Beta testing dones on unwitting subjects

Predator_and_HellfireCivilians are the innocent victims of U.S. use of an unproven product ― drones.

In a moving testimony at the Guardian, Heather Linebaugh, a former drone analyst for the United States, writes:

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Continue reading

Mark Udall: working hard to fly a drone up the ass of every American

UdallDronesWe’ve had some issues through the years with Colorado’s BiParticrat Senator, Mark Udall. He’s worked hard to cultivate a reputation as a guy who’s looking after our civil liberties, and his chief tactic in doing so has been an insistence on no-nonsense, pro-rights policy a nigh-Cirque du Soleil-esque commitment to misdirection, sleight-of-hand, obfuscation, backpedaling, smoke-blowing, singing in tongues and tapdancing. Recall, if you will, his silver-tongued bullshittery back in 2008 when I wrote him about his anti-Constitutional collaboration with the Bush administration over FISA. I don’t know who his Propagandist-in-Chief is, but his/her gift for doublespeak could, in a month or two, transform Charlie Sheen and Paris Hilton into poster children for abstinence.

Now Udall is on the stump for domestic drones, and again, he’s waving the bright shiny with one hand while he fishes the Vaseline out of his pocket with the other. See, the thing is, he wants us to understand, the thing is that we have to make sure all those people putting drones with cameras in the air over America’s cities and towns are doing so in a way that doesn’t, you know, result in illegal surveillance.

No, wait. That’s not quite right. That’s what he wants you to hear. What’s he’s actually saying is slightly different.

“We need to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the American psyche in a way that isn’t threatening or scary,” he said, in remarks at the National Press Club. “Many here today have likely recognized that I’m deliberately not using the word ‘drone’ because it carries a stigma.

Ahh. There’s the Vaseline. What we have to do is deploy those drones – excuse me,  unmanned aerial systems – in a way that doesn’t upset folks. The problem isn’t the drones, it’s the people. We don’t need to ban drones, we need to reengineer people’s psyches so that they look up in the sky and see a friend. It’s not like Big Brother at all.

Udall’s solution sounds okay on its face, although we’re not being given anything in the way of specifics. But we can trust him.

Udall is working to update safeguards to protect Americans from being surveilled by private drone operators without their consent, addressing concerns raised by his constituents while helping to head off possible legal problems for an emerging and potentially important industry for Colorado.

The great news is that he has a track record of being an uncompromising privacy watchdog and if history tells us anything, it’s that Congress always refuses to bend and water down legislation in the face of lobbying by big industry interests.

Ahem.

In related news, you may have been reading that the NSA has been routinely collecting our phone records without warrants for several years now. Why do I mention this now?

Intelligence committee member Mark Udall, who has previously warned in broad terms about the scale of government snooping, said: “This sort of widescale surveillance should concern all of us and is the kind of government overreach I’ve said Americans would find shocking.”

Yes. I’ve been worried about illegal government surveillance all along. Which is why I voted to grant blanket immunity to telecoms that helped Bush operate his illegal scheme.

Ahem, I say. Ahem.

So now BiParticrat Udall wants us to all get warm and fuzzy about those unmanned aerial systems which he’s being careful not call, you know, the “D” word. Kumbayah, bitches. We can trust him to shoot straight and never compromise where our rights are concerned. Just like he always has.

Pass the Vaseline, yo.

Emphasis added: the foreign policy week in pieces

CATEGORY: ForeignPolicyIraq’s War for Terrorists Sets up Branch Campus in Syria

Of especially grave concern is the movement into Syria of bomb makers and military tacticians. As Iraq’s jihad was for much of the past decade, Syria’s is now becoming the “destination jihad” du jour.

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School, Jessica Stern, the New York Times 

Don’t Give Them Any Ideas!

[Novelist John] Le Carré is not a hunter himself, but he nodded at the people he knew and mounted a casual and running defense of fox hunting, as if he were doing color commentary from the 18th hole at the Masters. It’s an ancient part of the rural culture, he said. It’s egalitarian in this area (some 300 miles west-southwest of London), not an upper-class diversion. … “At least they aren’t hunting that poor goddamn thing with drones.”

John le Carré Has Not Mellowed With Age, Dwight Garner, the New York Times

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Islamist terrorists provoke the governments they oppose into responding in ways that seem to prove that these governments want to humiliate or harm Muslims. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and “extraordinary rendition” have become for Muslim youth symbols of the United States’ belligerence and hypocrisy.

Mind Over Martyr, Jessica Stern, Foreign Affairs (PDF of entire article)

Putting Jihadists on the Couch

Self-awareness is not a characteristic of most terrorists. And to be effective those fighting them have to try to understand them better than they understand themselves.

The Terrorist Tipping Point: What Pushed the Tsarnaev Brothers to Violence?, Christopher Dickey, the Daily Beast

Nuclear Weapons No Shortcut to National Security

While the United States would like to be able to rely more on its European allies, many experts doubt that even the strongest among them, Britain and France, could carry out their part of another Libya operation now, and certainly not in a few years. Both are struggling to maintain their own nuclear deterrents as well as mobile, modern armed forces. The situation in Britain is so bad that American officials are quietly urging it to drop its expensive nuclear deterrent.

“Either they can be a nuclear power and nothing else or a real military partner,” a senior American official said.

Shrinking Europe Military Spending Stirs Concern, Steven Erlanger, the New York Times

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Emphasis added: the foreign policy week in pieces

Not Just a Wife, But a Slave; Not Just a Slave, But an Advertisement

Because Naghma, whose name means melody, was not chosen by the groom, she will most likely be treated more like a family servant than a spouse — and at worst as a captive slave. Her presence may help the groom attract a more desirable second wife because the family, although poor, will have someone working for it, insulating the chosen wife from some of the hardest tasks.

Painful Payment for Afghan Debt: A Daughter, 6, Alyssa Rubin, the New York Times

Christian Influence in Politics as Disgraced as George Bush

The cavalier militarism and the justification of torture during the Bush years, along with the strident in-group-ism of the last four decades, prodded many evangelicals to re-examine themselves and their actions. George W. Bush may have fractured the Christian coalition that elected him.

The New Evangelicals, Marcia Pally, the New York Times (December, 2011)

So Much for “the Lady”

Outside of the actions of the dictatorship, under Ne Win, Saw Maung and Than Shwe, I believe the worst thing that has happened for Burma since 1962 has been the rise of Suu Kyi, together with her receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. This award enshrined an accidental and half-hearted advocate as a national leader. It is a handicap that has hobbled the country for the last twenty years.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Burma’s Robert Mugabe, Roland Watson, Dictator Watch

They’ve Yet to Meet the Enemy, But They Think It’s Us

First, we hear that [the Department of Homeland Security] is in the process of stockpiling more than 1.6 billion rounds of hollow-point ammunition, along with 7,000 fully-automatic 5.56x45mm NATO “personal defense weapons” plus a huge stash of 30-round high-capacity magazines. Incidentally, those are also known as “assault weapons”, but are not the limited single-fire per trigger-pull semi-automatic types that we civilians are currently allowed to own. By some estimates, that’s enough firepower to fight the equivalent of a 24-year Iraq war.

Why The Heck Is DHS Buying More Than A Billion Bullets Plus Thousands Of Guns And Mine-Resistant Armored Vehicles?, Larry Bell, Forbes

At Least George W. Bush Waged War in the Open

Obama’s morally and constitutionally questionable reliance on drones puts him in the tradition of cautious Eisenhower Republicans. President Eisenhower himself preferred using the CIA to orchestrate coups, in places like Iran and Latin America, to doing nothing or sending troops. What spooks were to Ike, drones are to Obama.

Chuck Hagel nomination: Obama rebukes Bushism, Michael Lind, Salon

The Genocide Gene

World War II ended 68 years ago [but it’s] as if the Germans, even the very young, to whom tales of the Nazis must feel as if extraterrestrials were at work, still shudder when they think about what their grandmothers and grandfathers were capable of. As if they were afraid that certain patterns of character and behavior could be passed on to future generations.

‘Our Mothers, Our Fathers’: Next-Generation WWII Atonement, Roman Leick, Spiegel Online

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (4/1)

CATEGORY: ForeignPolicyWar: Not Just Hell, But the Tenth Circle Thereof

War is obscene. I mean that in every sense of the word. Some veterans will tell you that you can’t know war if you haven’t served in one, if you haven’t seen combat. These are often the same guys who won’t tell you the truths that they know about war and who never think to blame themselves in any way for our collective ignorance.

Who Did You Rape in the War, Daddy?, Nick Turse, The Nation

Thank Goodness for Small Favors

The very fact that our policy of regime change is aimed at the same rulers our principal enemy wishes to overthrow should give logical pause. … Yet for all the clarity of this logical fallacy in the American democracy project, it has not stopped President Obama from helping to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, or from calling for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad in Syria — even though the fall of the former and the uprising against the latter have given al Qaeda new “active fronts” (to use the jihadis’ own term) in which to operate. … So far, it hasn’t. But at least there are some limits to the American pursuit of folly; there is no call in Washington for overthrow of the regime in Riyadh. For this we should at least be thankful.

The Illogic of Iraq, John Arquilla, Foreign Policy

Transparency About Drones May Only Serve to Legitimate Them

So, moving [drone] operations to the Pentagon may modestly improve transparency and compliance with the law but — ironically for drone critics — it may also entrench targeted-killing policy for the long term.

For one thing, the U.S. government will now be better able to defend publicly its practices at home and abroad. The CIA is institutionally oriented toward extreme secrecy rather than public relations, and the covert status of CIA strikes makes it difficult for officials to explain and justify them. The more secretive the U.S. government is about its targeting policies, the less effectively it can participate in the broader debates about the law, ethics, and strategy of counterterrorism. … Under a military-only policy, the United States would also be better positioned to correct lingering misperceptions about targeted killings and to take remedial action when it makes a mistake.

Moreover, clearer legal limits and the perception of stricter oversight will make drone policy more legitimate in the public’s eyes.

Going Clear, Matthew Waxman, Foreign Policy

Two-Score Years Hence

Furthermore, since launching an ICBM from Iran towards the United States or Europe requires going somewhat against the rotation of Earth the challenge is greater. As pointed out by missile and space security expert Dr. David Wright, an ICBM capable of reaching targets in the United States would need to have a range longer than 11,000 km. Drawing upon the experience of France in making solid-fuel ICBMs, Dr. Wright estimates it may take 40 years for Iran to develop a similar ICBM – assuming it has the intention to kick off such an effort. [Author’s emphasis.] A liquid fueled rocket could be developed sooner, but there is little evidence in terms of rocket testing that Iran has kicked off such an effort.

… The central conundrum of midcourse missile defense remains that while it creates incentives for adversaries and competitors of the United States to increase their missile stockpiles, it offers no credible combat capability to protect the United States or its allies from this increased weaponry.

Q&A Session on Recent Developments in U.S. and NATO Missile Defense with Dr. Yousaf Butt and Dr. George Lewis, Charles Blair, FAS Strategic Security Blog

At This Point, the Only Defense Against Missile Defense May Be Black Humor

Now for the really fun part: Let’s say one of these interceptors does manage to hit an incoming North Korean missile. While the folks at Greely are celebrating with a little Harlem Shake, what’s happening with the other interceptors we shot off? If you said “They are lighting up the early-warning radars as they streak into the heart of Mother Russia,” you win a prize! I am sure there is no chance that will spark an accidental nuclear war, the firing-missiles-into-Russia-on-purpose thing. There is no way the Russians could miss a North Korean missile launch or get an itchy trigger finger when they see missiles converging on their country. [Double emphasis — bold and italic — added.]

Billion Dollar Baby, Jeffrey Lewis, Foreign Policy

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

These aren’t the drones you’re looking for: The U.S. shift to droid warfare and surveillance

by Kevin Rogers

In George Lucas’s Star Wars universe, droids are robots with tasks including translation, computing and repair work. The series’ most famous droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, take on these benign jobs.

