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I Worked on the US Drone Program. The Public Should Know What Really Goes On December 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Few of the politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue how it actually works (and doesn’t)

The Elbit Systems Hermes 450 is an Israeli medium size multi-payload unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for tactical long endurance missions.

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them some 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?” Or even more pointedly: “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.

I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road. I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from mosque.

The US and British militaries insist that this is such an expert program, but it’s curious that they feel the need to deliver faulty information, few or no statistics about civilian deaths and twisted technology reports on the capabilities of our UAVs. These specific incidents are not isolated, and the civilian casualty rate has not changed, despite what our defense representatives might like to tell us.

What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is a far cry from clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited clouds and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?” I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.

It’s also important for the public to grasp that there are human beings operating and analyzing intelligence these UAVs. I know because I was one of them, and nothing can prepare you for an almost daily routine of flying combat aerial surveillance missions over a war zone. UAV proponents claim that troops who do this kind of work are not affected by observing this combat because they are never directly in danger physically.

But here’s the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions. I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within one year leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.

The UAV’s in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life – at home and abroad – will continue.

Heather Linebaugh

Heather Linebaugh served in the United Stated Air Force from 2009 until March 2012. She worked in intelligence as an imagery analyst and geo-spatial analyst for the drone program during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter: @hllinebaugh

In Oval Office Meeting, Malala Yousafzai Tells Obama to End Drone Strikes in Pakistan October 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Peace, War, War on Terror, Women.
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ROGER’S NOTE: I TURN OVER MY “ROGER’S NOTE” SPACE TODAY TO “TUTTLE,” WHO COMMENTED ON THIS ARTICLE IN COMMONDREAMS.ORG:

President Obama in conversation with Malala in the Oval Office

“Well Malala, it goes like this. I am the Ruling Elite and you are not. Your life is yet just another mere commodity to be used as fodder to heat the machine that devours the planet and the rest of your class. Posing with you here today is like posing with the Turkey I pardon every year when the American people celebrate the genocide carried out on the original peoples that inhabited this country. These people are now just an embarrassment and a nuisance. Which brings me back to you and your people. You see Malala your life is worthless to me and my investors. These photo-ops are just to keep the illusion going that we care. And you are now a willing participant in that fairytale. If you threaten me or my class or their ability to make a profit… I have a list… Where is that list?…Malia, darling could hand your father that piece of paper… thank you. See Malala, I have the right to Kill anyone in the ENTIRE world. ANYONE. yes, even U.S. citizens… see here, I killed a young man no more than a couple years older than you. And that was because of who his father was! hahaha! Imagine! Now Imagine, if you, Malala truly stood up and spoke out against me and my friends. So just to let you know, I will drone anyone anywhere I feel like because that’s just apart of my job as Ruler of the free world. Now smile for the camera.
Say Freedom!”

 

 

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

 

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughter Malia meet with Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban a year ago, in the Oval Office, Oct. 11, 2013. PETE SOUZA — Official White House photo

Malala Yousafzai, the sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl who survived a gunshot to the head by members of the Taliban for speaking out on women’s right to education, told President Barack Obama in an Oval Office meeting on Friday that he should stop drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan.

In a statement released after the meeting, Yousafzai said that she told Obama that she is concerned about the effect of U.S. drone strikes in her country—a portion of the conversation that was omitted from White House statements so far.

 

“I [expressed] my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism,” Yousafzai said in a statement released by the Associated Press. “Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

 

Yousafzai—the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize—was invited to the White House “for her inspiring and passionate work on behalf of girls education in Pakistan,” according to a White House statement.

 

Yousafzai also recently called on the U.S. and U.K. governments to end military attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in an interview with BBC.

 

“The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue,” she told BBC. “That’s not an issue for me, that’s the job of the government… and that’s also the job of America.”

 

Yousafzai was awarded a prestigious international human rights award—the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought—on Thursday, but did not win the Nobel Peace Prize, as was announced on Friday.

 

 

Drone U February 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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02.20.13 – 12:23 PM http://www.commondreams.org

by Abby Zimet

Touting unprecedented education “for the benefit of mankind,” Unmanned Vehicle University, America’s only school offering postgraduate engineering degrees in unmanned systems – ie: drones – is thriving. Since opening in Arizona in July with five students taking its largely online courses for an annual fee of $64,000, it now has 300 graduate drone wannabees, a number expected to double next fall. And the future otherwise looks bright: A trillion-dollar global industry with the U.S. market likely accounting for 77% of spending; three U.S. universities offering primary drone degrees and dozens of other colleges with aviation programs offering minor UAV courses; a possible 10,000 commercial drones operating in the US once domestic regulations are put in place. From Drones for America, a great new animated video, “Welcome to Your Future.”

America’s Drones Are Homeward Bound July 17, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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Roger’s Note:
 
Under President Obama’s signature national security policy, being a young male in the tribal region of Pakistan is often sufficient evidence to warrant execution. The kill committee members from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense act as the prosecution, judge and jury for “low-level” targets. The president, consulting his “kill list,” makes the decision on “high-value” targets, including American citizens.”
 
This paragraph should send a chill up your spine.  First presidential sanctioned torture, now extra-judicial murder by committee and presidential decree.  The chickens are coming home to roost, but that is no relief from US government policy that is cowardly, immoral, and in gross violation of international law.
 
 
 
Published on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

Americans have been protesting and getting arrested at U.S. drone bases and research institutions for years, and some members of Congress are starting to respond to the pressure.

But it’s not that drones are being used to extrajudicially execute people, including Americans, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia that has U.S. lawmakers concerned. Rather it’s the possible and probable violation of Americans’ privacy in the United States by unlawful drone surveillance that has caught the attention of legislators.

Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., says “there is distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government. It’s raising alarm with the American public.” Based on those discussions, Landry has placed a provision in a defense spending bill that would prohibit information gathered by drones without a warrant from being used as evidence in court.

Two other legislators, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced identical bills to bar any government agency from using a drone without a warrant to “gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a regulation.”

No one in Congress, however, has introduced legislation requiring the government to provide to a neutral judge evidence of a criminal act committed by a person to be targeted for assassination by a drone, or allowing such a person the right to defend himself against the U.S. government’s allegations.

Under President Obama’s signature national security policy, being a young male in the tribal region of Pakistan is often sufficient evidence to warrant execution. The kill committee members from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense act as the prosecution, judge and jury for “low-level” targets. The president, consulting his “kill list,” makes the decision on “high-value” targets, including American citizens.

Weaponizing Drones in the United States

Acknowledging that drones have killed people in other countries, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., placed a provision in another bill that would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from arming its drones. (Homeland Security operates surveillance drones on the borders with Mexico and Canada.)

Holt may wish to extend the prohibition against arming drones to local law enforcement. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas used a Homeland Security grant to purchase a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone that can be equipped with a 40 mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun. When the sheriff’s office announced that the drone would be used by the county’s SWAT team, a spokesman said there were no plans to arm it but left open the possibility that deputies might decide to adapt the drone to fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

The Drone Caucus Wants to Open Civilian Airspace

Getting their legislation passed by their colleagues in Congress will be an uphill battle for the above-mentioned lawmakers concerned about privacy and the need for search warrants.

As a result of intense lobbying by the drone industry, headed by two of the biggest manufacturers, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, Congress formed the Unmanned Systems Caucus that now has 60 members. The group’s website states that its mission is “to educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems; and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.”

The drone caucus successfully passed legislation this year that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to identify six places across the country by 2013 that will be used for testing how to safely fly drones in the same area as traditional planes. The regulator has until Sept. 30, 2015, to formulate a plan to integrate up to 30,000 drones into U.S. airspace.

The dedication of activists and the modest efforts of a few concerned members of Congress have so far failed to halt the flight of drones from the battlefield to our homeland.

Ann Wright

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” (www.voicesofconscience.com)

Pakistan Anger Boils as US Drone Attacks Continue July 7, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
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Roger’s note: This is not the first nor will it be the last time I post an article on drone warfare.  It is cowardly and criminal, and it needs to be denounced over and over again.  That it has been accelerated and is being carried on by a Nobel Peace laureate is beyond irony.
 
Published on Saturday, July 7, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

Protests lash out at Obama, NATO following re-opening of supply routes and continued bombing campaign

- Common Dreams staff

Populer anger in Pakistan is growing and demonstrations against NATO spreading as the US-led drone campaign continues unabated. The death toll count grew to near 20 overnight following the latest missile attack on Friday.

 Supporters of Awami Majlis-e-Amal Pakistan stand next to a burning image of U.S. President Barack Obama during an anti-American rally in Quetta July 6, 2012. About 120 demonstrators gathered on Friday to protest against the resumption of NATO supplies transiting into Afghanistan through Pakistan. A pair of trucks carrying NATO supplies crossed into Afghanistan on Thursday, Pakistani customs officials said, the first time in more than seven months that Pakistan has allowed Western nations to use its roads to supply troops in Afghanistan. (REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)

 Imran Khan, former cricketer and current head of the Tehrik-e-Insaf workers party in Pakistan, joined with many angry Pakistanis in condemning the latest attack by US forces. In Quetta on Friday, protesters burnt portraits of US President Barack Obama and hurled their shoes at effigies of American and NATO officials.

According to Pakistan newspaper The Nation, Khan demanded that details of the strike and the identities of the casualties should be investigated and released so that Pakistanis would know how many women, children and ordinary civilians had been killed. Condemning his own government, he questioned the reasoning of a country that would allow the indiscriminate killing of its citizens and claimed that the Pakistani leadership was equally responsible for those killed in US drone strikes.

The latest assault on comes just days after Pakistan agreed to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan following a mea culpa from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a cross-border incident last year that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. Pakistan had also called for a cessation of drone strikes on its soil, but neither Clinton nor the US State Department succumbed to those demands. “Demands from Pakistan’s national security commission for the ‘immediate cessation’ of the unmanned Predator strikes were simply ignored,” wrote Ben Doherty in the Sydney Morning Herald.

News of the reopened supply lines and the continued drone strikes has led to elevated protests across Pakistan. Protests were also organised in Islamabad, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Mardan, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Dir. A coalition of groups have promised string of demonstration, including a ‘long march’ that would stretch from Lahore to Islamabad in protest against the reopening of the supply lines and ongoing NATO policy.

Presators and Robots at War September 19, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, Science and Technology, War.
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Roger’s note: read about your tax dollars at work to provide deadly war games for young marines on the PlayStation killing machines.  Since virtually every country in the world has terrorists within and since the US is at war with terrorism, it can “legally” in the name of self-defense bombard at will.  And unmanned predators may be coming soon to a police station near you!

// by Christian Caryl, http://www.opednews.com/Quicklink/Predators-and-Robots-at-Wa-in-General_News-110919-829.html

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the
Twenty-first Century

by P.W. Singer
Penguin,
499 pp., $17.00 (paper)
Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A
Pilot’s Story

by Lieutenant Colonel Matt J. Martin with Charles W.
Sasser
Zenith, 310 pp., $28.00

caryl_01-092911.jpgMax Becherer/Polaris

The US Air Force’s 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance
Squadron launching an unmanned Predator drone with laser-guided Hellfire
missiles mounted on its wings, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, November 2009

Drones are in the headlines. We read daily about strikes against terrorist
targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs)—remote-controlled aircraft equipped with elaborate sensors and sometimes
weapons as well. Earlier this summer the US sent
Predator drones into action against militants in Somalia, and plans are
reportedly afoot to put the CIA in charge of a drone
offensive against al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. NATO has
dispatched UAVs to Libya. State-of-the-art stealth drones cased the house where
Osama bin Laden was living before US Navy seals staged
their now famous raid. And in a speech a few weeks ago, White House
counterterrorism chief John Brennan made it clear that drones will continue to
figure prominently in the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy. On
August 22, a CIA drone killed the number-two al-Qaeda
leader in the mountains of Pakistan.

Most of us have probably heard by now how extraordinary this technology is.
Many of the UAV strikes in South Asia are actually
orchestrated by operators sitting at consoles in the United States. US Air Force Colonel Matt Martin gives a unique first-person
account of the strange split consciousness of this new type of warfare in his
book Predator. Even as his body occupies a seat in a control room in
Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, his mind is far removed, following a suspicious
SUV down a desert road in Iraq or tailing Taliban
fighters along a mountain ridge in Afghanistan. “I was already starting to refer
to the Predator and myself as ‘I,’ even though the airplane was thousands of
miles away,” Martin notes ruefully.

Notifying Marines on the ground that he’s arriving on the scene in
Afghanistan, he has to remind himself that he’s not actually arriving
anywhere—he’s still in his seat on the base. “Although it was only shortly after
noon in Nevada,” he writes, “I got the yawns just looking at all that snow and
darkness” on the ground outside Kabul. He can hardly be blamed for the
confusion. The eerie acuity of vision afforded by the Predator’s multiple
high-powered video cameras enables him to watch as the objects of his interest
light up cigarettes, go to the bathroom, or engage in amorous adventures with
animals on the other side of the world, never suspecting that they are under
observation as they do.

Even though home and wife are just a few minutes’ drive down the road from
his battle station, the peculiar detachment of drone warfare does not
necessarily insulate Martin from his actions. Predator attacks are
extraordinarily precise, but the violence of war can never be fully tamed, and
the most gripping scenes in the book document Martin’s emotions on the occasions
when innocent civilians wander under his crosshairs in the seconds just before
his Hellfire missile arrives on target. Allied bomber pilots in World War II killed millions of civilians but rarely had occasion to
experience the results on the ground. Drone operators work with far greater
accuracy, but the irony of the technology is that its operators can see their
accidental victims—two little boys and their shattered bikes, in one especially
heartrending case Martin describes—in excruciating detail. Small wonder that
studies by the military have shown that UAV operators
sometimes end up suffering the same degree of combat stress as other
warfighters.1

And yet the US military does little to discourage the
notion that this peculiar brand of long-distance warfare has a great deal in
common with the video-gaming culture in which many young UAV operators have grown up. As one military robotics
researcher tells Peter Singer, the author of Wired for War, “We modeled
the controller after the PlayStation because that’s what these eighteen-,
nineteen-year-old Marines have been playing with pretty much all of their
lives.” And by now, of course, we also have video games that incorporate drones:
technology imitating life that imitates technology.

Drones are not remarkable because of their weaponry. There is
nothing especially unusual about the missiles they carry, and even the largest
models are relatively lightly armed. They are not fast or nimble. What makes
them powerful is their ability to see and think. Most of the bigger drones now
operated by the US military can take off, land, and fly
by themselves. The operators can program a destination or a desired patrol area
and then concentrate on the details of the mission while the aircraft takes care
of everything else. Packed with sensors and sophisticated video technology, UAVs
can see through clouds or in the dark. They can loiter for hours or even days
over a target—just the sort of thing that bores human pilots to tears. Of
course, the most significant fact about drones is precisely that they do not
have pilots. In the unlikely event that a UAV is shot
down, its operator can get up from his or her console and walk away.

So far, so good. But there are also quite a few things about drones that you
might not have heard yet. Most Americans are probably unaware, for example, that
the US Air Force now trains more UAV operators each year than traditional pilots. (Indeed, the
Air Force insists on referring to drones as “remotely piloted aircraft” in order
to dispel any suspicions that it is moving out of the business of putting humans
into the air.) As I write this, the US aerospace
industry has for all practical purposes ceased research and development work on
manned aircraft. All the projects now on the drawing board revolve around
pilotless vehicles. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies around the country
eagerly await the moment when they can start operating their own UAVs. The
Federal Aviation Administration is considering rules that will allow police
departments to start using them within the next few years (perhaps as early as
2014). Soon, much sooner than you realize, your speeding tickets will be issued
electronically to your cell phone from a drone hovering somewhere over the
interstate. The US Customs Service has already used UAVs
to sneak up on drug-smuggling boats that easily evade noisier conventional
aircraft.

Robots that fly get most of the attention. In fact, though, UAVs represent
only one small part of the action in military robotics. As Singer recently told
me, there are already more robots operating on the ground (15,000) than in the
air (7,000). The US Army uses its mechanical warriors to
find and disarm roadside bombs, survey the battlefield, or shoot down incoming
artillery shells. Though these land-based robots may seem a bit more primitive
than their airborne cousins, they are catching up quickly. The models in
development include the bizarre BigDog, an eerily zoomorphic quadruped designed
to help soldiers carry heavy loads over difficult terrain, and BEAR, a vaguely humanoid machine on caterpillar tracks that
can lift loads of up to 500 pounds.

The US Navy is experimenting with machines of its
own. It recently unveiled a robot jet ski designed to sniff out attackers who
might try to sneak up on US ships underwater. The Navy
has developed harmless-looking (and environmentally friendly) sailboats packed
with high-tech surveillance gear that can pilot themselves around the world, if
need be. Robot submersibles, too, are in the works. Unconstrained by the
life-support requirements of manned submarines, these automated spies could
spend months on underwater patrol, parking themselves at the bottom of enemy
harbors and observing everything that goes in or out. So battery life becomes
the main constraint. Some scientists are trying to solve it by enabling the
underwater drone to feed off organic matter lying on the sea floor (known as a
“mud battery”).

So far none of these water-borne robots seem to be carrying torpedoes. The
army, however, is already experimenting with robots that can shoot. In his book,
Singer describes SWORDS, a tracked vehicle equipped with
a suite of cameras that see farther than the human eye even while covering
multiple angles. The machine can be armed with a 50-caliber machine gun or a
variety of other weapons. The SWORDS zoom camera and its
weapon can be perfectly synchronized, and the machine makes for a much more
stable platform than a soft, breathing, frightened human body lying prone in the
midst of a battlefield. Singer writes:

In an early test of its guns, the robot hit the bull’s-eye of a
target seventy out of seventy tries. In a test of its rockets, it hit the target
sixty-two out of sixty-two times. In a test of its antitank rockets, it hit the
target sixteen out of sixteen times. A former navy sniper summed up its
“pinpoint precision” as “nasty.” …Since it is a precisely timed machine pulling
the trigger, the “one shot” mode means that any weapon, even a machine gun, can
be turned into a sniper rifle.

Singer described this system two years ago. In the feverish world of military
robotics, 2009 already feels like a distant era, so we can only surmise how far
SWORDS has progressed since then. Researchers are now
testing UAVs that mimic hummingbirds or seagulls; one model under development
can fit on a pencil eraser. There is much speculation about linking small drones
or robots together into “swarms”—clouds or crowds of machines that would share
their intelligence, like a hive mind, and have the capability to converge
instantly on identified targets. This might seem like science fiction, but it is
probably not that far away. At ETH in Zurich,
Switzerland’s equivalent of MIT, engineers have linked
miniature quadrocopters (drones equipped with four sets of rotors for maximum
maneuverability) into small networks that can deftly toss balls back and forth
to each other without any human commands.

The technology transfixes. The capabilities are seductive; so,
too, is the lure of seeming invulnerability. The Taliban has no air force. Its
foot soldiers do not have night vision or the ability to see through overcast
skies, but they can sometimes hear the drones circling in the sky above. David
Rohde, the New York Times correspondent who was held captive by the
Taliban for seven months in 2009, described in his account of the experience
what it is like to be on the ground while Predators and Reapers are on the
prowl. “Two deafening explosions shook the walls of the compound where the
Taliban held us hostage,” he writes. “My guards and I dived to the floor as
chunks of dirt hurtled through the window.” A missile fired by a US drone has obliterated two cars a few hundred yards
away:

It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying
presence. Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be
heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots
in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be
immolated without warning….

Later, I learned that one guard called for me to be taken to the
site of the attack and ritually beheaded as a video camera captured the moment.
The chief guard overruled him.2

This particular strike, it turns out, has killed seven militants, zero
civilians. Most of the attacks are remarkably precise, as Rohde writes. Yet this
is almost beside the point: “The Taliban were able to garner recruits in their
aftermath,” he writes, “by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties.”

His point is borne out by a recent study conducted by Peter Bergen and
Katherine Tiedemann, two analysts at the New America Foundation in Washington
who have been tracking drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan ever since
the US began conducting attacks there in June 2004.
Though reliable information from that part of the world is extremely hard to
come by—the story of Rohde’s kidnapping explains why foreign journalists tend to
steer clear of the area—Bergen and Tiedemann have carefully analyzed media
reports for the details of each attack. While acknowledging the difficulties of
obtaining reliable data (and the wildly divergent information issued by American
and Pakistani official sources), they conclude that the attacks have grown
steadily more accurate. According to Bergen and Tiedemann, “During the first two
years of the Obama administration, around 85 percent of those reported killed by
drone strikes were militants; under the Bush administration, it was closer to 60
percent.”3 At the same time the authors
note that the strikes have probably been far less successful than US officials claim at killing militant leaders. Most of the
dead, Bergen and Tiedemann conclude, are likely rank-and-file fighters. (A newer
study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London arrives at a somewhat
higher overall civilian casualty rate.)

Though such statistics are remarkable when measured against the history of
warfare, they are, of course, little consolation to the families of those
innocent bystanders who have been killed along with the jihadis. And, as Bergen
and Tiedemann rightly note, the precision of the killing is only one small part
of the story. Polls show, just as Rohde suspected, that Pakistanis
overwhelmingly believe that most of those who die in the attacks are civilians—a
perception that is undoubtedly aggravated by the impunity with which the drones
stage their raids on Pakistani territory. Dennis Blair, director of national
intelligence from 2009 to 2010, recently made a similar observation in The
New York Times
: “Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk to our
soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of
warfare without cost to its own troops.” (While the Pakistani government
publicly expresses its disapproval of the strikes, in private Pakistani leaders
have provided intelligence and logistical support for the campaign—a fact that
they are eager to conceal from the public.) The number of terrorist attacks in
Pakistan has risen sharply as the drone campaign has accelerated. Bergen and
Tiedemann conclude that the broader political effects of the UAV campaign may well cancel out some of its tactical
benefits.

One remedy they propose is to take control of the drone program away from the
CIA, which currently runs the campaign in the tribal
areas, and transfer it to the military.4
This offers several advantages. In contrast to the CIA,
which denies the very existence of the program and accordingly reveals nothing
about the criteria by which it chooses its targets, the US Department of Defense can at least be held publicly
accountable for its conduct and is much more likely to respond to pressure to
keep its use of UAVs within the bounds of international law. This cannot be said
of the CIA’s use of drones for the purposes of “targeted
killing”—particularly given that the strikes are being secretly conducted
against targets in Pakistan, a country with which the United States is not at
war, under ill-defined and murky circumstances.

The legal issues involved are complex. Philip Alston, an expert in
international law appointed by the United Nations to examine the question,
asserted in a report that, “Outside the context of armed conflict, the use of
drones for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.”5 The trick, of course, is how we define “armed conflict”
in an age of non-state-affiliated terrorist and insurgent groups operating from
places where the writ of a central government does not extend. International
law, some experts say, gives the US the right to protect
its forces in Afghanistan against attacks staged by al-Qaeda and its allies in
the tribal areas—while whether the drone strikes violate Pakistani sovereignty
depends largely on agreements we have with the Pakistani government, a point
that remains somewhat mysterious.

The Obama administration might help matters by providing an explanation of
the legal rationale for the program. But so far it has declined to do so, aside
from a brief statement by a leading State Department legal adviser that cited
the internationally recognized right to self-defense.6 In this respect it is only to be welcomed that scholars
around the world are engaged in an active debate about the legal implications of
the drone campaigns. Given that more than forty countries around the world are
now experimenting with military robots of their own, the United States cannot
rest on the assumption that it will retain a monopoly over this technology
forever. The day when US forces are attacked by a
drone—perhaps even one operated by a terrorist—is not far away.

Many of the recent books on UAVs predictably dwell on the
technical specs and astonishing capabilities of these new weapons systems.
Singer provides us with plenty of the same, but the great virtue of his book is
precisely that he also devotes space to the broader questions raised by the
breakneck expansion of military robotics. As he writes, the US government is using drones to conduct a military campaign
against the sovereign state of Pakistan. Yet no one in Congress has ever pressed
the President for any sort of legal declaration of hostilities—for the simple
reason that the lives of American military personnel are not at stake when the
Predators set off on their missions.

In fact, as Singer shows, the ethical and legal implications of the new
technology already go far beyond the relatively circumscribed issue of targeted
killing. Military robots are on their way to developing considerable autonomy.
As noted earlier, UAVs can already take off, land, and fly themselves without
human intervention. Targeting is still the exclusive preserve of the human
operator—but how long will this remain the case? As sensors become more powerful
and diverse, the amount of data gathered by the machines is increasing
exponentially, and soon the volume and velocity of information will far exceed
the controller’s capacity to process it all in real time, meaning that more and
more decision-making will be left to the robot.

