While President Obama, the Pentagon, and the CIA have steadfastly refused to say why they assassinated American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, one thing remains beyond dispute: It wasn’t because Awlaki was trying to take away the freedom of the American people. It was instead because he was opposing the U.S. national-security state’s interventionism in the Middle East and neighboring regions.
The issue is a simple one:
People over there are saying to the Pentagon and the CIA:
Go home. Leave us alone. Close your military bases. Cease your sanctions, embargoes, coups, invasions, occupations, regime-change operations, threats, kidnapping, incarceration, prison camps, torture, and support of our dictators. Just go home and deal with your own problems.
On the other hand, the U.S. national-security state says:
Not on your life. We are the U.S. national-security state. We are a force for good in the world. We are here to help you. We have the right to do so. We have the right to bring you democracy and freedom and order and stability. We have the right to support your dictators, oust your rulers and install new ones, sanction and embargo you, kidnap, incarcerate, and torture you, and assassinate you. We are here to stay. You are free to protest to your heart’s content. But the minute you try to force us to return home, we will bomb, shoot, arrest, incarcerate, torture, execute, or assassinate you and anyone standing near you.
The rumor is that Awlaki had crossed the line from legitimate protest to some sort of “operational” role in attacks on U.S. troops over there. Nonetheless, the basic fact remains — he was killed not for trying to deprive the American people of their freedom but because he was supposedly part of an effort to force the Pentagon and the CIA to exit that part of the world and return home.
Awlaki wasn’t trying to take over the reins of the U.S. government in an attempt to enslave the American people. On the contrary, he left the United States with the sole intent of resisting the presence and activities of the U.S. national-security state over there.
By the way, the same principle applies to the assassination of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman. The rumor is that the boy was supposedly “collateral damage” from a drone missile fired at some supposed terrorist in Yemen. But like his father and, for that matter, all the other people they have assassinated over there, the supposed terrorist sitting next to Abdulrahman had no intent to cross the Atlantic Ocean as part of some gigantic terrorist army to invade, conquer, and occupy the United States and deprive Americans of their freedom. At most, the supposed terrorist was involved in the effort to oust the U.S. national-security state from that part of the world and force it to return home.
That’s what the assassinations are all about — not about defending the freedom of the American people but rather the “freedom” of the U.S. national-security state to do whatever it wants in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Why is this important? Because when a government is killing people, including both its own citizens and foreigners, it is incumbent on the citizenry to determine the reasons for the killings. Then, if the citizenry conclude that the reason for the killings is an illegitimate one, based on moral, ethical, religious, and spiritual factors, then it is up to the citizens to place the government back on the right track.
That’s where the role of conscience comes in.
Is the U.S. national-security state’s interventionism abroad a valid moral, ethical, religious, and spiritual justification for the Pentagon’s and CIA’s continued assassination of Americans and foreigners? Is it consistent with God’s laws and fundamental laws of morality? Is this the type of thing American Christians should be supporting? Or is it time for the American people to demand that the Pentagon and the CIA stop the killings and come home?
The US attorney general has refused to rule out the possibility that drone strikes may be used inside the United States to kill an American citizen.
Eric Holder said a drone strike within the borders of the US and against an American citizen may be carried out in what he called an extraordinary circumstance.
He made the remarks in a statement in a response to an inquiry by Republican Senator Rand Paul, who had questioned the Justice Department on Tuesday if it believed that President Barack Obama had the legal authority to order an assassination drone strike on an American while present on US soil.
Paul said the administration’s “refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening — it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”
At least three Americans have been reportedly killed by US drone strikes in Yemen, including Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdul-Rahman and Samir Khan.
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries, claiming that they target “terrorists.” According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to massive civilian casualties.
In September 2012, a report by the Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law gave an alarming account of the effect that assassination drone strikes have on ordinary people in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The report noted, “The number of ‘high-level’ targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just two percent.”
Today the Washington Post (2/6/13) reported some news that it’s known for years, but had decided not tell us until now: The CIA has a drone base in Saudi Arabia.
Their rationale for withholding this information was simple: The government didn’t want them to. And from what the Post is telling us today, they weren’t the only ones.
After explaining that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by an attack “carried out in part by CIA drones flown from a secret base in Saudi Arabia,” the paper explains:
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an Al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
So why did the Post finally report this news today?
The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.
So there was an “informal arrangement among several news organizations” not to report important news because the government felt that it could make things difficult for them.
It would appear that “another news organization” is the New York Times, which reported today:
The first strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration, in December 2009, was by all accounts a disaster. American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children. Another strike, six months later, killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.
Not long afterward, the CIA began quietly building a drone base in Saudi Arabia to carry out strikes in Yemen. American officials said that the first time the CIA used the Saudi base was to kill Mr. Awlaki in September 2011.
The fact that the Post was keeping something secret was known in 2011, as FAIR noted (FAIR Blog, 7/27/11), quoting the paper:
The agency is building a desert airstrip so that it can begin flying armed drones over Yemen. The facility, which is scheduled to be completed in September, is designed to shield the CIA’s aircraft, and their sophisticated surveillance equipment, from observers at busier regional military hubs such as Djibouti, where the JSOC drones are based.
The Washington Post is withholding the specific location of the CIA facility at the administration’s request.
As FAIR also pointed out then, this was reminiscent of another decision by the Post to withhold news. In 2005, the paper delivered an explosive story about “black sites” where CIA was interrogating suspects–places where, in many cases, the agency could reasonably expect the prisoners to be tortured. The Post’s valuable expose was undercut by its decision not to name the countries involved. As the paper explained:
The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
This week, a new report from the Open Society Institute documented that more than 50 countries were involved in the CIA “extraordinary rendition” program. It’s certainly possible that some countries might have stopped helping the U.S. government torture people if it had been made known that they were doing so.
Likewise, it’s possible that Saudi Arabia will stop allowing the CIA to use its territory to conduct a secret drone war against a third country now that the secret is out. But the possibility that news might affect the world is not a reason to stop doing journalism. Indeed, it’s the best reason to do journalism.
UPDATE: The Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan has weighed in on her blog (2/6/13), and what’s most notable is the opinion of the paper’s managing editor Dean Baquet, since it basically confirms the point we were making above:
The government’s rationale for asking that the location be withheld was this: Revealing it might jeopardize the existence of the base and harm counterterrorism efforts. ”The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” he said.
Mr. Baquet added, “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.”
So the Times believes that it should refrain from reporting news that people in Saudi Arabia might object to–especially if it wound up complicating our government’s plans to launch military attacks from their country.
Unlike the bombast that characterized the Bush administration’s assaults on U.S. and international law, the Obama regime tends to dribble out its rationales for gutting the Bill of Rights and every notion of global legality. This president prefers to create a fog – let’s call it the fog of his war against human rights – as he arrogates to himself the power to perpetually imprison or to summarily execute anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world. Obama assures us such authority is constitutionally rooted – it’s in there, believe me, he tells us – but he never produces legal chapter and verse to prove that presidential dictatorship is lawful. Instead, we get dribs and drabs of the administration’s position from lawyers defending Obama’s preventive detention law in the courts, or from informal statements by the attorney general, or even little tidbits gleaned from an Obama conversation with comedian Jon Stewart.
The latest hors d’oeuvre to be dished out comes in the form of a leak. I say “dished out” because leaked documents are commonly placed in public view by the administration in power, to test the political waters. This leaked Justice Department “white paper” appears to have been drawn up after the execution-by-drone of U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki, in Yemen. It justifies the killing of anyone occupying a position of status in al-Qaida, or with the ever-changing universe of groups said to be “associated” with al-Qaida. The document stretches the definition of “imminent threat” to cover anyone engaged in activities directed against the U.S., whether or not an actual operation is planned or in progress. Most interestingly, the white paper empowers Obama to delegate the kill-at-will authority to “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government.” Which has a certain logic, since dictators certainly have the power to delegate the carrying out of their unjust acts to whomever they choose.
Eleven U.S. senators are asking for further clarification of the administration’s legal position. But that is just more fog, since the Congress overwhelmingly passed Obama’s preventive detention law – twice!! – a law based on the same assumption that due process of law does not apply when the president says it’s wartime. Therefore, the commander-in-chief can lock up any American, without charge or trial, forever, or until he declares peace. The U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, has made the administration’s position clear enough. Due process, he says, does not necessarily mean access to the judicial process – meaning, a trial. The process is whatever the president or the nearest “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” says it is. Obama had redefined war, itself. The president told the Congress, after bombing Libya for eight months, that by his definition – which is the only one that counts – no state of war exists unless Americans become casualties, even if the U.S. kills tens of thousands, or millions. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying that the arc of history bends towards justice. In the long term, that may be true. But Martin’s arc is not bending towards justice under this administration. It bends towards fascism, with a Black presidential face.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- White Paper Asserts Obama Administration May Kill Americans Without Due Process (news.firedoglake.com)
Document Outlines Government’s Claimed Authority to Kill American Citizens Outside Combat Zones
NEW YORK – A Justice Department white paper argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of American citizens that the government believes are affiliated with a terrorist organization, according to the document posted tonight on NBCNews.com. The white paper summarizes a memo prepared in 2010 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to justify the targeting of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki.
“This is a profoundly disturbing document, and it’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances. It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority – the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.
“But this briefing paper is not a substitute for the 50-page legal memo on which it’s based. When the executive branch seeks to give itself the unilateral authority to kill its own citizens, a summary of its argument is no substitute for the argument itself. Among other things, we need to know if the limits the executive purports to impose on its killing authority are as loosely defined as in this summary, because if they are, they ultimately mean little. President Obama rightly released the Bush-era OLC torture memos and he should now hold his own administration to the same standard by releasing its killing memo.”
Tomorrow, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights will file a court brief arguing against the government’s attempt to dismiss their lawsuit challenging the targeted killing of Al-Awlaki and two other Americans in Yemen in 2011, Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman and Samir Khan.
The OLC memo summarized by the white paper is one of the documents sought by the ACLU’s pending Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. That case was dismissed last month by a federal judge in New York, and last Friday the ACLU filed a notice of appeal. The government argued that the requested documents cannot be released, despite the fact that government officials have talked publicly on numerous occasions about Al-Awlaki’s killing and the targeted killing program in general.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering another FOIA lawsuit filed by the ACLU seeking other information on the U.S. targeted killing program, including its legal basis, scope, and number of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes. The court heard oral argument in September.
An in-depth analysis of the DOJ white paper in a blog post written by ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer is at:
Information on the ACLU’s targeted killing lawsuits is at:
In his essay “A Hanging,” George Orwell recounts, in great detail, the events he witnessed leading up to the execution of a man. It is important to note that before becoming an outspoken critic of the hypocrisy of Governments, George Orwell worked for one. He was a member of the Indian Imperial Police, having served in Burma, a British colony at the time.