But not all droids are created equal. The malevolent Galactic Empire uses droids designed for torture and surveillance in the original trilogy. In the prequel series, the Trade Federation deploys entire armies of droid warriors and aircraft tasked with destruction and conquest.

Imperial Probe Droid: CC-DevanJedi

Droids go by a different name in this galaxy. Pilotless drones gather enemy intelligence and blow up suspected terrorists abroad. It sounds great; American enemies are destroyed without risking military lives.

But America’s shift to drone-based warfare and surveillance should arouse concern. The Justice Department released a justification to take out American citizens without charges or trial. Federal agencies look to expand permits for drones in U.S. airspace.

Smuggler Han Solo put it best in the original Star Wars: “I got a bad feeling about this.

Vulture droids in foreign skies

Drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia have transformed America’s battle against al-Qaida. While Yemen and Somalia rack up some impressive drone strikes statistics, Pakistan draws the most attention from these glorified droid star fighters.

While the drones rained death upon terrorists, hundreds of civilians, including children, went with them. The total number of civilian deaths may be even higher given the administration’s policy of counting military-age males killed in a strike zone as enemy combatants.

Drones put distance between the pilot and the target. A human pilot can likely show some discretion when pulling the trigger. If a drone is flying autonomously toward a target, those judgments can’t be made.

The strikes have been effective in taking down top members of al-Qaida, but the cost has been a federal justification to kill American citizens abroad without charges, judges or juries. The drone-targeted killing of U.S.-born al-Qaida chief Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen occurred under this rationale. Drones nabbed his 16-year-old son a few weeks later.

The existence of justifiably legally killing American citizens without due process should prompt outrage. The American government isn’t the Empire.

Probe droids overhead

These winged droids won’t be limited to foreign skies. The Federal Aviation Administration, working to expand unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace, grants limited permits to the armed forces, law enforcement and some universities.

In other words, the probe droids deployed to Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back exist and fly over American skies.

Though these domestic drones lack the destructive capabilities of their overseas counterparts, these droids present a new challenge. These droids, in their capacity to assist law enforcement and the armed forces, pose a clear threat to privacy.

Though some states and cities have moved to restrict the capacity of law enforcement to use drones, others won’t. Regulated or not, any camera with wings ought to concern those who care about privacy. This technology grants unprecedented surveillance capacity to authorities.

A shift to droids and a loss of humanity

There’s a reason why Star Wars fans cheer on the rebels and the Jedi against droid armies and Imperial forces. It represents the battle of humanity against machines.

Using drones for police work and military operations robs that humanity. There’s no discretion, judgment or morality coming from a robot. The normal processes in surveillance and military strikes get tossed aside in the name of efficiency. The right of due process and expectations of privacy get erased.

But Americans don’t need a rebellion to challenge these policies. Voice opposition. Protest. Press lawmakers to protect legal rights and privacy.

Tell them to keep abuse of this technology in a galaxy far, far away.

Drone strike protest, Washington, D.C.

Kevin Rogers is a junior journalism major at St. Bonaventure University. He writes the blog The Nerds of Congress.

Drones on their own at home and abroad

Drones are becoming simultaneously more fantastic and more ordinary at the same time.

At the Atlantic, Brian Fung writes:

Nothing is inevitable, but over the next few decades, it’ll be very hard to avoid the moment when autonomous drones make their way to the battlefield. … Such machines are worth worrying about not because of the prospect we’ll suffer some Terminator-style robot uprising, but because in the next few decades we’ll need to make some extremely difficult choices about when it’s okay for a computer to end a human life.

Domestic DroneNovelist Daniel Suarez treated this with frightening prescience in his thinking man’s (or woman’s — the protagonist is female) techno-thriller Kill Decision (Dutton Adult). Drones are programmed to make their own decisions about what — or whom — to attack.

First, fighter pilots have begun to be replaced by drone operators. Next, drone operators will begin to be replaced by robots. Also, many of the tasks of infantry will be offloaded to robots. Then, when infantry robots become autonomous, what becomes of individuals who, unable to find work in the civilian sector or pay for college, join the military for a job and a route to a college education? Not everyone can be employed in designing artificial intelligence and manufacturing robots. The obvious irony, of course, is that we wind up in the service of robots, which were designed to serve us.

At the other extreme, at Global Guerillas, John Robb continues his campaign for a “door to door, drone delivery system.” Sure, he foresees problems.

• The drones will be noisy.
• The payloads are going to be tiny (ounces) and the containers they are held in will be clunky.
• The  distance drones travel will be short (less than a mile).
• There will be frequent failures (drones in trees and on rooftops).
• Hassles will occur (problems with government regulators, police, and nutty neighbors).

On the one hand, it’s encouraging to think that drones can be turned to civilian uses — aside from citizen surveillance — especially since they might be of more benefit to the economy than military drones. But, count me as a “nutty neighbor.” The prospect of them buzzing around one’s community — replete with treetops draped with pizzas they’ve dropped while still in beta — is not an attractive one.

Conceivably, commercial drones will become autonomous. No doubt, that would help acclimatize us to autonomous drones in combat. Face it: between the everyday world and war, proponents of drones have got us in the grips of their pincer attack.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Admin using bad info for drone strikes like it did for detainees

Just like it did in Afghanistan and Iraq, the CIA and U.S. military act on bad intel when designating targets for drone attacks.

As when the United States greased the skids for war with Iraq, it’s ratcheting up tensions with Iran by disseminating misinformation about nuclear weapons. The United States has also failed to learn from other mistakes in the Iraq, as well as Afghanistan.

Remember how the United States offered rewards to the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq for intelligence on insurgents? That only resulted in populating prisons such as Bagram and Guantánamo with legions of innocents. It seems that in their haste to unearth terrorists, the U.S. military and the CIA had failed to vet their informants. With an eye for the main chance, Iraqis and Afghans saw informing as a way both to cash in and rid their communities of neighbors who’d crossed them, for whatever reason. no matter how trivial.

Using an occupying army to assist you in ridding yourself of local enemies is a time-(dis)honored tradition. One would think that, by this point in history, the military and intelligence agencies would be alert to manipulation. Presumably a perceived need for live bodies to fill quotas over-rode their wariness. Now we see this mistake repeated in designating drone-strike targets.

The landmark report Living Under Drones, released in September by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law, quotes author Tom Junod. In a piece for the August Esquire titled The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama, he wrote (emphasis added):

The US detained the “worst of the worst” in Guantánamo for years before releasing six hundred of them, uncharged, which amounts to the admission of a terrible mistake. The Lethal Presidency is making decisions to kill based on intelligence from the same sources. These decisions are final, and no one will ever be let go.

By “decisions to kill,” Junod means drone strikes. Not only is the CIA using bogus intel for drone strikes as it and the military did to net terrorist suspects, it may also be paying Pakistanis to mark houses as targets by depositing computer chips nearby. In addition, GPS’s are attached to cars to turn them, too, into drone fodder.

The report also quotes Clive Stafford Smith writing for the Guardian.

Just as with Guantanamo Bay, the CIA is paying bounties to those who will identify “terrorists.” Five thousand dollars is an enormous sum for a Waziri informant, translating to perhaps £250,000 in London terms. The informant has a calculation to make: is it safer to place a GPS tag on the car of a truly dangerous terrorist, or to call down death on a Nobody (with the beginnings of a beard), reporting that he is a militant? Too many “militants” are just young men with stubble.

Smith reveals another dynamic. Imagine that a Pakistani who contacts the CIA isn’t motivated by the desire to avenge a neighbor for failing to pay back a loan, or something similar. If he’s only in it for the money, why risk fingering a Taliban commander? If discovered, he and perhaps his family would find themselves on the murderous end of Taliban revenge.

To give the CIA some wiggle room, perhaps it assumes it won’t be provided with bogus info because potential informants would fear the CIA demand return of the money if the lead turned out to be false or that it would even detain them. But, as the NYU-Stanford report indicates, the CIA or U.S. military rarely investigate the aftermath of drone strikes to determine whether civilians were killed.

Perhaps then the CIA assumes that informants would be loath to turn in innocents for fear of reprisal from the families of those killed. When deciding who to finger, though, informants may be targeting victims whose families lack the wherewithal to take revenge. Or, with what, in effect, is an astronomical sum to them, informants may factor in paying retribution money to the families of those killed.