A move is already underway toward systems that allow a single operator to
handle multiple drones simultaneously, and this, too, will tend to push the
technology toward greater autonomy. We are not far from the day when it will
become manifest that our mechanical warriors are better at protecting the lives
of our troops than any human soldier, and once that happens the pressure to let
robots take the shot will be very hard to resist. Pentagon officials who have
been interviewed on the subject predictably insist that the decision to kill
will never be ceded to a machine. That is reassuring. Still, this is an easy
thing to say at a point when robots are not yet in the position to take the
initiative against the enemy on a battlefield. Soon, much sooner than most of us
realize, they will be able to do just that.

We have only just begun to explore what this means. Singer quotes Marc
Garlasco, a recognized expert on the law of war at Human Rights Watch. “This new
technology creates pressure points for international law,” Garlasco says. “You
will be trying to apply international law written for the Second World War to
Star Trek technology.” Singer continues:

Another fundamental premise of the human rights group, and for
broader international law, is that soldiers in the field and the leaders who
direct them must be held accountable for any violations of the laws of war.
Unmanned systems, though, muddy the waters surrounding war crimes. “War crimes
need both a violation and intent,” says Garlasco. “A machine has no
capacity to want to kill civilians, it has no desires…. If they are incapable of
intent, are they incapable of war crimes?” And if the machine is not
responsible, who does the group seek to hold accountable, and where exactly do
they draw the line? “Who do we go after, the manufacturer, the software
engineer, the buyer, the user?”

Later Singer notes that the US has consistently
applied an expanded right of self-defense for its aircraft operating in
conflicts around the world. When an enemy radar “lights up” a US plane, the pilot has the right to fire first without
waiting to be attacked. All fine and good. But then imagine that the aircraft
involved is not a plane but a UAV:

If an unmanned plane flying near the border of another nation is
fired on, does it have the right to fire back at that nation’s missile sites and
the humans behind them, even in peacetime? What about the expanded
interpretation, the right to respond to hostile intent, where the drone is just
targeted by radar? Is the mere threat enough for the drone to fire first at the
humans below?

The answers depend on how wide the “self” in self-defense is
defined.

It turns out, Singer explains, that the US Air Force
currently operates according to the principle that a pilotless aircraft, as an
entity representing the people who sent it on its mission, “has the same rights
as if a person were inside it,” and that this “interpretation of robot rights is
official policy for unmanned reconnaissance flights over the Persian Gulf.” But
the situation is evolving rapidly. The next generation of military robots is
likely to have a high degree of operational independence without yet achieving
the kind of intelligent self-awareness that entails responsibility. Luckily
there is already something of a legal precedent for handling similar situations.
“As odd as it sounds,” Singer writes, “pet law might then be a useful resource
in figuring out how to assess the accountability of autonomous systems.”

This is a particularly thought-provoking conclusion given that the
researchers now working on military robots seem especially eager to ransack the
biological world for elegant solutions to the design problems that have to be
overcome. There is a snake-shaped robot that can rear itself up in the grass
when it wants to scan its surroundings. Tiny surveillance robots scuttle up
walls like bugs, and robot flyers flap their wings. The Navy is testing
submersibles that swim like fish. Researchers in the UK
have developed a robot whose sensors mimic rat whiskers—since so far no engineer
has managed to come up with a sensor system that is better at navigating in
total darkness.

Whether we like it or not, war has often been a powerful goad to
technological innovation. Now technology is on the verge of supplanting the
human soldier altogether—with consequences that can only be guessed. The
question in the case of military robotics, even at this relatively early stage,
is the extent to which we will manage to retain control over the process.
Whether we are ready or not, the answer will soon be clear.

—August 30, 2011

1 See Scott Lindlaw, “Remote-Control Warriors Suffer War Stress,” Associated
Press, August 7, 2008.

2 “A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope,” Part Four of “Held by the Taliban,”
The New York Times , October 20, 2009.

3 Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “Washington’s Phantom War: The
Effects of the US Drone Program in Pakistan,” Foreign Affairs ,
July/August 2011.

4 The CIA operates its drones from control stations in or around its
headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It is likely that many of the operators are
actually civilian contractors.

5 Philip Alston, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary
or Arbitrary Executions,” United Nations, Human Rights Council, May 28, 2010.
See also David Kretzmer, “Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists:
Exra-Judicial Executions or Legitimate Means of Defence?” The European
Journal of International Law
, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2005).

6 Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the State Department, devoted a few brief
remarks to the subject in a speech last year, available at http://www.state.gov/s/l/
releases/remarks/139119.htm.

  1. 1See Scott Lindlaw, “Remote-Control Warriors Suffer War Stress,” Associated
    Press, August 7, 2008.
  2. 2″A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope,” Part Four of “Held by the Taliban,”
    The New York Times , October 20, 2009.
  3. 3Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “Washington’s Phantom War: The Effects
    of the US Drone Program in Pakistan,” Foreign Affairs , July/August
    2011.
  4. 4The CIA operates its drones from control stations in or around its
    headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It is likely that many of the operators are
    actually civilian contractors.
  5. 5Philip Alston, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or
    Arbitrary Executions,” United Nations, Human Rights Council, May 28, 2010. See
    also David Kretzmer, “Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists: Exra-Judicial
    Executions or Legitimate Means of Defence?” The European Journal of
    International Law
    , Vol. 16, No. 2 (2005).
  6. 6Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the State Department, devoted a few brief
    remarks to the subject in a speech last year, available at http://www.state.gov/s/l/
    releases/remarks/139119.htm.

Drones fuel terrorism, says Imran May 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uncategorized, War, War on Terror.
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By Shamim-ur-Rahman | From the Newspaper


// Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan waves to supporters along with party leaders during a rally in Karachi. -AFP Photo
Pakistani cricket legend-turned politician Imran Khan, center wearing cap, addresses a large crowd during a rally against the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas, Saturday, April 23, 2011, in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistan stopped NATO supplies from traveling to Afghanistan on Saturday as thousands of protesters rallied on the main road leading to the border, demanding U.S. Washington stop firing missiles against militants sheltering inside the country. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad

KARACHI: Tehrik-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan has said that the “war on terror” is not Pakistan’s war and it is harming the country’s integrity.

Addressing thousands of supporters at a rally held on Saturday at the Natives Jetty bridge leading to the Karachi harbour, he said that drone and other such attacks were breeding terrorism.

Imran Khan said had the leaders heeded his advice, taken a stand against the attacks and opted out of the American-led coalition, this situation would not have emerged.

He termed the sit-in the harbinger of a revolution and vowed to lay the foundation of a new Pakistan with the support of the people after emancipating them from plunderers of national wealth and honour.

He said the protest would convey to the US that “we will not be cowed down by drone attacks”. He said that if and when his party came into power it would finish the terrorists and assimilate the tribal people into the mainstream. He said it was the worst time for the country and the nation had been made subservient to the Americans.

Imran Khan said the drone attacks were being carried out with the connivance of the government and it was only making protests to hoodwink the people.

“It is a fixed match between the government, army and America,” he said.

Representatives of some other parties and civil society groups also joined the sit-in held in protest against American drone attacks and to call upon the government to change its policy towards the US. The sit-in will continue till Sunday evening.

“Whenever the government wants, drone attacks will stop,” he claimed.

The PTI’s campaign is not only against drone attacks and Nato supplies through the country, but is also aimed at forcing mid-term elections as Imran says the government is not truly democratic and has capitulated to the US. He terms the drone attacks a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Imran Khan also mustered the support of some of the right-wing parties, including the Sunni Tehrik and Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, and the Sindh National Front. Because of a strong line taken by him against American attacks that have killed people in the tribal areas, a large number of people from the northern region of the country who eke out their living here were also seen at the rally.

They were carrying PTI’s flags and photographs of Aafia Siddiqui and chanting anti-America slogans.

U.S. tries to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki May 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011 08:22 ET

 

By Glenn Greenwald
 
www.salon.com, May 7, 2011

That Barack Obama has continued the essence of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism architecture was once a provocative proposition but is now so self-evident that few dispute it (watch here as arch-neoconservative David Frum — Richard Perle’s co-author for the supreme 2004 neocon treatise — waxes admiringly about Obama’s Terrorism and foreign policies in the Muslim world and specifically its “continuity” with Bush/Cheney).  But one policy where Obama has gone further than Bush/Cheney in terms of unfettered executive authority and radical war powers is the attempt to target American citizens for assassination without a whiff of due process.  As The New York Times put it last April:

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.  A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president. . . .

 That Obama was compiling a hit list of American citizens was first revealed in January of last year when The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest mentioned in passing at the end of a long article that at least four American citizens had been approved for assassinations; several months later, the Obama administration anonymously confirmed to both the NYT and the Post that American-born, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was one of the Americans on the hit list. 

Yesterday, riding a wave of adulation and military-reverence, the Obama administration tried to end the life of this American citizen — never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime — with a drone strike in Yemen, but missed and killed two other people instead:

A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.

The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. 

 

The other people killed “may have” been Al Qaeda operatives.  Or they “may not have” been.  Who cares?  They’re mere collateral damage on the glorious road to ending the life of this American citizen without due process (and pointing out that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” — and provides no exception for war — is the sort of tedious legalism that shouldn’t interfere with the excitement of drone strikes).

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance.  But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process — far from any battlefield, not during combat — is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it’s hard to convey in words or treat with civility.

How do you even engage someone in rational discussion who is willing to assume that their fellow citizen is guilty of being a Terrorist without seeing evidence for it, without having that evidence tested, without giving that citizen a chance to defend himself — all because the President declares it to be so?  “I know Awlaki, my fellow citizen, is a Terrorist and he deserves to die.  Why?  Because the President decreed that, and that’s good enough for me.  Trials are so pre-9/11.”  If someone is willing to dutifully click their heels and spout definitively authoritarian anthems like that, imagine how impervious to reason they are on these issues.

And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield — if someone believes that the President has that power:  the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner — what possible limits would they ever impose on the President’s power?  There cannot be any.  Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a “traitor” and demand they be treated as such — even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call “a trial” with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason — how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither?

What’s most striking about this is how it relates to the controversies during the Bush years.  One of the most strident attacks from the Democrats on Bush was that he wanted to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.  One of the first signs of Bush/Cheney radicalism was what they did to Jose Padilla:  assert the power to imprison this American citizen without charges.  Yet here you have Barack Obama asserting the power not to eavesdrop on Americans or detain them without charges — but to target them for killing without charges — and that, to many of his followers, is perfectly acceptable.  It’s a “horrific shredding of the Constitution” and an act of grave lawlessness for Bush to eavesdrop on or detain Americans without any due process; but it’s an act of great nobility when Barack Obama ends their lives without any due process.

Not even Antonin Scalia was willing to approve of George Bush’s mere attempt to detain (let alone kill) an American citizen accused of Terrorism without a trial.  In a dissenting opinion joined by the court’s most liberal member, John Paul Stevens, Scalia explained that not even the War on Terror allows the due process clause to be ignored when the President acts against those he claims have joined the Enemy — and this was for a citizen found on an actual active battlefield in a war zone (Afghanistan) (emphasis added):

The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.  Blackstone stated this principle clearly:  “Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty:  for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest, magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper … there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities. … To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom.” . . . .

Subjects accused of levying war against the King were routinely prosecuted for treason. . . . The Founders inherited the understanding that a citizen’s levying war against the Government was to be punished criminally. The Constitution provides: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”; and establishes a heightened proof requirement (two witnesses) in order to “convic[t]” of that offense. Art. III, §3, cl. 1. 

 

There simply is no more basic liberty than the right to be free from Presidential executions without being charged with — and then convicted of — a crime:  whether it be treason, Terrorism, or anything else.  How can someone who objected to Bush’s attempt to eavesdrop on or detain citizens without judicial oversight cheer for Obama’s attempt to kill them without judicial oversight? Can someone please reconcile those positions?

One cannot be certain that this attempted killing of Awlaki relates to the bin Laden killing, but it certainly seems likely, and in any event, highlights the dangers I wrote about this week.  From the start, it was inconceivable to me that — as some predicted — the bin Laden killing would bring about a ratcheting down of America’s war posture.  The opposite seemed far more likely to me for the reason I wrote on Monday:  

Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden — and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders — can easily rejuvenate that war love. . . . We’re feeling good and strong about ourselves again — and righteous — and that’s often the fertile ground for more, not less, aggression.

 

The killing of bin Laden got the testosterone pumping, the righteousness pulsating, and faith in the American military and its Commander-in-Chief skyrocketing to all-time highs.  It made America feel good about itself in a way that no other event has since at least Obama’s inauguration; we got to forget about rampant unemployment, home foreclosures by the millions, a decade’s worth of militaristic futility and slaughter, and ever-growing Third-World levels of wealth inequality.  This was a week for flag-waving, fist-pumping, and nationalistic chanting:  even — especially — among liberals, who were able to take the lead and show the world (and themselves) that they are no wilting, delicate wimps; it’s not merely swaggering right-wing Texans, but they, too, who can put bullets in people’s heads and dump corpses into the ocean and then joke and cheer about it afterwards.  It’s inconceivable that this wave of collective pride, boosted self-esteem, vicarious strength, and renewed purpose won’t produce a desire to replicate itself.  Four days after bin Laden is killed, a missile rains down from the sky to try to execute Awlaki without due process, and that’ll be far from the last such episode (indeed, also yesterday, the U.S. launched a drone attack in Pakistan, ending the lives of 15 more people:  yawn).

Last night, in a post entitled “Reigniting the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism]” — Digby wrote about why the reaction to the killing of bin Laden is almost certain to spur greater aggression in the “War on Terror,” and specifically observed:  “They’re breathlessly going on about Al Qaeda in Yemen ‘targeting the homeland’ right now on CNN. Looks like we’re back in business.”  The killing of bin Laden isn’t going to result in a reduction of America’s military adventurism because that’s not how the country works: when we eradicate one Enemy, we just quickly and seamlessly find a new one to replace him with — look over there:  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the True Threat!!!! — and the blood-spilling continues unabated (without my endorsing it all, read this excellent Chris Floyd post for the non-euphemistic reality of what we’ve really been doing in the world over the last couple years under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner).

A civil liberties lawyer observed by email to me last night that now that Obama has massive political capital and invulnerable Tough-on-Terror credentials firmly in place, there are no more political excuses for what he does (i.e., he didn’t really want to do that, but he had to in order not to be vulnerable to GOP political attacks that he’s Weak).  In the wake of the bin Laden killing, he’s able to do whatever he wants now — ratchet down the aggression or accelerate it — and his real face will be revealed by his choices (for those with doubts about what that real face is).  Yesterday’s attempt to exterminate an American citizen who has long been on his hit list — far from any battlefield, not during combat, and without even a pretense of due process — is likely to be but a first step in that direction.

Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory

I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. I am the author of two New York Times Bestselling books: “How Would a Patriot Act?” (May, 2006), a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, and “A Tragic Legacy” (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy. My most recent book, “Great American Hypocrites”, examines the manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the establishment press, and was released in April, 2008, by Random House/Crown.

Twitter: @ggreenwald
E-mail: GGreenwald@salon.com

Nobel peace drones April 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Libya, Pakistan, War.
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By Glenn Greenwald
 

A U.S. drone attack in Pakistan killed 23 people this morning, and this is how The New York Times described that event in its headline and first paragraph:

When I saw that, I was going to ask how the NYT could possibly know that the people whose lives the U.S. just ended were “militants,” but then I read further in the article and it said this:  “A government official in North Waziristan told Pakistani reporters that five children and four women were among the 23 who were killed.”  So at least 9 of the 23 people we killed — at least — were presumably not “militants” at all, but rather innocent civilians (contrast how the NYT characterizes Libya’s attacks in its headlines: “Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas”).

Can someone who defends these drone attacks please identify the purpose?  Is the idea that we’re going to keep dropping them until we kill all the “militants” in that area?  We’ve been killing people in that area at a rapid clip for many, many years now, and we don’t seem to be much closer to extinguishing them.  How many more do we have to kill before the eradication is complete?  

Beyond that, isn’t it painfully obvious that however many “militants” we’re killing, we’re creating more and more all the time?  How many family members, friends, neighbors and villagers of the “five children and four women” we just killed are now consumed with new levels of anti-American hatred?  How many Pakistani adolescents who hear about these latest killings are now filled with an eagerness to become “militants”?

The NYT article dryly noted: “Friday’s attack could further fuel antidrone sentiment among the Pakistani public”; really, it could?  It’s likely to fuel far more than mere “antidrone sentiment”; it’s certain to fuel more anti-American hatred: the primary driver of anti-American Terrorism. Isn’t that how you would react if a foreign country were sending flying robots over your town and continuously wiping out the lives of innocent women, children and men who are your fellow citizens? What conceivable rational purpose does this endless slaughter serve? Isn’t it obvious that the stated goal of all of this – to reduce the threat of Terrorism – is subverted rather than promoted by these actions?

Regarding the announcement yesterday that the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner was now deploying these same flying death robots to Libya, both The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius and The Atlantic‘s James Fallows make the case against that decision. In particular, Ignatius writes that “surely it’s likely that the goal was to kill Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi or other members of his inner circle.”

I don’t know if that is actually the purpose, though if Ignatius is good at anything , it’s faithfully conveying what military and intelligence officials tell him. If that is the goal, doesn’t that rather directly contradict Obama’s vow when explaining the reasons for our involvement in the war (after it started): “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.” It already seemed clear from the joint Op-Ed by Obama and the leaders of France and Britain — in which they pledged to continue “operations” until Gadaffi was gone — that this vow had been abandoned. But if we’re sending drones to target Libyan regime leaders for death, doesn’t it make it indisputably clear that the assurances Obama gave when involving the U.S. in this war have now been violated. And does that matter?

Finally, when the OLC released its rationale for why the President was permitted to involve the U.S in Libya without Congressional approval, its central claim was that — due the very limited nature of our involvement and the short duration — this does not “constitute[] a ‘war’ within the meaning of the Declaration of War Clause” (Adam Serwer has more on this reasoning). Now that our involvement has broadened to include drone attacks weeks into this conflict, with no end in sight, can we agree that the U.S. is now fighting a “war” and that this therefore requires Congressional approval?

* * * * *

A new NYT/CBS poll today finds that only 39% approve of Obama’s handling of Libya, while 45% disapprove (see p. 17). That’s what happens when a President starts a new war without any pretense of democratic debate, let alone citizenry consent through the Congress.

The ‘Obama Doctrine': Kill, Don’t Detain April 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in War, War on Terror.
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(Roger’s Note: Bush and Obama define the entire world as a battlefield in the “war on terror.”  Since the rules of war say that the enemy has no rights (Bush said adios to the Geneva Conventions and Obama, the law professor, has dittoed it), you shoot to kill and ask questions later.  Hence, unmanned drone missiles, and watch out if you’re throwing a big wedding party in rural Pakistan.  Hence, if the president/CIA believes that an American citizen has gone over to the enemy, the latter has sacrificed any rights he might have had.  Individual terrorists used to be hunted down using police methods.  Now, terrorism is viewed as an organized global army and the rules of war apply.  

 

The obvious solution to the geometric growth of terrorists would be to address the root cause: US imperial military and commercial expansion (and, to a large extent, uncritical support of the Israeli government).  But, since the president and Congress are for all intents and purposes owned by the military-industrial complex, this sane option is effectively off the table.

 

What we are left with is permanent war (the more we attack terrorism militarily, the more it grows, the more it needs to be attacked, and on and on).  Conclusion: militarized corporate America, with the government, media and education system becoming more integrated with this Behemoth on a daily basis, is the deeper root.  This is what needs to be addressed.)

by Asim Qureshi

George Bush left a big problem in the shape of Guantánamo. The solution? Don’t capture bad guys, assassinate by drone

 

In 2001, Charles Krauthammer first coined the phrase “Bush Doctrine”, which would later become associated most significantly with the legal anomaly known as pre-emptive strike. Understanding the doctrine with hindsight could lead to a further understanding of the legacy that the former administration left – the choice to place concerns of national security over even the most entrenched norms of due process and the rule of law. It is, indeed, this doctrine that united people across the world in their condemnation of Guantánamo Bay.

[Some CIA officials want to extend the controversial drone campaign to include tribal areas in Pakistan. (Photograph: James Lee Harper Jr./AFP/Getty Images)]Some CIA officials want to extend the controversial drone campaign to include tribal areas in Pakistan. (Photograph: James Lee Harper Jr./AFP/Getty Images)

The ambitious desire to close Guantánamo hailed the coming of a new era, a feeling implicitly recognised by the Nobel peace prize that President Obama received. Unfortunately, what we witnessed was a false dawn. The lawyers for the Guantánamo detainees with whom I am in touch in the US speak of their dismay as they prepare for Obama to do the one thing they never expected – to send the detainees back to the military commissions – a decision that will lose Obama all support he once had within the human rights community. 

Worse still, a completely new trend has emerged that, in many ways, is more dangerous than the trends under Bush. Extrajudicial killings and targeted assassinations will soon become the main point of contention that Obama’s administration will need to justify. Although Bush was known for his support for such policies, the extensive use of drones under Obama have taken the death count well beyond anything that has been seen before.

Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the US state department, explained the justifications behind unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) when addressing the American Society of International Law’s annual meeting on 25 March 2010:

“[I]t is the considered view of this administration … that targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … As recent events have shown, al-Qaida has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks … [T]his administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles … “[S]ome have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force. Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meeting. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law.”

The legal justifications put forward by Koh are reminiscent of the arguments that were used by John Yoo and others in their bid to lend legitimacy to unlawful practices such as rendition, arbitrary detention and torture. The main cause for concern from Koh’s statements is the implication that protective jurisdiction to which the US feels it is entitled in order to carry out operations anywhere in the world still continues under Obama. The laws of war do not allow for the targeting of individuals outside of the conflict zone, and yet we now find that extrajudicial killings are taking place in countries as far apart as Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Pakistan. From a legal and moral perspective, the rationale provided by the State Department is bankrupt and only reinforces the stereotype that the US has very little concern for its own principles.

Despite the legalities of what is being conducted, the actuality of extrajudicial killings, especially through UAVs is frightening. The recent revelations by WikiLeaks on the killing of civilians by US Apache helicopters in Iraq has strongly highlighted the opportunities for misuse surrounding targeting from the air. In the Iraq case, there were soldiers who were supposed to be using the equipment to identify so-called combatants, and yet they still managed to catastrophically target the wrong people. This situation is made even worse in the case of UAVs, where the operators are far removed from the reality of the conflict and rely on digital images to see what is taking place on the ground.

Conservative estimates from thinktanks such as the New American Foundation claim that civilian causalities from drone attacks are around one in three, although this figure is disputed by the Pakistani authorities. According to Pakistani official statistics, every month an average of 58 civilians were killed during 2009. Of the 44 Predator drone attacks that year, only five targets were correctly identified; the result was over 700 civilian casualties.

Regardless of the figures used, the case that extrajudicial killings are justified is extremely weak, and the number of civilian casualties is far too high to justify their continued use.

A further twist to the Obama Doctrine is the breaking of a taboo that the Bush administration balked at – the concept of treating US citizens outside of the US constitutional process. During the Bush era, the treatment of detainees such as John Walker Lindh, Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla showed reluctance by officials to treat their own nationals in the way it had all those of other nationalities (by, for instance, sending them to Guantánamo Bay and other secret prisons). The policy of discrimination reserved for US citizens showed that there was a line the US was not willing to cross.

At least, today, we can strike discrimination off the list of grievances against the current president. The National Security Council of the US has now given specific permission to the CIA to target certain US citizens as part of counter-terrorism operations. Specifically, Anwar al-Awlaki has been singled out for such treatment, as it has been claimed that he was directly involved in the planning of the Major Hasan Nidal killings and the Christmas Day bomber attacks. Indeed, it is claims such as this that bring the entire concept of targeted assassinations into question. The US would like us to believe that we should simply trust that they have the relevant evidence and information to justify such a killing, without bringing the individual to account before a court.

The assumption that trust should be extended to a government that has involved itself in innumerable unlawful and unconscionable practices since the start of the war on terror is too much to ask. Whatever goodwill the US government had after 9/11 was destroyed by the way in which it prosecuted its wars. Further, the hope that came with the election of Barack Obama has faded as his policies have indicated nothing more than a reconfiguration of the basic tenet of the Bush Doctrine – that the US’s national security interests supersede any consideration of due process or the rule of law. The only difference – witness the rising civilian body count from drone attacks – being that Obama’s doctrine is even more deadly.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

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