Last year the New York Times ran an article reporting that Nobel Peace Prize winning US President Obama was armed with a ‘kill-list’. The article was carefully approved by the White House in a bid to improve the re-election chances of President Obama. The New York Times reported how hard Obama mulled over the kill-list before he decided whom to extra-judicially assassinate. The following three days were marked with three drone-strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan killing 33 civilians, showing us exactly how much Obama “agonized” over that kill-list.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented at least 378 strikes from remotely piloted drones that have killed, until now, 2,528 people, 168 of them children. (lower end estimates) Over 85% of these strikes have been launched by the administration of US President Barack Obama. In “the last two decades, less than ten percent of U.S. history, account for more than 25 percent of the nation’s total wartime.” Yet still, many Americans look at Obama’s extensive, far-reaching drone apparatus, this ability to strike an alleged ‘enemy’ from a distance, with child-like awe much like how they would view a video game. Furthermore the eloquent and appealing image which Obama created in the run up to the 2008 elections tends to wither away when you consider the fact that in Bush’s time there were only 49 drone strikes, in comparison to Obama’s 378 strikes By all measures none of us imagined in 2008 that Obama would have the ability to out do Bush in aggressive acts of war.
The issue regarding drones strikes usually provokes a variety of emotions in people on both sides, those who support it and those who oppose it. This provocative subject became more sensitive when a recently a revelation was made in Mark Halperin’s book ‘Double Down’ that Obama told his aides that he’s really “really good at killing people” when speaking of drones strikes.
In a speech last year Obama’s counter-terrorism “tsar,” John Brennan, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars said,
I’m here today because President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts,” “The constitution empowers the president to protect the nation from any imminent threat of attack, Unfortunately, in war, there are casualties, including among the civilian population. We’ve done everything possible in Afghanistan and other areas to reduce any risk to that civilian population.”
According to his own account, he was dispatched to the center by President Obama to provide greater openness when it comes to the administration’s secret drone wars, to respond to critics of the drones and their legality, and undoubtedly to put a smiley face on drone operations generally.
Never, he said has a country with such an advanced weapon system as the drone used it quite so judiciously, quite so — if not peacefully — at least with the sagacity and skill usually reserved for the gods. American drone strikes, he assured his listeners, are “ethical and just,” “wise,” and “surgically precise” — exactly what you’d expect from a country he refers to? quoting the president, as the preeminent “standard bearer in the conduct of war.”
Those drone strikes, he assured his listeners, are based on staggeringly “rigorous standards” involving the individual identification of human targets. The civilian casualty reports suggest otherwise. The recent redefinition of “civilian” in drone wars can explain the wide gulf between the civilian casualty figures by Obama administration and independent sources. According to this definition”
any adult male killed in an effectively defined strike zone is a combatant unless posthumously proven otherwise.”
At least 15 drone strikes were launched in Yemen in June 2012, as many as in the whole of the past decade, killing dozens; while in Pakistan, a string of US attacks had been launched against supposed “militant” targets, incinerating up to 35 people and destroying a mosque and a bakery.
These killings are, in reality, summary executions and widely regarded as potential war crimes by international lawyers – including the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston. The CIA’s now retired counsel, John Rizzo, who authorized drone attacks, himself talked about having been involved in “murder”. The US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron P. Munter who resigned from his post after only 1 year is said to have complained to colleagues that the C.I.A’s strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said.
While the Obama Administration has hailed the “success” of these drone strikes many analysts have termed them as counter-productive and that they have been used as a recruiting tool by Taliban against the US. According to the Washington Post, in 2009, U.S. officials claimed that AQAP had nearly three hundred core members. Yemeni officials and tribal leaders say that number has grown to seven hundred or more, with hundreds of tribesmen joining its ranks to fight the U.S.- backed Yemeni government.
That’s not the direction in which the drone strikes were supposed to move the numbers,” wrote the Atlantic’s Robert Wright.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking records pertaining to the legal basis for the Central Intelligence Agency ‘s use of its deadly flying robots. Subsequently, government lawyers filed a response brief, which says the agency won’t acknowledge whether the drone records exist because they’re secret.
So the CIA’s argument here is: Just because a high-ranking public official gives a speech explaining how awesome and effective the targeted killing program is doesn’t mean the program’s existence isn’t a secret. It’s a state secret despite the fact the White House likes bragging about it.
The covertness of drone wars in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere really turns out to have less to do with secrecy — just about every covert drone strike is reported, sooner or later, in the media — than assuring two administrations that they could pursue their drone wars without accountability to anyone. Gen. Hayden — who implemented George Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program while NSA chief and then became Bush’s CIA Director – actually thinks Obama has gone much too far in his secrecy obsessions: Hayden said, “secrecy has its costs” and Mr. Obama should open the strike strategy up to public scrutiny.’
This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable,” Mr. Hayden said. “I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C. memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.”
The strategy by the Obama administration regarding drone victims has been not only effective but a template for all aggressors: Keep the victims nameless, faceless and without a story. When you dehumanize the victims, murder becomes much easier for the public to accept. The mainstream media has repeatedly told us about the weariness and fatigue suffered by the pilots flying drones missions from the relative comfort from their base in Nevada.
Never has the story of 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz been told. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west. At the Reprieve charity, they have a transparency project: importing cameras to the region to try to export the truth back out. Tariq wanted to take part. Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated “four militants”. In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt’s house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other “militants” – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee.
And what of the visit by the Rehman family to Capitol Hill in order to tell their story of the U.S drone attack which led to the death of their 67 year old mother? Only 5 members of the United States Congress, attended the hearing. Condemnation against the other hundred or so members of Congress who did not show up is justified. However they are merely reflecting the general mood in America when it comes to drones. There is a general acceptance of drones as an acceptable substitute to having American boots on foreign soil. This attitude was evident in a recent Gallup poll where 65% of American stated ‘Yes, should’ to the question of launching airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists, regardless of collateral damage.
The Rehman family’s lawyer was also missing at the Capitol Hill hearing due to his visa applicaion being rejected for the third time by the U.S embassy. Shahzad Akhbar, an out-spoken critic of the drone policy originally led the idea of bringing the family to Capitol Hill. Having the Rehman family (with others victims) telling their story is one crucial way in which there can be a change in such attitudes amongst Americans, which hopefully can lead to credible action against such programs, as they give the nameless a name, a story and a voice.
The covert drone war appears to be entering a new phase. Until recently, strikes were carried out with the tacit co-operation of host governments. But now Islamabad is saying no. Recent CIA strikes in Pakistan have been publicly condemned by the government as being ‘in total contravention of international law.’ The strikes are carrying on regardless.
Yemen’s new president appears more pliant. In a little-reported comment, the nation’s prime minister Muhammad Salem Basindwa told a local newspaper:
The government has never asked the US to carry out drone attacks on the Yemeni soil because there should not be external meddling in Yemen’s own affairs.’
Drone strikes are also politically ineffective for America considering the condemnation they face in the nations that are most affected by them. What happens and has happened recently as a result is that they have further damaged America’s relationship with it’s neighbors and ‘allies’ within the ‘free’ world which it supposedly meant to protect.
Let’s face it; the campaign of drone murder is a failure on every level. It isn’t precise, it isn’t glorious and it certainly isn’t judicious. It targets innocents and it doesn’t stop “anti-American sentiment,” it increases it. The drone strikes can never stop the “anti-American sentiment” only ending US imperialism, occupation, militarism and Israeli apartheid can do that.
Usaamah Khan is a Pakistani national based in Islamabad. Currently he’s completing his degree in the field of accountancy. He’s a political enthusiast and hopes to give back to his community once he’s finally done with his coursework. Find him on twitter @Usamaa_K
Taimour Fazlani is an activist with with a keen interest in subject matters, ranging from metaphysics to economic systems. Born and raised in Karachi he has since lived in Glasgow and London. A book addict with a passion for documenting injustices encompassing the whole globe. When not at a protest, demonstration or social events, he can be found training in Muay Thai. @taimour_khan Website Taimour Fazlani
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- The Black Clouds over Peshawar and the Inescapable Vulnerability of Life (mediadiversityuk.com)
- Targeted Killings and International Law: Are Drones Reshaping the Law? (mediadiversityuk.com)
- Drones: the international system of force and collusion is alive and well (mediadiversityuk.com)
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind. A visualization of all documented drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004.
- Why Israel dominates global drone exports
- Louder than Bombs (thenewenquiry.com)
- Pakistani Taliban pledges revenge after leader’s death in drone strike — RT News: