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, 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.