A March 15 piece in the Washington Post tells us that the UN’s special human rights envoy found that the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan violate that country’s sovereignty. It also told readers that the drones had “resulted in far more civilian casualties than the U.S. government has recognized.”
Unfortunately, that message was muddled by reporter Richard Leiby‘s he said/she said approach to the question of civilian deaths:
Estimates of total militant deaths and civilian casualties vary widely. Independent confirmation is difficult in part because the strikes often occur in remote, dangerous tribal areas where Taliban insurgents and Al-Qaeda and its allied militants are active.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has estimated that at least 411 civilians–or as many as 884–were among some 2,536 to 3,577 people killed in the CIA strikes in Pakistan. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings last month that confirmed new CIA Director John O. Brennan, put the number of civilian deaths considerably lower.
“The figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits,” she said.
So, on the one hand, the Bureau has done extensive work documenting drone strikes. But then again you have a senator who heard from the government that it’s much lower.
There is, of course, a way to report the difference between Feinstein’s claim and other estimates. Conor Friesdorf did so in the Atlantic (2/11/13), contrasting the Bureau‘s totals with those of the New America Foundation and other researchers. None of these projects supports Feinstein’s claim. His conclusion:
There is no reason to treat Feinstein’s claim about civilians killed as if it is credible. All the publicly available evidence is arrayed against her position.
Yet she’s treated by the Post as one of two sides of the drone deaths debate.
- Dianne Feinstein’s shocking lies about the number of civilians killed by U.S. drone program (poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com)
A UN team investigating civilian casualties from US assassination drone attacks in Pakistan has stated that the terror airstrikes violate sovereignty of Pakistan.
Ben Emmerson, head of the UN team, said in a statement on Friday that Pakistani government told him at least 400 civilians have been killed in US drone strikes.
The team paid a three-day research trip to Pakistan that ended on Wednesday. The trip was kept secret until the team left the country.
“The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Emmerson said.
The attacks “involve the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he added.
The UN launched an investigation into civilian casualties from drone attacks and other targeted killings in Pakistan in January 2013 and will publish the final report in October.
Pakistani officials have condemned the attacks as violation of the country’s sovereignty.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism said in a report in February that the United States has carried out more than 360 drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004, killing nearly 3,500 people.
Over the past few months, demonstrations have been held across Pakistan to condemn the United States for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty.
On February 13, hundreds of Pakistani tribesmen held an anti-US demonstration in Islamabad to protest against the killing of innocent civilians by the US drones.
To hear the Obama administration tell it, through anonymous leaks to the press of course, the United States’ “targeted killing” program will soon be bound by clear and “more stringent” rules before a drone strike gets the green light. This counterterrorism “playbook,” so says the administration, will institutionalize the process for the remote-controlled killing program and keep it within the rule of law.
But that isn’t true for three reasons, Chris Anders, a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, explained to PBS’s NewsHour on Wednesday night. First, secret rules are inconsistent with the rule of law, which is predicated on everyone knowing the rules. Second, the Obama administration’s playbook rules will not apply to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan for at least a year if not more, according to the Post. Third, and most importantly, the rules undergirding the program, secret or not, violate the Constitution and international law.
Anders noted the Kafkaesque nature of the secrecy during the program. “To say we follow the rule of law, but we don’t even know what the rules are, and then the rules don’t apply to the biggest player is a little bit of a joke.”
Drone strikes occur frequently inside Pakistan, the only country in which the CIA is exempt from the secret rules. And contrary to the claims of CIA Director nominee John Brennan, arguably the most important cog in the remote-controlled killing machine, drone strikes do kill civilian bystanders, including children. In total, about 3,000 people, including 176 children, have been killed by over 300 drone strikes in Pakistan, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Although we’re not at war with Pakistan, Pakistanis feel under attack from the United States. “Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning,” a recent report, Living Under Drones, explained. “Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.” The impact as well as the legality of these kinds of drone attacks, and the larger “targeted killing” toolkit, is now the focus of a U.N. investigation.
Nevertheless, President Obama frequently makes reference to the importance of the rule of law in guiding our national security decisions.
“We will defend our people, and uphold our values through strength of arms, and the rule of law,” he said during his inaugural speech on Monday. “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”
Obama’s remote-controlled killing program, however, continues to instill suspicion and fear rather than lift it. It’s a dangerous legacy for a program that has become an illegal hallmark of his administration.
- New U.S. Counterterrorism Playbook to Exclude Pakistan from Drone “Kill” Rules (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The US government’s drone program in Pakistan “terrorizes” local communities, kills large numbers of civilians and drives anti-American fervor in the country, a new study by the law schools of Stanford and New York University finds.
The study, titled “Living Under Drones,” finds that Pakistanis living in affected areas are afraid to attend public gatherings such as weddings and funerals as ground operators that guide the unmanned aircraft frequently mistake them as groups of al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
“Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities,” the study reads. “Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”
It adds: “These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.”
The study is based on interviews with victims, witnesses, humanitarian workers and medical professionals compiled over a nine-month period.
Drone attacks began being carried out in Pakistan under former US President George W. Bush, but the policy has been popularized under Barack Obama despite previous reports that they lead to a high number of civilian casualties.
There has been a dramatic increase in US drone strikes in Pakistan since May, when a NATO summit in Chicago failed to strike a deal to end a six-month blockade on convoys transporting supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan.
This most recent study cites figures compiled by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism that finds between 2,562 and 3,325 people were killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year. Among them, between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.
In addition to the deaths, the bureau estimates that 1,300 people were injured in drone attacks in the same period.
It also refutes US claims that the drone program has made Americans safer through the targeted assassinations of dangerous militants.
“The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killings’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false,” the report states.
The study estimates that the number of “high-level” militants killed in drone attacks stands at just two percent, and that the strikes help facilitate recruitment to anti-US militant groups.
The UK-based Reprieve organization commissioned and helped write the report.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of the organization said: “An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing. Kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups.”
He added: “George Bush wanted to create a global ‘war on terror’ without borders, but it has taken Obama’s drone war to achieve his dream.”
- Drones: the west’s new terror campaign | Clive Stafford Smith (guardian.co.uk)
The life of fourteen-year-old Ali Alkhadr from Abyan was changed forever on 9 May 2011. Returning from a family visit in al-Mihrab village, Ali was hit by shrapnel from an air-strike that tore his jaw wide open. Air-strikes in the South that target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) often indiscriminately kill or wound anyone in the surrounding area, including civilians, without a warning.
According to Ali’s father, Alkhadr Ali Hassan, Doctors without Borders/Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) generously conducted 1 million Yemeni Riyal ($4,660) worth of reconstructive surgery. Yet Ali still needs a lot more. The once studious teenager dropped out of school due to depression.
“He refuses to see his classmates because he is disfigured. It’s been eight months and there is nothing I can do to help my son,” said the boy’s father. “He does not want to go to school and one time I hospitalized him because he overdosed on drugs. I believe he wanted to end his life, and it pains me to see that. I don’t know what to do,” he added.
Ali Alkhadr is not alone in a country were civilians are often caught in the middle between militants and the government. These civilians are often ignored in the mainstream media and their deaths denied by governments.
