out wrong.

When a US drone struck a wedding convoy in Yemen last December, for example, the Times offered a sketchy account that backed the official line–"Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al-Qaeda," the paper explained (FAIR Blog, 12/13/13)

A 2009 US attack that included cluster bombs was initially reported by the Times as an attack on an Al-Qaeda camp. On-the-ground reporting (Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 3/29/12) later disclosed that the attack had killed 41 civilians, including 22 children and five pregnant women.
Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the activism director at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra, and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly" (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Drone: exclusive clip from new documentary - video

Watch an exclusive clip from Tonje Hessen Schei's new documentary about drones. The film identifies the unit responsible for CIA operations in Pakistan, and alleges the flights are operated by the US air force, which raises questions about the legal safeguards for military pilots. The film also shows how the military recruits young gamers to fly different types of remotely piloted aircraft.

WATCH Drone Film Clip

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Democracy NOW! Interview with reporter and director of new film: DRONE

Democracy Now on Thursday April 17.

Former Drone Operators Reveal Air Force Plays Key Role in Secret CIA Assassination Campaign. 

A new documentary film reveals how a regular U.S. air force unit based in the Nevada desert is responsible for flying the CIA’s drone strike program in Pakistan. "Drone" identifies the unit conducting CIA strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, which is located on the Creech air force base, about 45 miles from Las Vegas. We are joined by the film’s director, Tonje Schei, and Chris Woods, an award-winning reporter who investigates drone warfare. Woods is featured in "Drone" and is working on a forthcoming book on U.S. drone warfare.

Chris Woods, Award-winning reporter who investigates drone warfare. He recently wrote an article for The Guardian called "CIA’s Pakistan drone strikes carried out by regular US air force personnel." Woods is featured in the new film "Drone" and is working on a forthcoming book called, "Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars."

Tonje Schei, Award-winning director and producer based in Norway. Her new documentary, "Drone," just aired this week on national television in Germany and France.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Atrocities in Afghanistan: A Troubling Timetable *Updated*

By Voices Co-coordinators
Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Since April of 2009, Co-coordinators at Voices have maintained an Afghan Atrocities list by monitoring the news media and keeping track of instances where the US government or ISAF have admitted to killing civilians in Afghanistan. We are grateful to our student interns who converted this data into a visual format. We ask these questions: Why has ISAF consistently pursued a nationwide policy in Afghanistan which has led to increased civilian casualties and is likely to stir up further resistance and violence? Even as the Obama administration talks about withdrawing in 2014, is there is an unspoken interest in destabilizing the country to provide an excuse for a continued military, diplomatic and contractor presence?
Number of Afghans Killed by Year: data for 2014 is provisional 
Number of Afghans Killed by Year: data for 2014 is provisional

Our sources for the Afghan Atrocities Timetable have come only from mainstream news outlets or from instances where civilian casualties were admitted. The data does not address the hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s policy of counting all military aged men as insurgents unless they are posthumously proved innocent nor the likely cover-up of incidents that were never reported in the mainstream media. Furthermore, during the period included in the timetable, Gen. John Allen of the US Army admitted to ISAF having conducted as many as 2200 night raids within one year. Given the frequency of night raids and the lack of transparency involved in such operations, the number of civilian casualties may be much higher than the official figures. We also did not include statistics from human rights organizations about the number of prisoners who may have died while in ISAF custody at prisons such as the facility at Bagram Air Force Base.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Delays in Effort to Refocus C.I.A. From Drone War

WASHINGTON — In the skies above Yemen, the Pentagon’s armed drones have stopped flying, a result of the ban on American military drone strikes imposed by the government there after a number of botched operations in recent years killed Yemeni civilians. But the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone war in Yemen continues. 

In Pakistan, the C.I.A. remains in charge of drone operations, and may continue to be long after American troops have left Afghanistan

And in Jordan, it is the C.I.A. rather than the Pentagon that is running a program to arm and train Syrian rebels — a concession to the Jordanian government, which will not allow an overt military presence in the country. 
Just over a year ago John O. Brennan, the C.I.A.’s newly nominated director, said at his confirmation hearing that it was time to refocus an agency that had become largely a paramilitary organization after the Sept. 11 attacks toward more traditional roles carrying out espionage, intelligence collection and analysis. And in a speech last May in which he sought to redefine American policy toward terrorism, President Obama expanded on that theme, announcing new procedures for drone operations, which White House officials said would gradually become the responsibility of the Pentagon.

John O. Brennan, the director of the C.I.A., took questions after addressing the Council on Foreign Relations last month.
Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
But change has come slowly to the C.I.A. 

“Some might want to get the C.I.A. out of the killing business, but that’s not happening anytime soon,” said Michael A. Sheehan, who until last year was the senior Pentagon official in charge of special operations and now holds the distinguished chair at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center

A number of factors — including bureaucratic turf fights, congressional pressure and the demands of foreign governments — have contributed to this delay. At the same time, Mr. Brennan is facing a reckoning for other aspects of the C.I.A.’s role at the forefront of the secret wars the United States has waged since 2001. 

The declassification of a scathing report by the Senate Intelligence Committee about the agency’s detention and interrogation program will once again cast a harsh light on a period of C.I.A. history Mr. Brennan has publicly disavowed. The Justice Department has been drawn into a dispute between the agency and the committee, and is looking into a charge by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s chairwoman, that the agency broke the law by monitoring computers of committee staff working on the report. 

Before taking charge of the C.I.A. last March, Mr. Brennan had spent four years as Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, a job that put him in charge of the targeted killing operations that became a signature of the Obama administration’s approach to terrorism. It also made Mr. Brennan — who before working for Mr. Obama had spent 25 years at the C.I.A. — a powerful influence on a president with no experience in intelligence. 

American officials said that in that role Mr. Brennan repeatedly cautioned Mr. Obama that the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism mission threatened to attenuate the agency’s other activities, most notably those of penetrating foreign governments and analyzing global trends. During his confirmation hearings, Mr. Brennan obliquely criticized the performance of American spy agencies in providing intelligence and analysis of the Arab revolutions that began in 2009, and said the C.I.A. needed to cede some of its paramilitary role to the Pentagon. 

“The C.I.A. should not be doing traditional military activities and operations,” he said.

Continue reading the main story


Related Coverage
Judge Dismisses Suit Against Administration Officials Over Drone Strikes

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lawmakers Ask Obama for a Tally of People Killed by Drones

Zoë Carpenter on April 2, 2014  in The Nation 

While questions about transparency have of late focused on the government’s surveillance programs, some members of Congress would like to direct some of that scrutiny towards another aspect of the national security state: the targeted killing program.

On Wednesday, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff and Republican Walter Jones introduced a bill that would compel the Obama administration to report annually how many people are killed or injured in US drone strikes—and, critically, to make a clearer distinction between combatants and civilians.

How many people the US is killing via drones, and who those people are, has been difficult to determine because of official secrecy. Last year, facing criticism for a lack of transparency and accountability, President Obama announced new guidelines for strikes designed to minimize casualties. The question the reporting requirements seek to answer is whether the government really is “meeting the standard that we’ve set of not striking unless to a near certainty we’re sure that there are going to be no civilian casualties,” Schiff told The Nation.

Administration officials and lawmakers sympathetic to the intelligence agencies have argued that drone strikes result in a low number of civilian casualties— “typically…in the single digits,” Dianne Feinstein claimed in 2013. It’s fair to ask whether we can really draw a meaningful line between nine dead innocents and ten. There’s also evidence that the administration has crafted a definition of civilian so as to artificially lower the casualty count. Reportedly, the administration considers all adult males within the strike zone as combatants—effectively, assuming guilt by location.

“It’s important that we understand how the administration will be defining ‘combatants’ to be able to evaluate the numbers that we ultimately get,” Schiff said. Are we defining combatants in a way that we clearly know who they are, that they’re fighting against us? Or do we have a more amorphous definition where it’s difficult to tell?”

The requirement would cover all strikes outside “theatres of conflict,” which at the moment refers only to Afghanistan. Schiff emphasized that the public report would not provide any information that would be damaging to national security and thus worthy of classification; it would be a bulk annual tally, with no information about particular strikes, their location or the department involved.

Significantly, the legislation compels the administration to provide a count for the deaths and injuries from drone strikes dating back to 2008. That would open the door for critical evaluation of claims made by officials and lawmakers like Feinstein about the number of civilians killed.

A coalition of human rights organizations including Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights hailed the bill as a “modest yet crucial step toward ending excessive secrecy about US drone strikes.” Their statement went further in probing the civilian-military distinction, arguing that pre-emptive, targeted killing in the absence of a direct threat is unlawful regardless of how one defines militant. “Outside the narrow and exceptional circumstances of armed conflict, where international human rights law applies, the United States can only target an individual if he poses an imminent threat to life and lethal force is the last resort. For this and other reasons, we do not necessarily agree that the terms ‘combatant’ and ‘civilian’ apply,” reads the statement.

Schiff said the greatest challenge is getting the bill out of the House intelligence committee, which last year rejected a similar measure, rather than passing it through the full chamber. Still, he judged it “likely” that a coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans similar to the one that drove congressional opposition to the NSA’s surveillance programs will unite to call for transparency in the drone program.

“We’re taking a very small step here because even small steps, in this area, are difficult,” Schiff said. He was clear, however, about its implications. “It’s a way of building support for, ultimately, a change in policy.” Reporting the dead as a statistic may be only a first step, but it’s a necessary one on the way to a conversation about the very real people killed in our name.

Article in The NATION