The Predators: Where is Your Democracy? May 9, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, collateral damage, democracy, extrajudicial executions, extrajudicial killings, high value targets, kathy kelly, pakistan, predator, predator drones, roger hollander, war, war profiteering
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On May 4, 2011, CNN World News asked whether killing Osama bin Laden was legal under international law. Other news commentary has questioned whether it would have been both possible and advantageous to bring Osama bin Laden to trial rather than kill him.
World attention has been focused, however briefly, on questions of legality regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden. But, with the increasing use of Predator drones to kill suspected “high value targets” in Pakistan and Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings by U.S. military forces have become the new norm.
Just three days after Osama bin Laden was killed, an attack employing remote-control aerial drones killed fifteen people in Pakistan and wounded four. CNN reports that their Islamabad bureau has counted four drone strikes over the last month and a half since the March 17 drone attack which killed 44 people in Pakistan’s tribal region. This most recent suspected strike was the 21st this year. There were 111 strikes in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 957 innocent civilians were killed in 2010.
I’m reminded of an encounter I had, in May, 2010 ,when a journalist and a social worker from North Waziristan met with a small Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation in Pakistan and described, in gory and graphic detail, the scenes of drone attacks which they had personally witnessed: the carbonized bodies, burned so fully they could be identified by legs and hands alone, the bystanders sent flying like dolls through the air to break, with shattered bones and sometimes-fatal brain injuries, upon walls and stone.
“Do Americans know about the drones?” the journalist asked me. I said I thought that awareness was growing on University campuses and among peace groups. “This isn’t what I’m asking,” he politely insisted. “What I want to know is if average Americans know that their country is attacking Pakistan with drones that carry bombs. Do they know this?”
“Truthfully,” I said, “I don’t think so.”
“Where is your democracy?” he asked me. “Where is your democracy?”
Ideally, in a democracy, people are educated about important matters, and they can influence decisions about these issues by voting for people who represent their point of view.
Only a handful of U.S. officials have broached the issue of whether or not it is right for the U.S. to use unmanned aerial vehicles to function as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in the decision to assassinate anyone designated as a “high value target” in faraway Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Would we want unmanned aerial vehicles piloted by another country to fly over the U.S., targeting individuals deemed to be a threat to the safety of their people, firing Hellfire missiles or dropping 500 pound bombs over suspected “high valuetargets” on the hunch of a soldier or general without evidence and without any consideration of which innocent civilians willalso be killed?
Fully informed citizens might be invited to consider the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but they would certainly be involved in the debate over how we will be treated in future years and decades when these weapons have proliferated. In 1945, only one country possessed the atomic bomb, but within decades, the “nuclear club” had expanded to five declared and four non-declared nuclear-armed states in a much less certain world. Besides the risk of nuclear war, this weapon proliferation has consumed resources that could have been directed toward feeding a hungry world or eradicating disease or easing the effects of impoverishment.
As of now, worldwide, 49 companies make 450 different drone aircraft. Drone merchants expect that drone sales will earn $20.2 billion over the next 10 years for aerospace war manufacturers. Who knows? One day drone missiles may be aimed at us.
Also worth noting is the observation that drones will make it politically convenient for any country to order military actions without risking their soldiers’ lives, thereby making it easier, and more tempting, to start wars which may eventually escalate to result in massive loss of life, both military and civilian.
Voices for Creative Nonviolence believes that standing alongside people who bear the brunt of our wars helps us gain needed insights. Where you stand determines what you see.
In October and again in December of 2010, while in Afghanistan, I met with a large family living in a wretched refugee camp. They had fled their homes in the San Gin district of the Helmand Province after a drone attack killed a mother there and her five children. The woman’s husband showed us photos of his children’s bloodied corpses. His niece, Juma Gul, age 9, had survived the attack. She and I huddled next to each other inside a hut made of mud on a chilly December morning. Juma Gul’s father stooped in front of us and gently unzipped her jacket, showing me that his daughter’s arm had been amputated by shrapnel when the U.S. missile hit their home in San Gin.
Next to Juma Gul was her brother, whose leg had been mangled in the attack. He apparently has no access to adequate medical care and experiences constant pain.
It’s impossible to conjecture what would have happened had Osama bin Laden been apprehended and brought to appear before a court of law, charged with crimes against humanity because of his alleged role in masterminding the 9/11 attacks. But, I feel certain beyond doubt that Juma Gul posed no threat whatsoever to the U.S., and if she were brought before a court of law and witnesses were helped to understand that she was attacked by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle for no reason other than that she happened to live in proximity to a potential high value target, she would be vindicated of any suspicion that she committed a crime. The same might not be true for those who attacked her.
Presidential Assassinations of US Citizens January 27, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: al-Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, assassination, battlefield, cia, civilian casualties, constitution, democracy, geneva conventions, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, habaes corpus, high value targets, hit list, jsoc, president obama, roger hollander, rule of law, terrorism, u.s. citizens, war, war on terror, yemen
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The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest today reports that “U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people.” That’s no surprise, of course, as Yemen is now another predominantly Muslim country (along with Somalia and Pakistan) in which our military is secretly involved to some unknown degree in combat operations without any declaration of war, without any public debate, and arguably (though not clearly) without any Congressional authorization. The exact role played by the U.S. in the late-December missile attacks in Yemen, which killed numerous civilians, is still unknown.
But buried in Priest’s article is her revelation that American citizens are now being placed on a secret “hit list” of people whom the President has personally authorized to be killed:
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .
The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”
Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including [New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar] Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added.
Indeed, Aulaqi was clearly one of the prime targets of the late-December missile strikes in Yemen, as anonymous officials excitedly announced — falsely, as it turns out — that he was killed in one of those strikes.
Just think about this for a minute. Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests.” They’re entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. Amazingly, the Bush administration’s policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges — based solely on the President’s claim that they were Terrorists — produced intense controversy for years. That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution. Shouldn’t Obama’s policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind — not imprisoned, but killed — produce at least as much controversy?
Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens. That’s just the essence of war. That’s why it’s permissible to kill a combatant engaged on a real battlefield in a war zone but not, say, torture them once they’re captured and helplessly detained. But combat is not what we’re talking about here. The people on this “hit list” are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities. More critically still, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — defines the “battlefield” as the entire world. So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks. That’s quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.
As we well know from the last eight years, the authoritarians among us in both parties will, by definition, reflexively justify this conduct by insisting that the assassination targets are Terrorists and therefore deserve death. What they actually mean, however, is that the U.S. Government has accused them of being Terrorists, which (except in the mind of an authoritarian) is not the same thing as being a Terrorist. Numerous Guantanamo detainees accused by the U.S. Government of being Terrorists have turned out to be completely innocent, and the vast majority of federal judges who provided habeas review to detainees have found an almost complete lack of evidence to justify the accusations against them, and thus ordered them released. That includes scores of detainees held while the U.S. Government insisted that only the “Worst of the Worst” remained at the camp.
No evidence should be required for rational people to avoid assuming that Government accusations are inherently true, but for those do need it, there is a mountain of evidence proving that. And in this case, Anwar Aulaqi — who, despite his name and religion, is every bit as much of an American citizen as Scott Brown and his daughters are — has a family who vigorously denies that he is a Terrorist and is “pleading” with the U.S. Government not to murder their American son:
His anguish apparent, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki told CNN that his son is not a member of al Qaeda and is not hiding out with terrorists in southern Yemen.
“I am now afraid of what they will do with my son, he’s not Osama Bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he’s not,” said Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. . . .
“I will do my best to convince my son to do this (surrender), to come back but they are not giving me time, they want to kill my son. How can the American government kill one of their own citizens? This is a legal issue that needs to be answered,” he said.
“If they give me time I can have some contact with my son but the problem is they are not giving me time,” he said.
Who knows what the truth is here? That’s why we have what are called ”trials” — or at least some process — before we assume that government accusations are true and then mete out punishment accordingly. As Marcy Wheeler notes, the U.S. Government has not only repeatedly made false accusations of Terrorism against foreign nationals in the past, but against U.S. citizens as well. She observes: ”I guess the tenuousness of those ties don’t really matter, when the President can dial up the assassination of an American citizen.”
A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: ”No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863. Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:
The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.
Can anyone remotely reconcile that righteous proclamation what the Obama administraiton is doing? And more generally, what legal basis exists for the President to unilaterally compile hit lists of American citizens he wants to be killed?
What’s most striking of all is that it was recently revealed that, in Afghanistan, the U.S. had compiled a “hit list” of Afghan citizens it suspects of being drug traffickers or somehow associated with the Taliban, in order to target them for assassination. When that hit list was revealed, Afghan officials “fiercely” objected on the ground that it violates due process and undermines the rule of law to murder people without trials:
Gen. Mohammad Daud Daud, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts, praised U.S. and British special forces for their help recently in destroying drug labs and stashes of opium. But he said he worried that foreign troops would now act on their own to kill suspected drug lords, based on secret evidence, instead of handing them over for trial.
“They should respect our law, our constitution and our legal codes,” Daud said. “We have a commitment to arrest these people on our own” . . . .
Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister, said that he had long urged the Pentagon and its NATO allies to crack down on drug smugglers and suppliers, and that he was glad that the military alliance had finally agreed to provide operational support for Afghan counternarcotics agents. But he said foreign troops needed to avoid the temptation to hunt down and kill traffickers on their own.
“There is a constitutional problem here. A person is innocent unless proven guilty,” he said. “If you go off to kill or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms of legal process?” . . .
So we’re in Afghanistan to teach them about democracy, the rule of law, and basic precepts of Western justice. Meanwhile, Afghan officials vehemently object to the lawless, due-process-free assassination “hit list” of their citizens based on the unchecked say-so of the U.S. Government, and have to lecture us on the rule of law and Constitutional constraints. By stark contrast, our own Government, our media and our citizenry appear to find nothing wrong whatsoever with lawless assassinations aimed at our own citizens. And the most glaring question for those who critized Bush/Cheney detention policies but want to defend this: how could anyone possibly object to imprisoning foreign nationals without charges or due process at Guantanamo while approving of the assassination of U.S. citizens without any charges or due process?
© 2010 Salon.com
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian casualties, collateral damage, drone missiles, drone strikes, high value targets, jeremy scahill, Media, media war, pakistan, pakistan bombing, pakistan taliban, pakistan war, predator drones, roger hollander, Taliban, unmanned bombs, wall street journal
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The paper’s editors attack unembedded journalists who report the Pakistani deaths. Instead, they say, we should all just shut up and listen to U.S. intelligence agencies.
by Jeremy Scahill
The Wall Street Journal is officially in love with President Obama’s undeclared air war inside of Pakistan’s borders. In an unsigned editorial, the paper enthusiastically endorses Obama’s use of predator drones to bomb areas throughout Pakistan. The WSJ editors praise the administration, saying “to its credit, [the White House] has stepped up the use of Predators.” The editors declare: “When Pakistan’s government can exercise sovereignty over all its territory, there will be no need for Predator strikes. In the meantime, unmanned bombs away.”
The paper accurately notes some of the reasons for opposing drone strikes: “the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds.” The WSJ also accurately reports:
Lord Bingham, until recently Britain’s senior law lord, has recently said UAV strikes may be “beyond the pale” and potentially on a par with cluster bombs and landmines. Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen says “the Predator [drone] strikes have an entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability.” He adds, “We should be cutting strikes back pretty substantially.”
But Bingham and Kilcullen are naive fools, according to the WSJ editors. Moreover, they are fools who have been suckered by evil un-embedded reporters. “If you glean your information from wire reports – which depend on stringers who are rarely eyewitnesses,” the editors quip, “the argument [against drone attacks] seems almost plausible.” Right, these “stringers” who often risk their lives to reveal the human toll of U.S. bombings are far less credible than the fat cat editors of the WSJ (some of whom are probably in the Hamptons having servants clip their toe nails or mix their Martinis as I write this).
The WSJ editors descend from their thrones to mingle among the mortals and teach us the error of our ways:
Yet anyone familiar with Predator technology knows how misleading those reports can be. Unlike fighter jets or cruise missiles, Predators can loiter over their targets for more than 20 hours, take photos in which men, women and children can be clearly distinguished (burqas can be visible from 20,000 feet) and deliver laser-guided munitions with low explosive yields. This minimizes the risks of the “collateral damage” that often comes from 500-pound bombs. Far from being “beyond the pale,” drones have made war-fighting more humane.
Ah, yes, that famous humane war we have all been waiting for. Finally!
The WSJ editors then reveal the highly independent, impeccable source for their information: “A U.S. intelligence summary we’ve seen corrects the record of various media reports claiming high casualties from the Predator strikes.” Wow. Remember when the Bush administration was correcting all those errors about Saddam’s WMDs? Not surprisingly, the WSJ states that “In each of the strikes in 2009 that are described by the intelligence summary, the report says no women or children were killed. Moreover, we know of planned drone attacks that were aborted when Predator cameras spied their presence.”
The WSJ wants this U.S. “intelligence” shared with the American public and the world, arguing, “We understand there will always be issues concerning sources and methods. But critics of the drone attacks, especially Pakistani critics, have become increasingly vocal in their opposition. They deserve to know about the terrorist calamities they’ve been spared thanks to these unmanned flights over their territory.”
It is very telling that the WSJ editorial-with no apparent shame-fails to mention the U.S. drone attacks last month that may have killed more than 80 people in Pakistan, including as many as 70 people in a U.S. bombing of a funeral procession in a tribal area. The WSJ editors defend the attacks, saying they are killing “high value targets,” saying of those killed by U.S. drone strikes, “Is the world better off with these people dead? We think so.” But the fact is that some statistics from the Pakistani government suggested that of the 700+ people killed in these U.S. drone strikes since 2006, 14 were “high value targets” or “al Qaeda” leaders and the vast majority were civilians. In this case, the real question is: “What does it say about the U.S. that its government authorizes the killing of these civilians?”
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.