The longer this type of cynical use of indigenous peoples continues, the further one’s respect for the CIA diminishes.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

 

Attacks on first responders transform criminality of drone strikes to sadism

The term “double tapping” fails to do justice to a military tactic that’s arguably sociopathic.

Remember the “dead bastards” — as in “look at those” — video, which was the first of the Bradley Manning stash released by WikiLeaks? It depicted an April 2010 Apache helicopter strike that killed a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters employees. Its impact was fourfold because it featured:

1. an attack on civilians
2. an attack on journalists
3. callous pilots, and the icing on the outrage cake …
4. a second round of missiles launched at those who arrived in a van to assist at the scene.

Those of us on the left who came of age during the Vietnam War, as well as the period when CIA meddling in foreign affairs to deadly effect was at its peak, may have thought we’d lost our capacity to be shocked at what the United States has shown itself capable. But attacking those coming to the assistance of the injured, which the military calls “double tapping” and doesn’t even attempt to hide, caught me off-guard with its cold-blooded cruelty. It’s not only used in helicopter attacks, but in drone strikes as well.

A February article by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) provides more insight into this insidious practice. TBIJ also served as a key source for the landmark report Living Under Drones released in September by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law. The TBIJ article reads:

A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.

Attempting to prove its legality is a non-starter.

… Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, said killing people at a rescue site may have no legal justification. ‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution’, she said. ‘We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’

It’s hard enough to digest the information that the nation in which one lives and to which one pays taxes attacks those rushing to the aid of the injured. But it gets worse.

More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.

One scheme was positively diabolical.

On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.

‘A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man’s funeral,’ according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his … book The Triple Agent. ‘True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took shape. But he would not be for long.’

The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others.

You can see that Langley remains as much of a conceptual charnel house as ever.

Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians.  US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders. Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud escaped unharmed, dying six weeks later along with his wife in a fresh CIA attack.

None of this, of course, is new. If not by the United States, medics have long been attacked in war. Today, Israel has targeted Palestinian medics and the Syrian army has targeted resistance medics. Meanwhile, Bahrain persecutes medical personnel who have assisted the injured opposition.

But, in the case of the United States, drone attacks are intended, in part, to act as an alternative to — and method of fending off — a declaration of war on another country. Yet, with its barbaric tactics, the drone program not only apes the tactics of war, but draws the opposition into believing all-out war is what both sides are fighting.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Drones obliterate shades of gray between militants and civilians

Killing someone because they looked like they were “up to no good” doesn’t really pass legal muster.

Under the Obama administration, the CIA drone program uses what they call signature strikes, as you’ve no doubt heard. Usually, the term “signature” has a positive connotation, as in a characteristic that distinguishes one from others. But, to the CIA, it just means that any military-age males in an area it has decided is a strike zone are combatants. In other words, they look like they’re “up to no good” and deserve to die.

In September, as you may be aware, the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law released a landmark report titled Living Under Drones. In one section it reveals the sheer simple-mindedness of dividing individuals under surveillance into either civilians or militants. In fact, most of those labeled militants should be painted in shades of gray. (Emphasis added.)

Major media outlets in the US, Europe, and Pakistan that report on drone strikes tend to divide all those killed by drone strikes into just two categories: civilians or “militants.” This reflects and reinforces a widespread assumption and misunderstanding that all “militants” are legitimate targets for the use of lethal force, and that any strike against a “militant” is lawful. This binary distinction. … distinction is extremely problematic, however, from a legal perspective.

[First] use of the word “militant” to describe individuals killed by drones often obscures whether those killed are in fact lawful targets under the international legal regime governing the US operations in Pakistan. It is not necessarily the case that any person who might be described as a “militant” can be lawfully intentionally killed.

Even if one buys into the drone program, he or she must acknowledge that

… in order for an intentional lethal targeting to be lawful, a fundamental set of legal tests must be satisfied. For example … the targeted individual must either be directly participating in hostilities with the US (international humanitarian law) or posing an imminent threat that only lethal force can prevent (international human rights law).

But that’s only the beginning of the criteria that should be used in determining if someone is Predator or Reaper fodder.

[First] members of militant groups with which the US is not in an armed conflict are not lawful targets, absent additional circumstances … Further, simply being suspected of some connection to a “militant” organization—or, under the current administration’s apparent definition, simply being a male of military age in an area where “militant” organizations are believed to operate–is not alone sufficient to make someone a permissible target for killing.

… Second, the label “militant” also fails to distinguish between so-called “high-value” targets with alleged leadership roles in Al Qaeda or [the Taliban], and low-level alleged insurgents with no apparent … means of posing a serious or imminent threat to the US.  National security analysts—and the White House itself—have found that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes in Pakistan have been low-level alleged “militants.”

To make matters worse, along with the CIA failing to properly discriminate about who it attacks

… Often, little to no information is presented to support the claim … that a certain number of those killed were “militants.” And, it is entirely unclear what, if any, investigations are carried out by the Pakistani or US governments to determine who and how many people were killed.

The drone program was key in preventing many of us from throwing our support behind President Obama in the election. In future posts, we’ll examine further atrocities within the atrocity that the drone program as a whole constitutes.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Drones: whatever became of U.S. respect for international norms prohibiting assassinations?

How effortlessly drones have insinuated themselves into our national narrative.

As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations writes in a post at his blog Politics, Power, and Preventive Action (thanks to the Progressive Realist for directing us to it):

After following this program closely for the past half-dozen years, I have stopped being surprised by how far and how quickly the United States has moved from the international norm against assassinations or “extrajudicial killings.”

He writes that, in an October 23 Washington Post article Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists, reporter Greg Miller

… underscores the cementing of the mindset and apparent group-think among national security policymakers that the routine and indefinite killing of suspected terrorists and nearby military-age males is ethical, moral, legal, and effective (for now).

But the “for now” can soon be dropped because of

… the increasing institutionalization—“codifying and streamlining the process” as Miller describes it—of executive branch power to use lethal force without any meaningful checks and balances.

In fact, it’s a significant departure recent history. As Zenko reminds us, in 1975, a

… U.S. Senate Select Committee investigation, led by Senator Frank Church … implicated the United States in assassination plots against foreign leaders—including at least eight separate plans to kill Cuban president Fidel Castro [followed by] President Ford’s Executive Order 11905: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”

Thus was

… opposition to assassination was widely held and endured throughout the Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations through 1999 for the following reasons.

In a quote from his book Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World(Stanford Security Studies, 2010), Zenko expands on that.

Assassinations ran counter to well-established international norms, and were prohibited under both treaty and customary international law. … weakening the international norm against assassinations could result in retaliatory killings of American leaders, who are more vulnerable as a consequence of living in a relatively open society. [Also] the targeted killing of suspected terrorists or political leaders was generally considered an ineffective foreign policy tool. An assassination attempt that failed could be counterproductive, in that it would create more legal and diplomatic problems than it was worth. An attempt that succeeded, meanwhile, would likely do little to diminish the long-term threat from an enemy state or group.

“Finally,” he writes, “the secretive and treacherous aspect of targeted killings was considered antithetical to the moral and ethical precepts of the United States.” Also, Zenko writes, it is

… notable that Miller does not find officials worried about the legality, congressional oversight, transparency, or precedent setting for future state and nonstate powers wielding armed drones.

In other words, their shortsightedness is disturbing. It might behoove them to read Daniel Suarez’s crackling new techno-thriller Kill Decision (Dutton Adult), in which drones are programmed to make their own decisions about what — or, to be more exact, whom — to attack.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

No wonder so many drone strikes gang aft aglay

In a July 6 piece for the New York Times on the training of drone operators titled The Drone Zone, Mark Mazzetti wrote:

The increased use of drones in warfare has led the Air Force to re-engineer its training program for drone pilots.

Aside from the inevitable landing accidents that result when you rush a pilot — virtual or not — into action, other problems have arisen. Continue reading

Drone strikes magically transform dead civilians into assassinated militants

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. Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading