Will the Taliban attack on a Peshawar school generate more reform than the Newtown school shooting?

Since Sandy Hook, there have been nearly 100 school shootings. How many more Pakistani children need to die?

Peshawar, site of a savage attack by the Taliban on a school on Dec. 16. (Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari / Flickr Commons)

Peshawar, site of a savage attack by the Taliban on a school on Dec. 16. (Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari / Flickr Commons)

On Dec. 16, a Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan left 132 children, as well as 13 adults, dead. In the New York Times, Declan Walsh reports that “the Red Mosque seemed a nearly untouchable bastion of Islamist extremism in Pakistan.” To refresh your memory, in 2007, the two Islamic militants running Lal Masjid, known as the Red Mosque, in Islamablad ― the brothers Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi ― called for the overthrow of the Pakistani government. Continue reading

Is Syrian President Assad following the Pakistan model?

Like the Pakistan military and ISI, Assad may be aiding jihadists who operate on his own soil.

Assad posterIn an article at Foreign Policy titled The Disappeared, James Traub reports on journalists who have been kidnapped in Syria, either by Islamist extremist rebels or by forces for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At one point he was introduced to (emphasis added):

… Hamza Ghadban, a Syrian journalist. … He was convinced, as many rebel sympathizers are, that the regime has subterranean connections with the foreign jihadists. Continue reading

Pakistan allows China to use Karachi as lab rats in nuclear-energy experiment

Pakistan has contracted with China to build two nuclear reactors ― except they’re untested.

As if Karachi didn’t have enough problems. Already, it’s “far and away the world’s most dangerous megacity,” writes Taimur Khan in Foreign Policy. Due, in large part to Sunni attacks on Shiites, its homicide rate is “25 percent higher than any other major city.” Now it’s broken ground on two new nuclear power plants. All together now: What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, even more than you think and for a reason outside the bounds of nuclear energy’s attendant risks. Continue reading

U.S. tactical nuclear weapons more an irritant than deterrent

Is Pakistan a country that might, as opposed to the United States, actually find tactical nuclear weapons useful?

B61You’ve heard of planned obsolescence — tactical nuclear weapons are a case of deferred obsolescence: a weapon that has long ago worn out its welcome in the U.S. arsenal. On June 6, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Andreasen, a consultant for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, wrote:

Throughout the Cold War, thousands of tactical nuclear weapons — short-range nuclear artillery shells, missiles and bombs — were deployed by the United States to deter the Soviets from exploiting their advantages in Europe to mount a lightning attack. … After the Soviet Union collapsed, President George H. W. Bush ordered the return of almost all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, leaving only a few hundred air-delivered gravity bombs — the B61 — in European bunkers.

… Politically, however, there are still voices that argue that even a bomb with no military utility is “reassuring” to certain allies, and that storing this artifact in European bunkers and maintaining allied aircraft capable of dropping this bomb is a valuable demonstration of NATO “burden sharing.” Moreover, these proponents are prepared to pay — or rather, have the U.S. pay — $10 billion to modernize and store the B61.

But to a state such as Pakistan, tactical nuclear weapons present an exciting new addition to their arsenal for which they may have big plans. At his Foreign Policy blog Best Defense, Tom Ricks interviews Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. He said that Pakistan is

“… now are looking at tactical nuclear weapons.” [Their fear, Armitage said, is that if there is another Mumbai-like attack, India will respond with a corps-sized attack on Pakistan.] “Tactical nukes is what you’d use against a corps.” [This might provoke India to escalate further.] “But Pakistan would say that its tactical nukes would deter that.” [Brackets are Ricks’s.]

In a recent post titled Would Pakistan Respond to India’s Use of Conventional Weapons With Tactical Nukes?, I excerpted the Times of India’s Indrani Bagchi, who quoted Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. The latter said that Pakistan (according to Indian policymakers) hopes, by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

What Pakistan is “signaling” to me is that it doesn’t want to feel compelled to stay the hand of its Islamist militants, who it’s long viewed as its wild card. (That’s making the generous assumption that the army and/or ISI won’t be complicit in a future militant attack on India.) Instead, Pakistan is making contingency plans for the retaliation from India that it expects. But, is the luxury of keeping militants around worth developing and maintaining tactical nukes to clean up their messes? That’s some skewed calculus.

To give you an example of the problems this created, consider Ricks’s remark “This might provoke India to escalate further.” Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective. … “A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In other words, not only wouldn’t India be deterred from retaliating by Pakistan’s tactical – once called “battlefield” – nukes, it would retaliate with strategic – your garden-variety, apocalyptic – nukes! This whole business is riddled with opportunities for miscommunication that could result in an all-out nuclear war. In October 2012, George Perkovich explained in a Stimson Center report, about which I posted a month later.

Many worry about Islamist militants acquiring proprietorship of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. But the greater risk, according to Perkovich, is the confusion that India experiences in situations such as when its parliament was attacked in New Delhi in 2001 and during the Mumbai 2008 assault. Thus the nuclear deterrence model, which, according to conventional thinking, worked for the United States and Russia, may not be universally applicable. Why?

Perkovich writes that, “when it comes to … initiating and managing warfare between nuclear-armed states, it is generally assumed that a tight, coherent line of authority” is S.O.P. Otherwise “the implications for deterrence stability are profound.”

For example, if

… India is attacked by [Islamist militants] emanating from Pakistan and with ties to Pakistani intelligence services, [India] naturally infers that such actions represent the intentions and policies of Pakistani authorities. … If Pakistan does not … detain and prosecute the perpetrators … pressure mounts for India to demonstrate through force that it will [retaliate].

Perkovich presents this scenario.

For example, while India could perceive that the terrorist attacks it attributes to Pakistan signal Pakistani aggressiveness, Pakistani leaders [may only have intended the] initial terrorist attacks as a signal that the Pakistani state does not seek a wider conflict but [merely seeks] to press India to make political accommodations, in Kashmir or more broadly.

… This signaling process becomes all the more difficult and precarious if the Pakistani leaders who are presumed to be the authors of Pakistan’s signals and actions deny that the [terrorists] actually do manifest the policies of the state.

In that case …

Indian leaders then face a highly unstable dilemma. They could act as if the initial violence reflects the intentions of Pakistan’s chain of command, and send … signals of retaliatory action according to normal models of deterrence.

But this might only confuse Pakistan. Perkovich explains (emphasis added).

… if Pakistani leaders believe or claim that the perpetrators were not carrying out state policies, and India does escalate, Pakistani leaders will feel that India is the aggressor.

It becomes obvious that not knowing on whose authority an Islamist extremist attack on India was mounted

… produces dangerous confusion and ambiguity that interfere in the management of deterrence. Who is sending signals through violence that is perceived to be emanating from the state and/or its territory? What is being signaled?

In the end

… disunity erodes the rationality on which deterrence is predicated.

Returning to Ms. Bagchi and tactical nukes, she writes that another reason Pakistan developed them is

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

In a recent ebook, historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, confirms this.

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

Or, reports Elaine Grossman for the National Journal (emphasis added):

“When the U.S. says that they are worried about the security [of] Pakistan’s nuclear arms, it means it fears that these might fall in the hands of such elements as the extremist Taliban,” said a commentary published by Pakistan’s Frontier Post in late 2011. “However, when [former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood] Qureshi says so, he means that these are in danger of being whisked away by the U.S. armed forces.”

Update on the B61 from Arms Control Now:

But today (June 27), the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut funding for the B61 by $168 million, or 30 percent below the request, to $369 million.

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

Would Pakistan respond to India’s use of conventional weapons with nukes?

Theoretically Pakistan is poised to respond to Indian military retaliation for a terrorist strike with tactical nukes.

It’s debatable how much nuclear weapons add to national security. But what’s undeniable is that they add layer upon layer of complexity, sprinkled with convoluted and even counterintuitive thinking (such as how missile defense systems are seen as an offensive act), to national defense. By way of example, on April 30, in the Times of India, Indrani Bagchi, wrote:

India will retaliate massively even if Pakistan uses tactical nuclear weapons against it. [It] will protect its security interests by retaliating to a “smaller” tactical attack in exactly the same manner as it would respond to a “big” strategic attack.

Two questions immediately arise.

1. Why did Pakistan develop tactical nuclear weapons?

2. Why would India respond disproportionately to the use of what’s often referred to as “battlefield” nuclear weapons? (Not to diminish their power or, by any means, condone a state’s possession of them.)

First, we’ll quote Ms. Bagchi, who quotes Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. Speaking for nuclear-weapons policymakers in New Delhi, Mr. Saran “placed India’s nuclear posture in perspective in the context of recent developments, notably the ‘jihadist edge’ that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability have acquired.” (No, jihadis haven’t – yet anyway – insinuated themselves inside Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.)

Answering question one, Saran said that Pakistan hopes (according to Indian policymakers), by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

You can see how nuclear weapons have the power to cloud men’s minds. Pakistan (if the Indian policymakers are correct) thinks that it can keep India from retaliating to yet another terrorist attack. With the same dearth of commonsense that Pakistan exhibits in the above passage (if true), India then declares that it won’t just retaliate with tactical nukes, but with strategic nuclear weapons.

Never mind that the best way to keep India from retaliating is, obviously, to refrain from attacking. Of course, that beggars the question of whether Pakistan can keep its militants from attacking India (except for when it wants them, too).

Providing an answer to question two, Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”

Re what’s emphasized: ever notice how often bravado and black humor intersect? To buttress his argument, Saran claims:

“A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In any event, another answer to question one may exist. Ms. Bagchi writes that Pakistan may – also? primarily? – have developed tactical nuclear weapons

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

Western policymakers might be inclined to shoot down this line of thinking as a conspiracy theory. But, as historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, writes in a recent ebook

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

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.

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.

Once more into the breach for the "savior of Pakistan"

Oblivious to his status as the greatest nuclear thief in history, A.Q. Khan has started his own political party in Pakistan.

There’s only person who’s less worthy of being referred to by cool initials than A.Q. Khan. That’s Khalid Sheik Mohammed: KSM sounds way too familiar, creepy, even in its coziness.

Before interviewing him for a September 5 piece at Foreign Policy, Simon Henderson reminds us that

Abdul Qadeer Khan is the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program — and, according to Washington officialdom, the architect of the greatest violation to the nuclear non-proliferation regime that the world has ever seen. Starting in the 1980s and continuing for roughly two decades, the nuclear scientist oversaw the transfer of crucial nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Why interview him now? It seems

… the controversial nuclear scientist is entering Pakistan’s political arena. He recently announced the formation of the Movement for the Protection of Pakistan  … which he conceives as an organization that will back worthy candidates in the country’s upcoming national assembly elections.

And why launch the party now? AQ Khan responds:

At the moment Pakistan is in an extremely precarious and dangerous condition – no law and order, widespread load shedding [planned rolling blackouts — RW], a high crime rate. … In short, it has gone to the dogs thanks to our most incompetent and corrupt rulers and their Western patrons. … I can’t simply sit back and see it destroyed. I feel that I must do something to try to save the situation,

In fairness, Khan claims to partly motivated by preventing the spread of anti-Islamist extremism. Khan said he is concerned about “target killing on religious, sectarian or provincial bases” (the plural of basis, that is). He adds:

I have noticed that Western countries are nervous about my Movement, possibly suspecting that I might be a fundamentalist or a jihadi. They forget that I studied in Europe, lived there for 15 years, have a foreign wife, have two daughters who studied in the UK and have two granddaughters studying abroad, one in the UK and one in the USA. … I seek … sanctity of our sovereignty, non-participation in mercenary activities or allowing our country to be used for terrorism, either from within or from outside.

To the West, Pakistan presents national-security concerns that can be distilled thusly: that it will use nuclear weapons on India, that it’s a breeding ground of extremist Islamists, and that said extremists might seize the nuclear weapons. Asked about their safety, Khan — never less than quoteworthy — replies:

Pakistan’s nuclear assets are as safe as President Obama’s black box. Nobody can even steal a screw from them. … The world should worry about their own problems, not about ours.

That last statement does not bode well for his grasp on reality. Nor does this.

Nobody in Pakistan doubts my integrity, honesty, sincerity or patriotism. … Pakistani historians will remember me by the nickname they have given me: “Mohsin-e-Pakistan” (Saviour of Pakistan).

His remarks can even be construed as delusional. He claims it’s not national office he seeks.

I am just a guide — some sort of Lee Kwan [sic] Yew, the former PM of Singapore, Mahathir [of Malaysia] or, hopefully, Mandela.

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew is known as the “founding father” of modern Singapore; Mahathir bin Mohamad was the prime minister under whom Malaysia experienced modernization and growth. Meanwhile the narcissism of comparing oneself to Nelson Mandela speaks for itself.

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

Will Pakistan counter India's "water bomb" with a nuclear bomb?

“Every now and again, one reads an editorial that stops the reader in his tracks,” writes John Daly at Oil Price. He’s referring to a story titled “War Inevitable To Tackle Indian Water Aggression” on Pakistan’s Urdu-language widely read daily newspaper Nawa-e Waqt, which “bluntly commented on India’s Kashmiri water polices and Islamabad’s failure up to now to stop New Delhi’s efforts to construct hydroelectric dams in Kashmir.”

First some background  on the tug of the war over the Indus, a prime water source for Pakistan. Almost 2,000 miles long, its wellspring is in the Tibetan plateau, which incorporates the Himalayas. The Indus runs through Kashmir (and Jammu) and flows south through Pakistan to Karachi where it empties into the Arabian Sea. But the dams that India builds across rivers feeding into the Indus not only decrease the share of water for Pakistan but can be used to deprive Pakistan of even more water in the event of war. Continue reading

Nota Bene #122: OWStanding

“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.'” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Did the U.S. capitalize on the murder of Pakistani journalist Shahzad?

Not everyone found the reporting of the late Pakistani investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad one hundred percent credible. But that may have just been a function of how incredulous they were at the extent to which he was able to insinuate himself with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

One of his most impressive contacts was long-time militant Ilyas Kashmiri, who fought in the Kashmir until President Musharraf wound down fighting there. Kashmiri then moved to Pakistan’s tribal areas and turned on the state, once trying to assassinate Musharraf and later named as a mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

In a thought-provoking — to put it mildly — article on Shahzad’s murder for the New Yorker, Dexter Filkins writes: “Muhammad Faizan, Shahzad’s colleague, said, ‘The militants used to call him, not the other way around.” 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

The Death of Shahzad: leave it to the ISI to make al Qaeda look tame in comparison

Shahzad with Taliban(Pictured: Syed Saleem Shahzad with Taliban fighters.)

Some initial impressions on the murder by beating — torture — and gunshot of Asia Times Online reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad: Something of a legend in his own time, his access to al Qaeda and Taliban was light years beyond that of any other journalist.

The central irony of his death is that he was even once detained by the Taliban for a week, but in the end it looks like it was Pakistan’s largest intelligence apparatus, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Service) that did him in. Or as Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema, who, as Ron Moreau of the Daily Beast reports, was abducted last September and beaten by individuals he believes were the ISI, said:

But if it’s not the ISI then they [the ISI] need to locate the people who did this, because they certainly can. Continue reading

Nota Bene #114: Big Star

“The radio makes hideous sounds.” Who said it? Continue reading

Obama and the bunkum of 'negotiating from strength'

by Gareth Porter

In his press conference with President Karzai last week, President Obama suggested publicly for the first time that he will not negotiate with the Taliban until the U.S. military has demonstrated “effectiveness in breaking their momentum.” Obama seemed to be embracing the shibboleth that you don’t negotiate with an adversary until you can do so from a “position of strength.”

That idea has also been pushed by a senior military official to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and by talking heads in the national security elite. The trouble with invoking the superficially appealing notion of a “position of strength” in this context is that it doesn’t correspond to  reality.

When your “strength” is built on sand, as it is in Afghanistan, the notion that you must “negotiate from strength” is the worst kind of bunkum. Continue reading