The condemned was a small Hindu man who, while apparently resigned to his fate, none the less had irritated the jail superintendent by the fact that he was still alive at 8:00 o’clock in the morning. “The man ought to have been dead by this time” the superintendent said irritably. The slow pace of the execution was disrupting the smooth functioning of the prison, since the other prisoners couldn’t be fed their breakfast until the sentence had been carried out.
We are given a vivid description of how the man walked awkwardly, encumbered by the chains that restrained him, but steadily, to his fate. When the execution party was about forty yards from the hangman’s gallows, Orwell tells us that a most curious thing occurred. The prisoner, in the last few remaining minutes of his life, made the slight effort to step aside as he was walking so as to avoid a puddle that was in his path.
This event shocked Orwell, who candidly reveals to us that until that moment, he had never truly realized what it meant to kill another human being. It took the insignificant act of a man not wanting to get his feet wet on the way to his own execution to make Orwell understand, for the first time in his life, “what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man” and of the “unspeakable wrongness” involved in executing someone.
The US, as part of its “War on Terror,” a war which, conveniently enough, was undeclared and has no expiration date, has been using drones for at least a decade now. And 2013 appears to have gotten off to a spectacular start, with 7 attacks in the first 10 days of January in Pakistan alone. This compares to an average of less than one a week in 2012. One report has as many as 11 civilians being killed so far this year. This figure is, of course, being disputed by U.S. officials. Unfortunately, they declined to provide a figure of their own.
And while their use has grown, President Obama assures us that, “Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties” and that missile launches have been “very precise precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates, and we have been very careful about how it’s been applied.”
In a direct rebuke to his critics, the President argues, “There’s this perception that we’re just sending a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans.”
One would be forgiven for disagreeing.
On October 14, 2011, a 16-year-old boy, and American citizen, named Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed in a deliberate drone strike in Yemen (8 other people were also killed). He shared the same fate as his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, who was killed in a targeted drone strike 2 weeks prior.
And the boy’s crime? According to Obama senior campaign adviser, and former White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, it was to have the unfortunate luck of being born to a “radical” Muslim cleric.
In an interview with We Are Change, a self proclaimed non-partisan media organization, Mr. Gibbs tells us that the boy “should have [had] a far more responsible father.” It is not clear if by “responsible father” Mr. Gibbs meant someone with a Nobel Peace Prize, a “kill list” and a fleet of armed attack drones at his disposal.
In defense of the dead boy, it should be noted that his father, an accused member of al-Qaeda who was allegedly plotting to blow up US airliners and poison US citizens, had an honor not given to many radical Muslim clerics.
He had the distinct pleasure of being an invited guest at the Pentagon, dining there in the days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This is a privilege that not even your faithful correspondent’s father has enjoyed.
But surely the killing of children (even children with horrible fathers or children who were not fortunate enough to have been born American citizens) through drone strikes is something that we can all agree is reprehensible and indefensible, isn’t it?
Not according to Mr. Joe Klein, political columnist for Time Magazine. In comments made on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe” on October 23, 2012, Mr. Klein presents us with the thought provoking question of, “Whose four year old gets killed?” He then goes on to advocate the indiscriminate killing of innocent people in the Middle East and Africa with drone attacks (Mr. Klein’s original question implies that he prefers the people killed be four year children), defending his point by stating, “What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.”
To find a similar argument, logic or thought process, I believe, you would have to go back to one of the most morally bankrupt and reprehensible regimes in all of history.
(Author’s Note: while your faithful correspondent is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, if your thoughts should ever take you to a place where you find yourself justifying the murder of innocent 4 year old children, I suggest you seek the care of a mental health professional immediately)
But all this talk of killed children is surely a moot point, isn’t it? The US government, once more, assures us that drones are used in a responsible manner, and therefore, rarely kill civilians, let alone children. Unfortunately, a study by the Brookings Institute leads us to believe the contrary. It argues that for every “insurgent” killed, there are, on average, 10 civilians killed as well. And the New American Foundation has found that the US government has the habit of repeatedly under-reporting the number of civilians killed and wounded in drone attacks. More troubling still, a study done jointly by Stanford Law School and the NYU School of Law claims that the US government, as a matter of policy, habitually under-reports the number of civilians killed and wounded in drone attacks.
The US is entering its 12th year of war in Afghanistan (longer than the Soviet Union’s campaign). A key component of US strategy in the region is targeted drone strikes. America’s drone policy has reportedly killed between 474 and 881 civilians in the region, including 176 children.
Further compounding all of this is the controversial US policy called the “double tap.” This involves striking an initial target and then, as people arrive to give aid to the original victims, following up with repeated attacks on the same site. It has been reported that, as a result of this policy, innocent bystanders and non-combatants have been intentionally killed. There are also disturbing reports that funerals have been deliberately hit by targeted drone strikes as well. In almost any other case these events would be labelled as war crimes or terrorism. But somehow, in the US, they only raise “contentious legal questions” according to the New York Times.
If we consider ourselves as being part of a just and correct society, Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter should give us reason to pause. It expressly prohibits the threat or use of force by one state against another.
Some proponents of drone attacks have argued that Article 2(4) doesn’t apply, since these attacks are mostly being carried out on militants and insurgents in regions where the rule of law has broken down. Therefore, the phrase “state” doesn’t apply, nullifying that section of the Charter.
