Though with decreased frequency, drone attacks continue in Pakistan The latest, reports the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, were in Waziristan, on May 28:
CIA drones returned to the attack in North Waziristan for the fourth time in six days, with a strike on the village of Khassokhel. … Up to seven people were killed in the bombing of a house. … A second missile attack destroyed a vehicle in datta Khel. … Up to four alleged militants died in the second strike of the day.
We all know that drone attacks create enemies and drive civilians into the arms of militants. But, with even more dark irony, civilians killed in drone strikes are liable to become militants posthumously, when they weren’t in life, due to fuzzy accounting.
Drones, with their promise of precision, are seductive to policy makers. As an article in the New York Times by Jo Becker and Scott Shane and a new book by Daniel Klaidman excerpted at Newsweek make clearer than ever before, President Obama succumbed to their siren call and he has fallen for it. Becker and Shane write:
It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. … He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
But, never fear:
A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.
And not just President Obama, but his counterterrorism advisor.
“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”
Gag reflex successfully suppressed, we’ll move on to Klaidman, who writes:
The president is not a robotic killing machine.
Thanks for clearing that up. In practice, though the definition of a terrorist was stretched. Becker and Shane again.
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. [But the] C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.
What’s more, they write:
In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants. [Men] loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
As often happens, the protection of those who need it most — innocents in proximity to the enemy — is tossed by the wayside in the rush to kill the enemy.
Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.