This argument is dubious at best. If it were China, Russia, or Iran engaging in this type of behavior closer to US shores, say in the remote regions of Central or South America, there is no doubt that the US government would be in an uproar over the legality, and the morality, of attack drones.
There is also no doubt that we would finally be able to recognize what the killing of innocent men, women and children with drones really is.
Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, Coëtquidan, France.
“A Hanging” by George Orwell, 1931
“Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s birth certificate” The Washington Post. Accessed at:
“Anwar al-Awlaki” October 19, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:
“Anwar al-Awlaki killing sparks US travel alert” October 1, 2011, BBC. Accessed at:
“CIA ‘revives attacks on rescuers’ in Pakistan” by Chris Woods, June 4th, 2012, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Accessed at:
“Critics of US drone programme angered by John Brennan’s nomination to CIA” by Paul Harris, January 10, 2013, The Guardian. Accessed at:
“Do Targeted Killings Work?” by Daniel L. Byman, Senior Fellow Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, July 14, 2009, The Brookings Institute. Accessed at:
“Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes” by Cora Currier, January 11, 2013, ProPublica. Accessed at:
“George Orwell” BBC History. Accessed at:
“Get the Data: Obama’s terror drones” by Chris Woods, February 4, 2012, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Accessed at:
“Joe Klein’s sociopathic defense of drone killings of children” by Glenn Greenwald, October 23, 2012, The Guardian. Accessed at:
“Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan” the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (Stanford Law School) and the Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law), September 2012. Accessed at:
“Morning Joe: Scarborough: Drone program is going to cause US problems in future” MSNBC, Accessed at:
“Obama Defends Drone Use” by Carol E. Lee and Adam Entous, with a contribution from Jared Favole, January 31, 2012, The Wall Street Journal. Accessed at:
“Obama Top Adviser Robert Gibbs Justifies Murder of 16 Year Old American Citizen” WeAreChange.org, video published October 23, 2012. Accessed at:
“Qaeda-Linked Imam Dined at Pentagon after 9/11” By Bob Orr, October 21, 2010, CBSNews /
CBS. Accessed at:
“Robert Gibbs Says Anwar al-Awlaki’s Son, Killed By Drone Strike, Needs ‘Far More Responsible Father’” by ryan Grim, October 24, 2012, The Huffington Post. Accessed at:
“The Charter of the United Nations” June 26, 1945. Accessed at:
“The Moral Case for Drones” by Scott Shane, July 14, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:
‘The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2012’ The New American Foundation. Accessed at:
“U.S. airstrike that killed American teen in Yemen raises legal, ethical questions” by Craig Whitlock, October 22, 2011, The Washington Post, Accessed at:
“U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan on rise for 2013” by Greg Miller, January 11, 2013, The Washington Post. Accessed at:
How was Abdulrahman’s targeted assassination initially reported in the media? Some quotes that sound very familiar with the usual semantics of all media coverage on drones and suspects:
“Yemeni officials told reporters that nine members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were killed in the strike near the town of Azzan in southeastern Yemen, including Awlaki’s 21-year-old son…” – LA Times, October 15, 2011
“Report: Al-Awlaki’s son among dead in U.S. airstrike on Yemen al-Qaida militants” – headline from Haaretz, October 15, 2011
“Official: Drone attack kills Al-Awlaki’s son in Yemen… The attacks, carried out in the Shabwa district, killed seven suspected militants, the defense ministry said.” – CNN, October 15, 2011
“Awlaki’s son is also among the 24 militants killed in air strikes targeting al-Qaeda in Yemen, local officials said.” – Al Arabiya News, October 15, 2011
“Three drone attacks in Yemen Friday night killed seven suspected militants including Anwar Al-Awlaki’s son, a security official said. Carried out in the Shabwa district, where the younger Awlaki had been holed up for more than eight months” – Business Insider, October 15, 2011
“U.S. drone strike in Yemen kills nine jihadis, including Awlaki’s son” – Hot Air, October 15, 2011
Lie #1: Abdulrahman is a 16 year old American teenager, not a 21 year old militant.
Lie #2: U.S. claimed al-Banna was the actual target. The problem with that excuse is that al-Banna is alive and well, and was never at that site. Since that revelation, the Obama Admin. simply states there is no official record of the death of Abdulrahman, and sweeps the story under the carpet so it doesn’t even have to take accountability that the crime even happened.
Lie #3: The media says Abdulrahman was hiding in the mountains for months. Actually, he left his home a couple weeks before to find out about his father, and even during that time he was living and moving around in the open, far from hiding.
It seems that being a suspected militant is enough to make you a viable target. And the criteria for determining what makes you a suspect is easily adjustable to their convenience it seems.
Barack Obama: the first U.S. president to use targeted assassination against a child.
A federal judge issued a 75-page ruling on Wednesday that declares that the US Justice Department does not have a legal obligation to explain the rationale behind killing Americans with targeted drone strikes.
United States District Court Judge Colleen McMahon wrote in her finding this week that the Obama administration was largely in the right by rejecting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times for materials pertaining to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to execute three US citizens abroad in late 2011 [pdf].
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both US nationals with alleged ties to al-Qaeda, were killed on September 30th of that year using drone aircraft; days later, al-Awlaki’s teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was executed in the same manner. Although the Obama administration has remained largely quiet about the killings in the year since, a handful of statements made from senior White House officials, including President Barack Obama himself, have provided some but little insight into the Executive Branch’s insistence that the killings were all justified and constitutionally-sound. Attempts from the ACLU and the Times via FOIA requests to find out more have been unfruitful, though, which spawned a federal lawsuit that has only now been decided in court.
Siding with the defendants in what can easily be considered as cloaked in skepticism, Judge McMahon writes that the Obama White House has been correct in refusing the FOIA requests filed by the plaintiffs.
“There are indeed legitimate reasons, historical and legal, to question the legality of killings unilaterally authorized by the Executive that take place otherwise than on a ‘hot’ field of battle,” McMahon writes in her ruling. Because her decision must only weigh whether or not the Obama administration has been right in rejecting the FOIA requests, though, her ruling cannot take into consideration what sort of questions — be it historical, legal, ethical or moral — are raised by the ongoing practice of using remote-controlled drones to kill insurgents and, in these instances, US citizens.
“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” she writes. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reason for their conclusion a secret.”
Throughout her ruling, Judge McMahon cites speeches from both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in which the al-Awlaki killings are vaguely discussed, but appear to do little more than excuse the administration’s behavior with their own secretive explanations.
“The Constitution’s guarantee of due process is ironclad, and it is essential — but, as a recent court decision makes clear, it does not require judicial approval before the President may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war — even if that individual happens to be a US citizen,” McMahon quotes Mr. Holder as saying during a March 2012 address at Chicago’s Northwestern University. “Holder did not identify which recent court decisions so held,” the judge replies, “Nor did he explain exactly what process was given to the victims of targeted killings at locations far from ‘hot’ battlefields… ”
And while both Mr. Holder and President Obama have discussed the killings in public, including one appearance by the president on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Justice Department insists that going further by releasing any legal evidence that supports the executions would be detrimental to national security.
While Judge McMahon ends up agreeing with the White House, she does so by making known her own weariness over how the Obama administration has forced the court to rely on their own insistence that information about the attacks simply cannot be discussed.
“As they gathered to draft a Constitution for their newly liberated country, the Founders — fresh from a war of independence from the rule of a King they styled a tyrant — were fearful of concentrating power in the hands of any single person or institution, and most particular in the executive,” McMahon writes.
Responding to the decision on Wednesday, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer issued a statement condemning the White House’s just-won ability to relieve itself from any fair and honest explanation as to the justification of Americans.
“This ruling denies the public access to crucial information about the government’s extrajudicial killing of US citizens and also effectively green-lights its practice of making selective and self-serving disclosures,” Jameel writes. “As the judge acknowledges, the targeted killing program raises profound questions about the appropriate limits on government power in our constitutional democracy. The public has a right to know more about the circumstances in which the government believes it can lawfully kill people, including US citizens, who are far from any battlefield and have never been charged with a crime.”
The ACLU says they plan to appeal Judge McMahon’s decision and are currently awaiting news regarding a separate lawsuit filed alongside the Center for Constitutional Rights that directly challenges the constitutionality of the targeted kills.
“The government has argued that case should also be dismissed,” the ACLU notes.
In a Wednesday afternoon statement from the Times, assistant general counsel David McCraw says the paper will appeal the ruling as well.
“We began this litigation because we believed our readers deserved to know more about the US government’s legal position on the use of targeted killings against persons having ties to terrorism, including US citizens,” McCraw says.
Although she ruled against the plaintiffs, Judge McMahon, says McCraw, explained “eloquently … why in a democracy the government should be addressing those questions openly and fully.”
- VIDEO: On CNN, Nasser Al-Awlaki Demands “Accountability” for U.S. Drone Strike That Killed His Grandson (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Will Americans Speak Out?
On May 29, The New York Times published an extraordinarily in-depth look at the intimate role President Obama has played in authorizing US drone attacks overseas, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is chilling to read the cold, macabre ease with which the President and his staff decide who will live or die. The fate of people living thousands of miles away is decided by a group of Americans, elected and unelected, who don’t speak their language, don’t know their culture, don’t understand their motives or values. While purporting to represent the world’s greatest democracy, US leaders are putting people on a hit list who are as young as 17, people who are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law.
Who is furnishing the President and his aides with this list of terrorist suspects to choose from, like baseball cards? The kind of intelligence used to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?
Why should the public believe what the Obama administration says about the people being assassinated by drones? Especially since, as we learn in the New York Times, the administration came up with a semantic solution to keep the civilian death toll to a minimum: simply count all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants. The rationale, reminiscent of George Zimmerman’s justification for shooting Trayvon Martin, is that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.” Talk about profiling! At least when George Bush threw suspected militants into Guantanamo their lives were spared.
Referring to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the article reveals that for Obama, even ordering an American citizen to be assassinated by drone was “easy.” Not so easy was twisting the Constitution to assert that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees American citizens due process, this can simply consist of “internal deliberations in the executive branch.” No need for the irksome interference of checks and balances.
Al-Awlaki might have been guilty of defecting to the enemy, but the Constitution requires that even traitors be convicted on the “testimony of two witnesses” or a “confession in open court,” not the say-so of the executive branch.
In addition to hit lists, Obama has granted the CIA the authority to kill with even greater ease using “signature strikes,” i.e. strikes based solely on suspicious behavior. The article reports State Department officials complained that the CIA’s criteria for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. “The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks,’ the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.”
Obama’s top legal adviser Harold Koh insists that this killing spree is legal under international law because the US has the inherent right to self-defense. It’s true that all nations possess the right to defend themselves, but the defense must be against an imminent attack that is overwhelming and leaves no moment of deliberation. When a nation is not in an armed conflict, the rules are even stricter. The killing must be necessary to protect life and there must be no other means, such as capture or nonlethal incapacitation, to prevent that threat to life. Outside of an active war zone, then, it is illegal to use weaponized drones, which are weapons of war incapable of taking a suspect alive.
Just think of the precedent the US is setting with its kill-don’t-capture doctrine. Were the US rationale to be applied by other countries, China might declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York City as an “enemy combatant” and send a missile into Manhattan; Russia could assert that it was legal to launch a drone attack against someone living in London whom they claim is linked to Chechen militants. Or consider the case of Luis Posada Carrilles, a Cuban-American living in Miami who is a known terrorist convicted of masterminding a 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Given the failure of the US legal system to bring Posada to justice, the Cuban government could claim that it has the right to send a drone into downtown Miami to kill an admitted terrorist and sworn enemy.
Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence, called the drone strike campaign “dangerously seductive” because it was low cost, entailed no casualties and gives the appearance of toughness. “It plays well domestically,” he said, “and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”
But an article in the Washington Post the following day, May 30, entitled “Drone strikes spur backlash in Yemen”, shows that the damage is not just long term but immediate. After interviewing more than 20 tribal leaders, victims’ relatives, human rights activists and officials from southern Yemen, journalist Sudarsan Raghavan concluded that the escalating U.S. strikes are radicalizing the local population and stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants. “The drones are killing al-Qaeda leaders,” said legal coordinator of a local human rights group Mohammed al-Ahmadi, “but they are also turning them into heroes.”
Even the New York Times article acknowledges that Pakistan and Yemen are less stable and more hostile to the United States since Mr. Obama became president, that drones have become a provocative symbol of American power running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents.
One frightening aspect of the Times piece is what it says about the American public. After all, this is an election-time piece about Obama’s leadership style, told from the point of view of mostly Obama insiders bragging about how the president is no shrinking violent when it comes to killing. Implicit is the notion that Americans like tough leaders who don’t agonize over civilian deaths—over there, of course.
Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer suing the CIA on behalf of drone victims, thinks its time for the American people to speak out. “Can you trust a program that has existed for eight years, picks its targets in secret, faces zero accountability and has killed almost 3,000 people in Pakistan alone whose identities are not known to their killers?,” he asks. “When women and children in Waziristan are killed with Hellfire missiles, Pakistanis believe this is what the American people want. I would like to ask Americans, ‘Do you?’”
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become the centrepiece of the allied military strategy in the “war on terror.”
In 2011 they were deployed in Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine and Turkey.
According to the Economist, drone strikes have increased by 1,200 per cent since 2005. This is equivalent to one strike every four days.
Modern warfare is transforming and could lead to the deployment of military robots that make attack decisions independently.
Termed as “automatic deletion,” human operators would be taken out of the loop and preprogrammed robots would carry out missions guided by artificial intelligence.
According to Teal Group, a US aerospace and defence analysis firm, investment in the industry is projected to rise to $89 billion over the next 10 years.
Author of the study and director of Teal’s corporate analysis Philip Finnegan predicted that “the UAV market will continue to be strong despite cuts in defence spending.
“UAVs have proved their value in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and will continue to be a high priority for militaries in the US and worldwide.”
Israel is the leading global exporter of UAVs, while other key players in the industry include Canada, France, Italy and South Africa. There are currently 40 companies selling and manufacturing drones, and 50 countries have acquired the technology.
In recent years Britain has been using Israeli drones in Afghanistan which it has rented on a pay by the hour basis from the company Elbit Systems.
British soldiers have also received training in Israel on how to operate the weapons.
Proponents of drone warfare claim that UAVs bring down the costs of war. They argue that civilian casualties are reduced due to higher-precision strikes.
Furthermore, they highlight that robots could make war more ethical, as they cannot act out of malice or hatred which can lead to war crimes or other abuses of human rights.
While the Economist asserts that “claims that drones are constantly blowing up Afghan weddings is wrong,” the fact remains that civilian casualties are rising and protests against their use are intensifying worldwide. In response, savvy industry leaders have mobilised to discuss “how to stop the public hysteria surrounding UAV operations in the 21st century?” and the MoD has committed to implementing a communications strategy to counter negative publicity.
The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has reported that between 2004 and August 2011, 2,347 people were killed by US drones. Between 392 and 781 were civilians, and of these 175 were children.
Other sources state that at least one of these victims was disabled and confined to a wheelchair.
Additionally, six of these victims were British nationals, but the British government has not investigated their deaths.
Meanwhile, of the two US citizens killed in strikes, one was alleged by the CIA to have been al-Qaida’s leader in the Arabian Peninsula.
In September 2011 Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated in Yemen by a US drone. Two weeks later, in a separate attack, his 16-year-old son was one of nine people killed.
Concerns have been raised by lawyers about the legality of Awlaki’s assassination as a US citizen with no criminal charge.
Against this background the American Civil Liberties Union said: “If the constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have the unreviewable authority to summarily execute any citizen who it concludes is an enemy of the state.”
In November 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz and his 12-year-old cousin Waheed Khan were both killed by US drone strikes in Northern Waziristan. Just days before his death, Tariq had attended a meeting organised by the British charity Reprieve.
Tariq had agreed to assist the organisation by taking pictures of the aftermath of Allied strikes.
Mounting civilian casualties and the lack of accountability for these deaths is fuelling anger globally. In November 2011, 2,000 people staged an anti-drone demonstration outside the parliament building in Islamabad, and for the first time Yemeni citizens came together to voice their outrage in Sana’a.
Human rights lawyer Shazad Akbar is suing the CIA for the killing of Pakistani civilians.
Furthermore, legal action taken by human rights groups against Foreign Secretary William Hague could lead to his prosecution for war crimes. He is accused of providing intelligence that assisted CIA-targeted killings in Pakistan.
In April last year a civil disobedience action was staged at Hancock Air National Guard Base in the US. Thirty-eight anti-drone protesters were arrested and some have been put on trial.
Meanwhile at RMT University in Melbourne, protesters disrupted a meeting organised by UAV manufacturers. They urged attendees to reject technological innovations which enable killing from great distance and condemned the use of the weapons as immoral.
Drone Wars UK has demanded the classification of drones as “too cruel to use, like cluster munitions and landmines.” This has been backed by critics who warn that the use of robots to achieve military objectives could amount to a disproportionate use of force.
In future, drones could be developed that achieve superhuman levels of accuracy, reaching a 100 per cent rate of effectiveness. However such capability would break rules of proportionality under international humanitarian law (IHL).
Overseen by the International Red Cross, IHL bans weapons that cause more than 25 per cent mortality on the battlefield and 5 per cent mortality in hospitals.
The question of the legality of targeted killing remains unanswered. The US and British governments either refuse to disclose information about when this policy is applied or deny outright that it is happening. Lawyers state that targeted killings contravene the rule of law and argue that this amounts to state-sanctioned assassination.
Criticising the EU’s silence on targeted killing in Pakistan, analyst Nathalie Van Raemdonck contends that drone warfare could be illegal, and that the EU’s failure to put pressure on the US to explain the legal basis of its policy is due to a lack of consensus caused by vested interests among member states.
She warns: “Even though the analysis of the US’s targeted killing makes it clear that it is a legally and morally controversial practice, it is possible that the EU finds advantages of avoiding the subject to be greater than those of living up to its moral obligation of urging the US to comply with international law.”
Agreeing with Van Raemdonk’s warnings against a backlash, critics argue that robotic warfare could destabilise global security and deepen hostility towards British and US peacekeeping or military interventions overseas.
Robots, they say, would make war easier to wage, as the safety of remote operators thousands of miles away from their targets would make them less concerned about killing.
An adviser to the CIA and expert on robots has emphasised the need for continued human diplomacy to avoid fuelling resentment.
Highlighting Iraq, he said: “Sending in robot patrols into Baghdad to keep the peace would send the wrong message about our willingness to connect with residents. We still need human diplomacy for that. In war this could backfire against us, as our enemies mark us as dishonourable and cowardly for not willing to engage them man to man. This serves to make them more resolute in fighting us and leads to a new crop of determined terrorists.”
As has occurred with all war technologies in the past, the risk of UAV proliferation is high.
Noting this danger, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial Killing Christof Heyns warned: “The use of such methods by some states to eliminate opponents around the world raises the question why other states should not engage in the same practices.
“The danger is one of global war without borders, in which no one is safe.”
- Evidence in British court contradicts CIA drone claims (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The cost and consequences of exposing the drone wars (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Analysis: Little Caution Used in U.S. Drone Assassinations (alethonews.wordpress.com)
As secret and unaccountable US and British drone strikes continue in remote corners of the globe, closer to home (but firmly behind closed doors), the drone industry continues to research and develop a drone-filled future.
Over the past couple of weeks, protesters in the UK and the US have gathered to turn the spotlight on the increasingly secret use and development of armed drones. In Bristol, at the beginning of April, the great and good of the drone industry came together at the Annual International UAV Conference to be met with a good-natured, noisy protest. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic at the Creech Air Force base, members of the faith-based group Nevada Desert Experience delivered an ‘Indictment for the Violation of Human Rights’ to the commander of the base. At each demonstration protesters were arrested and jailed.
But it’s not just protesting against the drone wars, that can bring serious trouble. Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represent victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan is being denied a travel visa to enter the US to speak at a conference organised by Code Pink and others. Speaking from Pakistan by telephone, Akbar told the Guardian:
“Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the US government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world. The CIA, which operated the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have a right to know.”
However it is Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye who is suffering the most for exposing the drone wars.
In 2010 Shaye revealed that an airstrike that took place in al Majala, Yemen in December 2009 killing 14 women and 21 children was launched by US drones, not the Yemeni air force, thus embarrassing both the Yemeni and US authorities. Later, Shaye also interviewed AQAP leaders including Anwar Al-Awlaki challenging them about their methods.
In August 2010, Shaye was kidnapped from his house by Yemeni security forces and disappeared for a month. He turned up in detention after being beaten and was sentenced to five years imprisonment for associating with terrorists. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have campaigned for his release, and it looked as though in February 2012 he was about to be freed. However a few days before Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to step down as President, Obama called him to “express concern” at the news that Shaye was about to be pardoned. Shaye release was immediately halted and he remains in prison.
- Why Is President Obama keeping a journalist in prison in Yemen? (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- Obama’s personal role in a journalist’s imprisonment (federaljack.com)
- Obama and Shaye: Will the White House Explain its Actions? (motherjones.com)
- Is Barack Obama a Murderous Sociopath? (motherjones.com)
- Pakistani Lawyer Representing Victims of Drone Strikes Prevented From Speaking in U.S. (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Cluster Bombs: Still Legal, Still Lethal (conflictofconscience.wordpress.com)
In 2010, the UN special representative on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston released a 29 page report on the growing use of deadly drone, or unmanned, aircraft by the United States. In a statement that accompanied the report, Alston described the political problem for the US, “I’m particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe. But this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”
In the sedate chambers of the UN, such language is rare: it asserted that the continual US use of drones is not only a violation of current norms, but it is a threat to the architecture of conflict resolution and the rules of war. Alston wanted to convene a conference of the “key military powers” to consider new rules for the drones. No-one was interested.
The US response was unsurprising: it was at war, and in war, such attacks are legal. Since the US has claims that its War on Terror has no identifiable battlefield, it feels emboldened to use its drones to attack targets in regions where it is not directly at war, such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and so on. It is this inflation that worried the UN. In March 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder dismissed Alston’s commitment to legality. He decreed it constitutional (in US terms) for his government to even kill its own citizens without judicial review in very specific circumstances (in mind was the New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in the deserts of Yemen, in 2011). President Obama signed a law on February 14, 2012 to extend drone use in the United States for commercial purposes (crop dusting, monitoring oil spills) and eventually for law enforcement. More, not less, drones are on the horizon.
The $5.9 billion drone industry looks to double its size. There is a Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus (co-chaired by Henry Cuellar and Buck McKeon). The US used to have fifty drones in the arsenal before 9/11, but the airforce now has 7,500 in use. Northwestern Michigan College has pioneered drone studies to prepare “pilots” for a lucrative career. A recently released Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan, 2009-2047 notes, the drones are essential “to increasing effects while potentially reducing cost, forward footprint and risk.” To reduce the risk to nothing, the Air Force has developed the X-47B which is not only unmanned but is also unpiloted. It is a robot, which will determine on its own where to go and what to strike. The Northwestern Michigan College graduates might face redundancy before they finish their degrees.
Since 2005, the US drones have killed 2175 people in Pakistan. Those killed are always characterized as “suspected militants.” There is little verification about their real identities. Court cases by civilian victims of the drone attacks, helped along by the campaigner Reprieve, have not been able to make much of a dent. In a rare case of flexing its sovereignty, the Pakistani parliament in late March called for an end to drone strikes, with a parliamentary committee asking the US to respect the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” of Pakistan. Pakistani noise has little impact on US policy. The drone attacks continue.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) has recent reported that the US has increased its use of drones in Yemen, despite the change of its president (from Saleh to his deputy Hadi). The US has consistently denied that its cruise missile killed forty-four civilians on December 17, 2009 in southern Yemen (eight families were wiped out by the attack). A Wikileaks-released cable tells us otherwise. General David Petraeus rushed to Sanaa, where he met Saleh who told him, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
Subsequent to Saleh’s removal, the Yemeni parliament formed a commission to study that attack. A spokesperson for Sheikh Himir Al-Ahmar, the commission’s chairman and now Yemen’s deputy speaker, told the BIJ, “The families of the victims were indeed paid appropriate compensation by the Yemeni Government (according to the standard of compensations given out to victims in Yemen). The American authorities did not get involved in this process in any way.” The Americans like the “can’t confirm or deny” stance regarding what is taking place in plain sight. This is the reason that the Obama administration has blocked the requests by the ACLU to gain information on the CIA’s use of drones for targeted assassinations.
The US media is forced to report massacres when these are conducted by troops on the ground. The most recent story concerns the killing of sixteen Afghan civilians by Army Staff Sgt Robert Bales. Even here the story was followed with limited depth. As Alexander Cockburn reported this weekend, it was Australia SBS’s Yalda Hakim who went beneath the surface and produced a remarkable report that suggested that Bales likely did not act alone in the villages of Alkozai and Najiban (a view supported by the investigation conducted by General Karimi for the Afghan president). At least reports of these massacres come to the press. Nothing of the kind happens when drones kill civilians. There is little consideration of drone strikes, and little anger at the murder of ordinary people by drones.
Drones create little global outrage. The drones have no names like Bales (and his confreres). Their pilots are faceless young people who sit in Nevada or upstate New York. They drink a Coke, play with their computers which send kill messages to their drones. They will have nightmares. With drones there are no stories. No narratives to create outrage. Just bodies of dead people. They have no history.
Last week, a US drone killed four people in Miranshah in northern Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities claim that these are Uzbek militants. There is no confirmation. They might have been anyone.
In the 1920s, Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, had a British base, from where RAF planes went out on frequent bombing raids against the Afghans and the Waziris. It was from Miranshah that Arthur “Bomber” Harris ran some of his most vicious sorties. A rather miserable T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) sat in his room on the base bemoaning his fate while Harris went on his celebrated runs. Lawrence had his own views on the bombings. “I have a bird,” he wrote. “It looks like a sparrow. It nests over my shelf of files. A dirty bird: I have brought in varnished fabric cover to shield the files from its droppings. A misanthropic bird; a solitary bird; a silent bird. It comes in at sunset & departs at dawn. Plop, plop. Our bombing machines can only drop six bombs, at full war load. This my sparrow puts the RAF to shame. Since sunset it has made eleven hits.” Lawrence had his eyes on the bird, and on the horizon. “Miranshah is busy,” he wrote as the bombers returned. “A moral operation is being carried out in the hills to the SW.”
- Obama Apologizes For Kandahar Massacre But Not For His Own Killings (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Hague to be sued for aiding US drone attacks in Pakistan (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- “Drones also targeting mourners and rescuers” (alethonews.wordpress.com)