For a decade, US policy in Yemen has centered on counter-terrorism cooperation with Yemeni security forces through the training and funding of counter-terrorism units, targeted assassinations including US citizens, small on-the-ground operation units, and drone attacks.
Terrorism is of grave concern in Yemen, and its consequences are far reaching. On Saturday 4 August 2012, locals in Jaar were the targets of a bombing by militants that killed at least 40 people. The Yemeni and US government’s response to these attacks in Yemen has included arbitrary arrests, homes being demolished, death and injuries, and displacement of civilians.
Since January 2012, there have been over 60 US air-strikes in Yemen, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), killing approximately hundreds of civilians.
On 15 May 2012, an air-strike, believed to be a US drone, hit a civilian home. People nearby ran to see what had happened and to help the injured inside.
“About 15 minutes later, another plane suddenly struck the same building killing 15 people, including my brother,” said 19-year old Hassan Ahmed Abdullah recounting the incident. “He was wounded by shrapnel in his chest, liver, and neck. He also had burns on 50 percent of his body.”
From scarred people to destroyed buildings, Abyan carries many testaments to the war on terror.
Most of the civilian homes in the impoverished area of al-Kod were destroyed by air-strikes and heavy artillery. This area houses some of the poorest people in Yemen.
Bombs did not only hit homes but also struck schools and even the largest hospital in Abyan, al-Razi hospital.
“The bombing of al-Razi hospital was a tragedy, and I believe we will suffer from it for years to come, especially in light of Yemen’s economic social and political deterioration,” said psychologist and Jaar resident, Wahib Saad who also stressed the psychological trauma of such attacks.
“Today, when I hear a plane I immediately run to the house” said seven-year-old Ahmed. Ahmed’s drawings and the other children’s show images of darkness, death, and destruction, indicating that the generations to come will need much more than financial compensation to recover.
While many residents of Abyan believe that US strikes are more accurate in hitting their desired targets than Yemeni ones, the majority believes that the implications of US bombing are disastrous.
This is seen from the fact that US strikes are seen as an invasion, an occupation and a breach of sovereignty. A citizen journalist who preferred to remain anonymous said to me, “Let’s be honest, I am against US intervention. The Yemeni government has the right to rely on the US for help but not when the US is using Yemenis against their own brothers. As a southern separatist, I believe that we are already under two occupations, by the North and the militants, and I don’t want a third occupation by the Americans,” he said. … Full article
Fifty Years of US Targeted ‘Kill Lists’: From the Phoenix Program to Predator Drones
By DOUG NOBLE | July 19, 2012
“A broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced counterinsurgency as the prevailing expression of the American way of war.” – Andrew Bacevich 
This spring the US drone killing program has come out of the closet. Attorney General Eric Holder publicly defended the drone killing of an American citizen , while Obama’s counter terrorism czar John Brennan publicly explained and justified the target killing program . And a New York Times article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane chronicled Obama’s personal role in vetting a secret “Kill List.” 
This striking new transparency, the official acknowledgment for the first time of a broad-based US assassination and targeted killing program, has resulted from the unprecedented and controversial visibility of drone warfare. Drones now make news every day, and those of us who have been protesting their use for years have heightened their visibility in the public eye, forcing official acknowledgment and fostering worldwide scrutiny. This new scrutiny focuses not only on drone use but also, and perhaps more importantly, on the targeted killing itself – and the “kill lists” that make them possible.
This new exposure has set off a firestorm of reaction around the globe. Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism told Democracy Now! “The kill list got really heavy coverage … newspapers have all expressed significant concern about the existence of the kill list, the idea of this level of executive power.”  A Washington Post editorial noted that “No president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.”  Becker and Shane of the Times pronounced Obama’s role “without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war …”  And former president Jimmy Carter insisted, in a recent editorial in The New York Times, “We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these [drone] attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.” 
In fact, US assassination and targeted killing, with presidential approval, has been going on covertly for at least half a century. Ironically, all this drone killing now offers us a new opportunity: to pry open the Pandora’s box hiding long-held secrets of covert US assassination and targeted killing, and to expose them to the light of day. What we would find is that the only things new in the latest, more publicized revelations about kill lists and assassinations are the use of drones, the president’s hands-on approach in vetting targets, and the global scope of the drone killing.
Those of us in the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones, Code Pink and other groups protesting US drones for years have correctly focused on the use of drones as illegal, immoral and strategically counterproductive. We have abhorred the schizophrenic ease of remote killing, the uniquely frightening horror of a drone strike, and the unavoidable (even intentional) killing of countless civilian “terrorist suspects” in “signature strikes.” We have also warned of the proliferation of drones in countries around the globe and of their procurement by US police forces and border patrols, for surveillance and “non-lethal” targeting.
But drones are not the only, or even the most important, concern. It’s the targeted killing itself, past and present. In this article I start to unravel what the latest demands for transparency should lead us to investigate fully: the fifty year history of US assassination and targeted killing that has resulted, quite directly, in the present moment. Those who are mortified by the latest revelations of Obama’s kill list have much to learn from a more comprehensive, historical perspective on US killing around the globe. Who knows: Perhaps someone in Congress might even be prodded to do what Senators Fulbright and Church did in years past: hold hearings on this continuing execration taking place in our name. Until then, what follows is an introduction to this ongoing horror story.
Section 1 of this article briefly reviews the lethal history of the US Phoenix Program in Vietnam, the original source of subsequent US counter terrorist tactics and strategies. Section 2 revisits briefly the well-worn history of US kill lists and assassinations in Latin American countries, followed by the somewhat less-well-known history of US kill lists and assassinations in countries on other continents. Section 3 traces the direct legacy of Phoenix, even its explicit resurrection by the key architects of the US targeted killing programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in a growing number of “countries we are not at war with.”
One point of clarification and definition. It is well known that in recent history the US has orchestrated assassination attempts, both successful and unsuccessful, on major world leaders. Examples include: Lumumba under Eisenhower, Castro and Diem under Kennedy, Gaddhafi under Reagan, Saddam Hussein under Bush, and Allende under Nixon.  The term “assassination” is typically restricted to such killings of political leaders, and President Ford’s executive order banning assassination applies only to the assassination of foreign heads of state.  The focus of this article is different. Here we discuss the US-generated kill lists used over the last half century, under direct presidential authority, for the targeted killing of thousands of civilians suspected of being or harboring terrorists/ insurgents, from Vietnam to Guatemala, from Indonesia to Iraq, right up to the present day.
The Phoenix Program
The US Phoenix Program was a secret, large scale counter terrorist effort in Vietnam. Developed in 1967 by the CIA, the Phoenix Program, called Phung Hoang by the Vietnamese, aimed a concerted effort to “neutralize” the Vietcong Infrastructure (VCI) consisting of South Vietnamese civilians suspected of supporting North Vietnamese or Viet Cong soldiers. The euphemism “neutralize” meant to kill or detain indefinitely. Then CIA Director William Colby, while insisting in 1971 Congressional hearings that “the Phoenix program is not a program of assassination,” nonetheless conceded that Phoenix operations killed over 20,000 people between 1967 and 1972. 
Phoenix targeted civilians, not soldiers. Operations were carried out by “hunter-killer teams” consisting both of US Green Berets and Navy Seals and by South Vietnamese Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs), units of mercenaries set up for assassination and “counter terror.” A Newsweek article in January 1970 described Phoenix as “a highly secret and unconventional operation that counters VC terror with terror of its own.”  Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post reported Phoenix being called “an instrument of mass political murder…sort of Vietnamese Murder Inc.,” designed to terrorize the civilian population into submission.” 
Until 1970 the computerized VCI blacklist was a unilateral American operation. After the devastating 1968 Tet offensive, South Vietnamese President Thieu declared: “The VCI must be eliminated…and will be defeated by the Phoenix program.”  Phoenix became a ruthless “bounty hunting” program to eliminate the opposition.  The US and South Vietnamese created a list of tens of thousands of suspects for assassination. These names were centralized and distributed to Phoenix coordinators. From 1965-68 U.S. and Saigon intelligence services maintained an active list of Viet Cong cadre marked for assassination. The program for 1969 called for “neutralizing” 1800 a month.
The VCI blacklist became corrupted by officers inserting their personal enemies’ names to get even. Due process was nonexistent. Names supplied by anonymous informers showed up on blacklists.  CIA Director Colby admitted in 1971 that the blacklists had been “inaccurate.”  Few senior VCI leaders were caught in the Phoenix net. Instead its victims were typically innocent civilians. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance.  By 1973, Phoenix generated 300,000 political prisoners in South Vietnam. Military operations such as My Lai used Phoenix intelligence; in fact, the My Lai massacre, hardly an isolated incident, was itself a Phoenix operation. 
Apologists have offered rationales for Phoenix that sound eerily similar to those used to defend current drone attacks. Phoenix was typically referred to as a “scalpel” replacing the “bludgeon” of search and destroy, aerial bombardment or artillery barrages. Alternatively, it was called a precision “rifle shot rather than a shotgun approach to target key political leaders … and activists in VCI.”  Military historian Dale Andrade explains, “Both SEALS and PRUs killed many VCI guerrillas – that was war. They also inevitably killed innocent civilians – that was regrettable….but [Phoenix] operations were much more discerning than the massive affairs launched by conventional …forces. That fact was often lost in the rhetoric of assassination and murder …”
Phoenix was created, organized, and funded by the CIA. Quotas were set by Americans. Informers were paid with US funds. The national system of identifying suspects, the elaboration of numerical goals and their use as measures of merit, was designed and funded by Americans. One former US Phoenix soldier conceded, “It was “heinous,” far worse than the things attributed to it.” 
Kill Lists from Phoenix to Latin America
The US intelligence community formalized the lessons of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam by commissioning Project X, the Army’s top-secret program for transmitting Vietnam’s lessons to South America.  By the mid-1970s, the Project X materials were going to armies all over the world. These were textbooks for global counterinsurgency and terror warfare. These included a murder manual, “Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare,” which openly instructed in the assassination of public officials, and was distributed to the Nicaraguan Contras. Another manual, “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual,” was used widely in Honduran counterrorism efforts.
Use of the Project X material was temporarily suspended by Congress and the Carter administration for probable human rights violations, but the program was restored by the Reagan administration in 1982. By the mid-1980s, according to one detailed history, “counterguerrilla operations in Colombia and Central America would thus bear an eerie but explicable resemblance to South Vietnam.” 
What follows is a brief sketch of the widespread application of US-promulgated Phoenix-derived reigns of terror, kill lists, and death squads throughout Latin America and beyond. Much of this is familiar territory to many activists and scholars, and is merely the tip of the iceberg, but it merits review as a backdrop for the current context of kill lists and targeted assassination. 
US KILL LISTS AND ASSASSINATION IN LATIN AMERICA
The U.S. Army’s School of Americas (SOA), started in 1946, trained mass murderers and orchestrated coups in Peru, Panama, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. The SOA trained more than 61,000 Latin American officers implicated in widespread slaughter of civilian populations across Latin America. From 1966-1976 the SOA trained hundreds of Latin American officers in Phoenix-derived methods. Between 1989-1991 the SOA issued almost 700 copies of Project X handbooks to at least ten Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Honduras. In 2001, SOA was renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), but peace activists know it as School of Assassins. 
The CIA trained assassination groups such as Halcones in Mexico, the Mano Blanca in Guatemala, and the Escuadron de la Muerte in Brazil. In South America, in 1970-79, Operation Condor, the code-name for collection, exchange and storage of intelligence, was established among intelligence services in South America to eradicate Marxist activities. Operation Condor promoted joint operations including assassination against targets in member countries. In Central America, the CIA-supported death toll under the Reagan presidency alone exceeded 150,000. The CIA set up Ansesal and other networks of terror in El Salvador, Guatemala (Ansegat) and pre-Sandinista Nicaragua (Ansenic).
Honduran death squads were active through the 1980s, the most infamous of which was Battalion 3–16, which assassinated hundreds of people, including teachers, politicians, and union leaders. Battalion 316 received substantial CIA support and training, and at least 19 members graduated from the School of the Americas.
In Colombia, about 20,000 people were killed since 1986 and much of U.S. aid for counternarcotics was diverted to what Amnesty International labeled “one of the worst killing fields.” The US State Department also supported the Colombian army in creating a database of subversives, terrorists and drug dealers.
In Bolivia, Amnesty International reported that from 1966-68 between 3,000 and 8,000 people were killed by death squads. The CIA supplied names of U.S. and other foreign missionaries and progressive priests.
In Ecuador, the CIA maintained what was called the lynx list, aka the subversive control watch list of the most important left-wing activists to arrest. In Uruguay. Every CIA station maintained a subversive control watch list of most important left wing activists. From 1970-72 the CIA helped set up the Department of Information and Intelligence (DII), which served as a cover for death squads, and also co-ordinated meetings between Brazilian and Uruguayan death squads.
In Nicaragua, the US provided illegal funds to the Contras, and Marine intelligence helped maintain a list of civilians marked for assassination when Contra forces entered the country.
In Chile, 1970-73, CIA-created unions organized CIA-financed strikes leading to Allende’s overthrow and subsequent suicide. By late 1971 the CIA was involved in the preparation of lists of nearly 20,000 middle-level leaders of people’s organizations, scheduled to be assassinated after the Pinochet coup.
In Haiti, U.S. officials with CIA backgrounds in Phoenix-like program activities coordinated with the Ton-Ton Macoute, “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s private death squad, responsible for killing at least 3,000 people.
For over thirty years the US military and the CIA helped organize, train, and fund death squad activity in El Salvador. From 1980-93, at least 63,000 Salvadoran civilians were killed, mostly by the government directly supported by the U.S. The CIA routinely supplied ANSESAL, the security forces, and the general staff with electronic, photographic, and personal surveillance of suspected dissidents and Salvadorans abroad who were later assassinated by death squads. US militray involvement in El Salvador allowed “the lessons learned in Vietnam to be put into practice … assisting an allied country in counterinsurgency operations.” 
In Guatemala, as early as 1954, the U.S. Ambassador, after the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the Arbenz government, gave to the new Armas government lists of radical opponents to be assassinated. Years later, throughout Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, Washington continuously to supported the Guatemalan military’s excesses against civilians, which killed 200,000 people.
US Assassination Programs Exported to Other Countries
In Indonesia, 1965-66, the US embassy and the CIA provided the Indonesian military with lists of the names of PKI militants, which were used by Suharto to crush the PKI regime. This resulted in “one of the worst episodes of mass murder of the twentieth century,” with estimates as high as one million deaths. 
In Thailand, in 1976, the new junta used CIA-trained forces to crush student demonstrators during coup; two right-wing terrorist squads suspected for assassinations tied directly to CIA operations.
In Iran, the CIA launched a coup installing the shah in power and helped establish the lethal secret police unit SAVAK.  The CIA and SAVAK then exchanged intelligence, including information and arrest lists on the communist Tudeh party. Years later, in 1983, the CIA gave the Khomeni government a list of USSR KGB agents and collaborators operating in Iran, which the Khomeni regime used to execute 200 suspects and close down the communist Tudeh party.
In the Philippines, in 1986, Reagan increased CIA involvement in Philippine counterinsurgency operations, carried out by more than 50 death squads. In 2001, before 9/11, the Bush administration sent a unit of SOF to the Philippines “to help train Philippine counter terrorist forces fighting against Muslim separatists” within groups like Abu Sayyaf. After 9/11 US-Filipino cooperation was stepped up and the ongoing separatist conflict was cast, to the benefit of both sides, as “the second front in the war on terror.” In Feb, 2012, a US drone strike targeting leaders of Abu Sayyaf and other separatist groups killed 15 people, the first use of killer drones in Southeast Asia. 
A “global Phoenix Program”: drone targets worldwide
“A global Phoenix program … would provide a useful start point” for “a new strategic approach to the Global War on Terrorism.”
–David Kilcullen 
Despite the US-perpetrated counter terrorist slaughter in Latin America and elsewhere in the 1970s-1990s, the US Special Forces debacle in Mogadishu in 1993, popularized in the film Black Hawk Down, severely impacted US willingness to use Special Forces in counter terrorist missions for the next decade. But then, after 9/11, things changed drastically. On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a secret Presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to create paramilitary teams to hunt, capture, detain, or kill designated terrorists almost anywhere in the world. The pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense, and in the scramble, a search of the C.I.A.’s archives turned up – the Phoenix Program. 
In July , 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent an order for a plan to make sure that special forces could be authorized to use lethal force ‘in minutes and hours, not days and weeks.’”  Rumsfeld prompted Bush to authorize the military to “find and finish” terrorist targets. Here he was referring to “the F3EA targeting cycle” used in anti-infrastructure operations by Special Operations Forces. F3EA, an abbreviation of find, fix, finish, exploit, analyze, utilizes comprehensive intelligence to “find a target amidst civilian clutter and fix his exact location . . . . enabling surgical finish operations … to catch a fleeting target.” 
Lt General William (Jerry) Boykin, Delta commander in Mogadishu, deputy undersecretary for Defense for Intelligence and a key planner of the Special Forces offensive in Iraq, announced, “We’re going after these people. Killing or capturing them … doing what the Phoenix program was designed to do, without all the secrecy.” 
Back in 1963, the CIA had supplied lists of communists to the Baath party coup so that communists could be rounded up and eliminated.  Now, forty years later, it was the Baathists’ turn to be rounded up by Special Forces and CIA and executed. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military notoriously developed a set of playing cards to help troops identify the most-wanted members of Saddam Hussein‘s government, mostly high-ranking Baath Party members. Less well-known was the secret targeted killing of thousands of Baathist civilians by US Special Forces.
Seymour Hersh wrote in 2003 that “The Bush Administration authorized a major escalation of the Special Forces covert war in Iraq. … Its highest priority [being] the neutralization of the Baathist insurgents, by capture or assassination.  A former C.I.A. station chief described the strategy: “The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.”  The US even hired thousands of contract killers previously responsible for US-sponsored extra-judicial killings and death squad activity in Latin America. The operation—called “preëmptive manhunting” by one Pentagon adviser—had, according to Hersh, “the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program.” 
In 2009, the Office of the Secretary of Defense sponsored a paper by the National Defense Research Institute entitled “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.” The paper notes, “The persistent insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated fresh interest among military officers, policymakers, and civilian analysts in the history of counterinsurgency. The Phoenix Program in Vietnam—the U.S. effort to improve intelligence coordination and operations aimed at identifying and dismantling the communist underground—is the subject of much renewed attention.” 
The paper continues, “As the United States and its allies shift their focus to Afghanistan and weigh counterinsurgency alternatives for that country, decisionmakers would be wise to consider how Phoenix-style approaches might serve to pry open Taliban and Al-Qaeda black boxes.” 
Two key architects of the current Phoenix-style global counterinsurgency efforts by the US are David Kilcullen and Michael Vickers. David Kilcullen has been counterinsurgency advisor to two former Middle East commanders, General Stanley McChrystal (formerly head of Special Operations) and General David Petraeus, now CIA Director. Michael G. Vickers, made famous in the book and film Charlie Wilson’s War about the CIA’s anti-Soviet Afghan campaign of the 1980s, is currently Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, wielding such vast authority over the US war on terror that, according to a Washington Post profile, Pentagon colleagues refer to as his “take-over-the-world-plan.” 
Kilcullen wrote in a much-quoted 2004 paper entitled “Countering Global Insurgency” that “Counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have reawakened official and analytical interest in the Phoenix Program.” He proposed that “a global Phoenix program … would provide a useful start point” for “a new strategic approach to the Global War on Terrorism,” one which would focus on “interdicting links … between jihad theatres, denying sanctuary areas, … isolating Islamists from local populations and … disrupting inputs” from others. 
Vickers issued a Phoenix-style directive in December 2008 to “develop capabilities for extending U.S. reach into denied areas and uncertain environments by operating with and through indigenous foreign forces or by conducting low visibility operations.” “It’s not just the Middle East. It’s not just the developing world. It’s not just non-democratic countries – it’s a global problem. Threats can emanate from Denmark, the United Kingdom, you name it.”  According to a Washington Post profile, “the most critical aspect of Vicker’s plan targeting al-Qaeda-affiliated networks around the world involves US Special Forces working through foreign partners to uproot and fight terrorism.”  US military and Special Operations forces would “pay indigenous fighters and paramilitaries who work with them in gathering intelligence, hunting terrorists, fomenting guerrilla warfare or putting down an insurgency.” 
Pentagon colleagues have said of Vickers, “he tends to think like a gangster.”  Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell revealed that getting Bin Laden in Pakistan was Vicker’s “baby,” and “more than anyone else in the department, he drove the issue.”  2011 New York Times Vickers summarizes his strategy this: “You make a deal with the devil to defeat another devil.” “I just want to kill those guys.”  A 2011 Such is the megalomaniacal mission underlying the US global war on terror, its kill lists and worldwide program of targeted assassination.
Killer Drones Revisited
“Engaging in any assassination blurs the line between the good guys and the bad.” It is also “a proclamation of weakness and an admission of failure.”
–John Jacob Nutter, The CIA’s Black Ops 
The purpose of this article is to reframe the current attention on killer drones and Obama’s “kill list” within an historical perspective. The goal here is not to discourage the escalating protest against killer drones or against Obama’s targeted assassination program around the globe. As stated at the outset, the unprecedented visibility of these nefarious activities and of the outraged public response to them is precisely what is needed at this time. This heightened awareness also affords a perfect opportunity to revisit the extraordinary history of US assassination and targeted killing that has led directly and explicitly to these activities.
Focus on the drones alone will not be sufficient. For even the major counter terrorist mastermind David Kilcullen himself, an avid proponent of the global targeted killing program, has argued against the use of drones. In a 2009 New York Times editorial he argues that “The goal should be to isolate extremists from their communities; [they] must be defeated by indigenous forces…Drone strikes make this harder, not easier.” He adds, “The use of drones displays every characteristic of a tactic – or, more accurately, a piece of technology – substituting for a strategy, [with minimal understanding] of the tribal dynamics of the local population. This creates public outrage and a desire for revenge.” 
Scholar Maria Ryan, in a 2011 article entitled “War in Countries We Are Not at War With,” writes: “In 2006 the Pentagon announced that it had sent small teams of Special Operations troops to US embassies to gather intelligence on terrorism in Africa, South East Asia and South America…There is, then, a covert side to the Global War on Terrorism that is not visible and not currently knowable in the absence of whistleblowers, leaks, or things gone wrong.” 
The heightened public attention paid to drone killing might very well, in time, lead to some welcome success in curtailing their use. But too narrow a focus on the US deployment of Predator and Reaper drones might also distract us from other forms of Phoenix-derived targeted killing still being perpetrated globally – and covertly – by our Assassination Nation.
Doug Noble is an activist with Occupy Rochester NY and Rochester Against War.
1 Andrew Bacevich, “Uncle Sam, Global Gangster” Feb 19, 2012 www.tomdispatch.com/dialogs/print/?id=175505
2 Eric Holder, speech at Northwestern University March 1, 2012
3 John Brennan, speech at Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, May 1, 2012
4 Jo Becker and Scott Shane New York Times 5/29/12 “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will”
5 Chris Woods, interview with Democracy Now! June 5, 2012 democracynow.org
6 Michael Gerson, “America’s Remote-controlled War on Terror,” The Washington Post May 3, 2012
7 Becker and Shane, Secret Kill List”
9 John Jacob Nutter,The CIA’s Black Ops, Prometheus Books 2000, p152
10 Nutter,The CIA’s Black Ops, p.145
11 John Prados, Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby, Oxford University Press, 2003, p235ff
12 Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program. William Morrow & Co., 1990, p313
13 Valentine, p 315
14 Prados, p 224
15 Valentine, p309
16 Valentine, p13
17 Prados, p 235
18 Jane Mayer, The Black Sites: A Rare look inside the CIA’s Secret Interrogation Program,” The New Yorker August 13, 2007
19 Valentine, p13ff
20 Valentine, p346
21 Dale Andrade, Ashes to Ashes: The Phoenix Program and the Vietnam War. Lexington Books, 1990, p.175
22 Valentine, p 310
23 Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture Metropolitan Books, 2006, p 86
24 McCoy, p 71
25 Unless otherwise noted, the following information comes from the comprehensive “CIA Death Squad Timeline” by Ralph McGehee, http://www.totse.com/en/politics/central_intelligence_agency/166983.html
26 Mary Turck, “School of Assassins,” Common Dreams Nov 18, 2003
27 Michael Smith, Killer Elite, St Martin’s Press, 2006, p 49
28 Prados, p 155-157
29 McCoy 74
30 Maria Ryan, “’War in Countries We Are Not at War With’: The War on Terror on the Periphery from Bush to Obama” International Politics, v.48 (2011)
31 Deadly Drone Strike on Muslims in the Southern Philippines March 5, 2012 www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2012/03/05-drones-philippines-ahmed
32 David Kilcullen, “Countering Global Insurgency” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2004
33 Mayer, “Black Sites”
34 Smith, p230-232
35 William Rosenau & Austin Long, “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency,” National Defense Research Institute, RAND Corp, 2009
36 Smith, p 273
37 McGehee, “CIA Death Squad Timeline”
38 Seymour Hersh, “Moving Targets: Will the counter-insurgency plan in Iraq repeat the mistakes of Vietnam?” The New Yorker Dec. 15, 2003
39 Hersh, “Moving Targets”
40 Hersh, “Moving Targets”
41 Rosenau and Long
42 Rosenau and Long
43 Profile of Michael G. Vickers, Washington Post www.washingtonpost.com/politics/michael-g-vickers/gIQAm3DRAP_topic.html
44 Kilcullen, 2004
45 Ann Scott Tyson, “Sorry Charlie, This is Michael Vickers’s War,” Washington Post
Dec 28, 2007
46 Profile of Michael G. Vickers
47 Tyson, 2007
48 Elisabeth Bumiller, “Soldier, Thinker, Hunter, Spy: Drawing a Bead on Al Qaeda” New York Times, Sept 4, 2011
52 Nutter, p 149
53 David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald Exum “Death from Above, Outrage Down Below.” New York Times May 17, 2009
54 Ryan, 2011
- Obama’s Killer Drones (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Families of U.S. Victims of Drone Attacks Sue Top Officials (ipsnews.net)
- “Interrogation Has Been Replaced by Assassination” (reason.com)
CNN’s national security expert Peter Bergen speaking at a recent event (Miller Center/ Flickr)
Following recent revelations by the New York Times that all military-aged males in Waziristan are considered fair game by the CIA in its drone strikes, many US journalists have been reassessing how they report on deaths in the attacks.
So when CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen produced a graph claiming that no civilians have been killed in Pakistan this year by US drones, his views were bound to attract criticism. Conor Friedersdorf, a columnist at The Atlantic, accused CNN and Bergen of running ‘bogus data‘, for example.
Bergen is also a director of the New America Foundation, which for more than three years has run a database on CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and produces estimates of numbers killed. That data is the most frequent source of statistics for the US media, including CNN itself. So the accuracy of its material is important.
Yet there are credible reports of civilian deaths in Pakistan this year. And unlike the New America Foundation the Bureau actively tracks those claims.
Up to July 16 for example, between three and 27 civilians have been reported killed in Pakistan this year, out of 148 – 220 deaths. Some were actively defined as civilians by news organisations including Reuters and AFP. But these are not necessarily the only civilian deaths. Ambivalent reports might sometimes refer only to ‘people’ or ‘local tribesmen’ killed. More research is needed. And of the remaining alleged militants killed, we have so far been able to name just 13 individuals.
Bergen’s claim of zero reported civilian casualties this year is therefore factually inaccurate.
To be so categoric is also problematic. The Bureau’s own data shows that of at least 2,500 people killed by the CIA in Pakistan since 2004, we publicly only know the identities of around 500. Most of the others were reported to be alleged militants by local and international media. We can say no more than that.
It is not just in NAF’s 2012 data that credible reports of civilian deaths have been missed or ignored. NAF’s Pakistan data also contains many other inaccuracies. A number of confirmed strikes are omitted, for instance, and its overall estimates of those killed are significantly below even the CIA’s own count. The consequence is a skewed picture of drone activity which continues to inform many opinion-makers.
On July 13 Peter Bergen responded to his recent critics in a CNN article which stated that reported civilian casualties in Pakistan are in decline – as the Bureau itself recently noted. He also repeated his claim of no civilian casualties in Pakistan this year. And he attacked the Bureau for its own recording work in this area:
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s high estimate of 24 civilian deaths in 2012 came in part from reports provided by an unreliable Pakistani news outlet as well as the claims of a local Taliban commander, which contradicted all other reports.
It’s worth unpicking Bergen’s claims in some detail.
His comments appear to refer to a CIA drone strike on February 9 in which local Taliban commander Badar Mansoor died. Citing just four sources, NAF’s data reports only that three to five ‘militants’, including Mansoor, died in the attack.
But this is a misrepresentation which ignores credible claims of civilian casualties, as the Bureau’s own Pakistan database makes clear.
Among 18 unique sources we cite, the Bureau links to a story by Reuters, the international news agency. Reuters notes a Taliban commander’s claims that Mansoor’s wife and child died in the February 9 attack. Local paper The News also reported that Mansoor’s wife and children were either injured or killed; and a Bureau field researcher reported anecdotal claims from the town that some of the leader’s family had died.
As the Bureau notes, these overt claims of civilian deaths on February 9 remain contested. We state that between zero and two civilians reportedly died in the strike. It is not clear either way. What cannot be stated is that no civilians died.
Bergen’s reference to an ‘unreliable Pakistani news outlet’ is also confusing. Dawn, The Nation and The News are all reputable Pakistani dailies, cited on occasion by CNN and NAF themselves. And Central Asia Online states clearly that ‘a woman and a girl child were injured’ in the strike, not killed.
In fact Bergen’s comments undermine further the credibility of the NAF data he constantly cites. A partial list of media reports has not been updated since the day of the attack – despite a number of salient facts since emerging. And as Bergen notes in his CNN article, the Reuters report of civilian deaths is rejected as a NAF source on the (inaccurate) grounds that it involved ‘the claims of a local Taliban commander, which contradicted all other reports.’
In their CNN article Bergen and co-reporter Jennifer Rowland make no mention of a second strike in which civilians were also reported killed in Pakistan this year. According to credible media, along with a number of alleged militants between three and eight worshipers died when a mosque was struck (possibly accidentally) on May 24.
That claim is independently supported by Britain’s Channel 4 News; by Pakistan’s The News (generally the most accurate local source for information on casualties); and by French news agency AFP. The Bureau cites 17 unique sources overall in its coverage, noting reports of damage to the mosque and of civilian casualties.
Bergen’s New America Foundation, relying on just four sources, says only that 10 ‘militants’ were killed in a ‘compound.’
NAF’s claims of ‘zero civilians killed’ by the CIA in Pakistan in 2012 is reached by the simple expedient of not including in its data any of the credible reports of civilian deaths.
Full of errors
When the Bureau began looking in earnest at US drone strikes in summer 2010, we started to work with NAF’s data, and that of the Long War Journal. At that time we had no interest in the time-consuming (and expensive) effort of compiling and maintaining accurate data on covert US strikes.
But the more we worked with NAF’s material, the more troubled we became. In February 2011 for example, the Bureau wrote to NAF noting a number of errors.
We pointed out a strike that it had missed entirely (November 5 2005). The Bureau also drew NAF’s attention to a number of date errors. The Foundation claimed a strike had taken place on May 14 2005, for example. In fact that attack took place on May 8th.
Bergen personally acknowledged the email, saying ‘thanks for drawing attention to these.’ Yet almost 18 months on, those errors – easily verifiable – remain uncorrected.
Our concerns about the data – particularly on the question of civilian deaths – ultimately compelled us to start from scratch, re-examining every US drone strike in Pakistan to try and understand what had really been going on.
We now know, for example, that eight years in to the CIA’s bombing campaign in Pakistan, NAF still lists the wrong date (June 18 2004) for the very first strike. Citing just one source, NAF also makes no reference to the civilians killed that day, including two children.
That first attack actually took place on Thursday June 17 as CNN and many other sources correctly noted at the time. Militant commander Nek Mohammed died along with up to eight others. These included, it was widely reported, the two young sons of Sher Zaman Ashrafkhel.
On another occasion in October 2006, an attack on a seminary killed at least 81 people. New America Foundation does not count these ‘militants’ in its data, reporting that the attack was
Allegedly conducted by Pakistani military, but may have been conducted by US forces. Noted here for the record but not included in above fatality totals.’
Claims that the Pakistan military carried out this attack were long ago dismissed. A senior aide to Pakistan’s then-leader Pervez Musharraf told the Sunday Times within weeks that ‘we thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US.’ Last August former ISI director General Asad Durrani confirmed in an interview that the CIA carried out the strike. And just weeks ago General Musharraf himself pointedly refused to deny US involvement.
There are also reports that up to 69 children died in the October 2006 attack. While some contest this claim, local media has listed the full names, ages, family details and home villages of every child reported killed.
Bergen and New America Foundation continue to make no reference to any of these salient facts. Nor do they count these 81 deaths in their figures.
‘Civilian deaths not new’
The New America Foundation regularly publishes definitive numbers on the overall civilian death tolls in Pakistan.
On March 27 for example, Bergen and co-worker Jennifer Rowland claimed that ‘according to our data, 7% of the fatalities resulting from drone strikes [in Pakistan] in 2011 were civilians.’ The duo lowered that estimate on June 10, now claiming that civilian deaths in Pakistan ‘averaged 5.5% in 2011.’
The Bureau has been unable to replicate either of NAF’s recent statistical claims from the Foundation’s published data.
In contrast, our own data shows that between 465 and 659 people died overall in 2011. Of these between 75 and 127 were reportedly civilians. Since we cannot know where, within these ranges, accurate figures lie, the best that can be said is that reported civilian deaths account for between 11% and 27% of all of those killed by the CIA in Pakistan last year.
In July 2011 the Bureau issued a major report based on its first field investigation in Pakistan. This directly challenged US claims that it wasn’t killing civilians in the tribal areas, presenting the CIA with the details of 45 civilians killed in the specified period and raising significant concerns about a further 66 deaths.
Initially the Bureau’s report received little coverage in the US, not only by the mainstream US media but also by the influential AfPak Channel, which is edited by Bergen and Rowland. When we challenged this omission, New America Foundation senior advisor Patrick Doherty shed some light in a July 19 email on why our study had been ignored:
One reason is that the tallies on civilian deaths in PAK is not particularly new. We’ve been monitoring drone strikes for a few years and tracking civilian and militant deaths. The mainstream media has been reporting on our numbers, quite thoroughly, in fact. The gotcha on John Brennan, as a result, kind of rings hollow.
In fact no US media organisation had challenged US intelligence community assertions that civilians were no longer being killed by the CIA in Pakistan. Those extraordinary claims went uncontested for six months, when the Bureau published its investigation.
Perhaps the greatest issue with New America Foundation’s data is its incomplete, snapshot nature.
Public understanding of US covert drone strikes changes all the time. That’s why the Bureau’s eight databases change constantly, incorporating the latest understanding of each attack – and seeking information from as wide a pool of credible sources as possible.
Last year, for example, we learned that a 2009 attack in Pakistan which had initially been reported as killing alleged militants, women and children appeared to have been a strike on a child suicide bomber training camp, run by the Taliban. More recently, we incorporated evidence from sworn affidavits filed in the London High Court, relating to the deaths of many civilians in March 2011.
In contrast NAF’s data represents at best a partial snapshot of an attack, often based on just a few media reports on the day. No effort appears to be made to update, amend or correct its data.
In his most recent article for CNN looking at civilian deaths in Pakistan, Bergen cites a major Associated Press investigation into drone strike casualties published in February of this year. As the Bureau reported at the time, that investigation, based on 80 witness statements, uncovered previously unknown evidence of civilian deaths in a number of strikes. We amended our data records accordingly, to reflect these findings.
NAF has yet to change any of its records – despite Bergen citing AP’s study in his own defence. So while AP reports that seven civilians died alongside seven Taliban on August 14 2010, NAF continues to state only that ’7-13 militants were killed.’
The cumulative effect of all these omissions and errors is that NAF’s data substantially under-estimates both the overall numbers of those killed, and the reports of civilians who have died in Pakistan strikes.
In August 2010, in response to the Bureau publishing its Pakistan data, the US government issued its first overall estimate of the numbers killed in CIA drone strikes since 2001, stating that approximately 2,050 had died – all but fifty of them combatants.
Eleven months on, and 47 strikes later, a minimum of 262 further deaths have occurred in Pakistan. Yet the New America Foundation still gives a low estimate of 1,870 killed. That indicates that its estimates are some 400 below the CIA’s own numbers.
The New America Foundation has undoubtedly done valuable work in recent years in bringing to the attention of the US public the scale of America’s covert wars. Its data represents a useful snapshot of most strikes, a helpful base upon which further research can be built.
But NAF cannot claim that its data represents an accurate record of what we publicly know about US drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. And without radically overhauling its methodology, Bergen and NAF cannot credibly continue to offer up such precise estimates of ‘civilian deaths’ in Pakistan.
Follow @chrisjwoods on Twitter.
The Human Cost of the War on Terror
In the early days of the ‘War on Terror,’ US General Tommy Franks declared, “We don’t do body counts.” He was referring, of course, to the dead of Afghanistan. That the names of 9/11 victims have been appropriately written in stone, only makes it doubly striking that the war waged in their names generates little interest on non-US or NATO civilian deaths. In fact, a war now in its 11th year, comprising the invasion and occupation of two countries, as well as the ongoing bombing of at least three more, has not produced any holistic studies on its direct and indirect casualties.
That a global war can rage so long with no official will to ascertain the number of ‘others’ killed is indicative of the manner in which the cost of war is calculated by those states prosecuting it. Non-US and NATO dead, maimed, disappeared or displaced can’t be part of the equation if official policy is not to count. That there appears to be little public will to change that policy speaks of a more broadly worrying attitude toward ‘others,’ particularly Muslims. The UN and some NGO’s are attempting to count, however, mostly in the variety of local contexts engulfed in the conflict. Despite the hurdles of official obfuscation and public indifference, a catalogue of deadly consequences has begun to emerge.
Beginning in Afghanistan, most commonly cited studies on the 2001 invasion find that approximately 4,000 to 8,000 Afghani civilians died as a direct result of military operations. There are no figures for 2003-05, but in 2006 Human Rights Watch recorded just under 1,000 civilians killed in fighting. From 2007 to July 2011, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tallies at least 10,292 non-combatants killed. These figures, it should be emphasized, do include indirect deaths or injuries. Some thing of the scope of indirect deaths can be gleaned from a Guardian article – the most thorough journalistic report on the subject – which calculated that at least 20,000 more died as a result of displacement and famine due to the disruption in food supplies in the first year of the war alone. As well, according to Amnesty International, approximately 250,000 people fled to other countries in 2001 and at least 500,000 more have been internally displaced since.
Moving to Iraq, the Iraq Body Count project records approximately 115,000 civilians killed in the cross-fire from 2003 to August 2011. However, the World Health Organization’s Iraq Family Health Survey reports a figure of approximately 150,000 in just the first three years of the occupation. With indirect deaths added, The Lancet Study placed the estimate at approximately 600,000 in the same period. Moreover, an Opinion Research Business study estimated 1,000,000 violent deaths to have occurred by mid-2007. In addition, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported approximately 2,000,000 Iraqis displaced to other countries and 2,000,000 more internally displaced as of 2007. There is no solid information on indirect death or injury rates, but the documented collapse of the Iraqi healthcare system and infrastructure more generally (foremost in the region before 1991) does not suggest anything less than another atrocity.
Beyond the two states under occupation, the ‘War on Terror’ spills into a number of neighboring countries including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Prime weapons deployed in these theatres have been US ‘drones,’ special operations groups, intelligence agents and the governments/armed forces of the countries involved. Given the often extra-judicial and covert nature of this theatre, calculating casualties is hampered by the virtual absence of independent data. Indeed, this is also a problem in Afghanistan and Iraq, but even so, considering only ‘drones’ thought to have been used in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the numbers of strikes is agreed to be on the rise. To date, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that at least 357 strikes have occurred in Pakistan between 2004 and June 2012 (more than 300 under the Obama administration). At least 2,464 people have been killed, including a minimum of 484 civilians (168 children). The Washington Post adds 38 strikes resulting in 241 deaths (56 civilian) in Yemen. There are no figures for Somalia, but the New York Times confirms that operations have been ongoing since at least 2007.
Proponents of the war, official and public, will rush to retort that many of the citations in this article list most civilian deaths as the work of enemy combatants. But how can anyone confirm this when dependent on such a dearth of study? And as best highlighted by the ‘drone’ campaign, how can anyone transparently distinguish between civilians and combatants, when the latter’s assassins are also their judges? Indeed, even if accepted at face value, these attacks make the US government one of the most prolific, self-professed ‘target killers’ in history. Moreover, as a representative from UMANA commented on his study, “if the non-combatant status of one or more victim(s) remains under significant doubt, such deaths are not included in the overall number of civilian casualties. Thus, there is a significant possibility that UNAMA is under-reporting civilian casualties.” In fact, such problems are admitted by the authors of every study.
Pasting this patchy set of statistics together, the bottom end of the total non-US and NATO civilian deaths exceeds 140,000. The top end easily reaches 1,100,000. That’s 14,000 to 110,000 per year. To put these figures in some context, it is worth recalling that 40,000 civilians were killed by the Nazi ‘Blitz’ on Britain during WWII. As well, it should be recalled that in both low and high scenarios, figures for direct deaths in Afghanistan for 2003-5, and indirect deaths from 2003 to the present, are not available. Furthermore, civilian deaths caused by means other than drones, such as renditions and disappearances, are not counted from any arena, and casualties stemming from the military campaigns of proxies (e.g., the governments of Pakistan or Yemen) have not been tallied. The number alive, but injured, orphaned or otherwise disenfranchised, let alone those tortured in public and private prisons across the world, is also not tolled. And finally, the suffering of millions of displaced persons from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere remains incalculable.
What has been counted here, even though tragically incomplete, illumines the reason US and NATO officials are reticent to publically do the same. To consider the staggering human cost of the ‘War on Terror’ would mean admitting that ‘terrorism’ is a two-way street and states, not militias, drive the heaviest weapons. General Franks’ preference not to count bodies is egregious, but unsurprising. That his lack of interest is echoed in the public spheres of the US and NATO countries, exposes the more astonishing consent (manufactured or not) of general populations, at least in the case of these Muslim victims. Nothing less than this official and public indifference explains the absence of any holistic study on civilian casualties, particularly while mourning the nearly 3,000 civilians killed on 9/11 and in whose name the ‘War on Terror’ is still waged.
M. Reza Pirbhai is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Louisiana State University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 579 civilians killed in four months in Afghanistan: UNAMA (nation.com.pk)
A major case in the British High Court has revealed fresh evidence of civilian deaths during a notorious CIA drone strike in Pakistan last year.
Sworn witness testimonies reveal in graphic detail how the village of Datta Khel burned for hours after the attack. Many of the dozens killed had to be buried in pieces.
Legal proceedings were begun in London recently against British Foreign Secretary William Hague, over possible British complicity in CIA drone strikes.
Britain’s GCHQ – its secret monitoring and surveillance agency – is reported to have provided ‘locational evidence’ to US authorities for use in drone strikes, a move which is reportedly illegal in the United Kingdom.
The High Court case focuses in particular on a CIA drone strike in March 2011 which killed up to 53 people.
Sworn affidavits presented in court and seen by the Bureau offer extensive new details of a strike the CIA still apparently claims ‘killed no non-combatants’.
‘We were in the middle of our discussion when the missile hit and I was thrown about 24 feet from where I was sitting. I was knocked unconscious and when I awoke I saw many individuals who were dead or injured,’ he says in his affidavit.
Most of those who died in Datta Khel village that day were civilians. The Bureau has so far identified by name 24 of those killed, whilst Associated Press recently reported that it has the names of 42 civilians who died that day.
Pakistan’s president, prime minister and army chief all condemned the Datta Khel attack. A recent Bureau investigation with the Sunday Times quoted Brigadier Abdullah Dogar, who commanded Pakistani military forces in the area at the time.
We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting, we’d got the request ten days earlier. It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga – they have their people attending – but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?
Yet the US intelligence community has consistently denied that any civilians died.
Last year an anonymous US official told the New York Times: ‘The fact is that a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ [Al Qaeda] -linked militants, were killed.’
The sworn affidavits seen by the Bureau offer a very different perspective. Imran Khan’s father Ismail was another of the elders who died that day. Imran says of his father: ‘He always did the right thing for the community and the tribe. He opposed terrorism and militancy and was not himself in any way connected to these things.’
Khalil Khan’s late father Hajji Babat was a local policeman who was ‘not an enemy of the United States of America or any other country.’ His son describes in his affidavit how he rushed back to his village to find his father dead, the bus station and surrounding buildings still burning six hours after the drone strike.
And Fateh Khan, who once worked for British Telecom, lost his 25-year old nephew Din Mohammed in the CIA attack. He reports that his nephew’s body had to be buried in pieces, and that ‘he left behind four children, all of whom now live in my house. His eldest child is currently only five years old.’
The most senior tribal elder to die that day was Daud Khan. Initially he was claimed to have been a senior Taliban figure. His son Noor told the Bureau that this was ‘an absolute lie’.
‘My father was not a militant but an elder who was working day and night for his people. There have been many children who have been killed in drone strikes. I ask the US if they think those children were militants and combatants and dangerous enough to be killed in such a manner?’
The CIA declined to comment when asked whether it still believed it had killed no ‘non-combatants’ in Pakistan since May 2010, or that no civilians died in Datta Khel last year.
In London, legal campaigners are seeking a judicial review in the High Court – a process by which senior judges can question and even overturn any government policy on aiding US drone strikes.
The case is being brought by legal charity Reprieve, and by the Islamabad-based lawyer Shahzad Akbar and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which focuses on civilian victims of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.
The British government is understood to have firmly challenged the grounds of the case on a number of fronts.
Follow @chrisjwoods on Twitter
- Hague to be sued for aiding US drone attacks in Pakistan (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The cost and consequences of exposing the drone wars (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- “Drones also targeting mourners and rescuers” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- NYT Lets Nameless Official Smear Drone Researchers as Al-Qaeda Fans (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The boy sitting with me in these photos was protesting against deadly US drone strikes… Three days later he was killed ¿ by a US drone, says Jemima Khan (dailymail.co.uk)
- White House OKs broad Yemeni drone drive (upi.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)
By Sherwood Ross | Blacklisted News |March 19, 2012
How shall the world view the apology by President Obama for the massacre of 16 Afghan villagers allegedly by a lone U.S. serviceman in Kandahar Province when the President is himself personally responsible for the extra-judicial killing of hundreds of civilians by means of drone aircraft strikes whose crime he defends? Army Staff Sgt., Robert Bales, of Lake Tapps, Wash., is being held in prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Mr. Obama is free to travel the campaign trail.
“We’re heart-broken over the loss of innocent life,” the president said of the Kandahar massacre. His seeming expression of contrition rings hollow, though, particularly if one considers how Mr. Obama goes about his daily routine ordering drone strikes and seemingly is unaffected by the “loss of innocent lives” they cause, as well as by the hated companion night raids on Afghan homes, also the result of his policy.
As The New York Times reported March 17th, President Hamid Karzai said “many civilians have died in the (night) raids,” adding, “This has been going on for too long. It is by all means the end of the rope here. This form of activity, this behavior, cannot be tolerated.”
Obama is more than willing to investigate anyone other than himself for war crimes. “I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law.” To “follow the facts” the president need look no further than his own mirror. Not surprisingly, he termed the drone strikes “very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates.” Given the facts, this is a falsehood.
As investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill writes in the March 5/12 issue of The Nation, “President Obama’s first known authorization of a missile strike on Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, killed more than 40 Bedouins, many of them women and children, in the remote village of al Majala in Abyan.”
And the Bureau of Investigative Journalism based at City University, London, put the number of Pakistani children killed in drone strikes at 168. In one raid directed by the Central Intelligence Agency, a drone was dispatched to kill the headmaster of a school, which it did—but 60 children attending classes there were killed as well. “Even one child’s death from drone missiles or suicide bombings is one child too many,” a UNICEF spokesperson said. President Obama takes a very different view. He claims drones have “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties” and it is “important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”
Since 2004, the U.S. has made nearly 300 drone attacks just in N.W. Pakistan alone, killing between 1,700 and 2,800 individuals, of whom an estimated 17 percent were said to be civilians, not so-called “militants,” according to the New America Foundation of Washington, D.C.
In Somalia, last October 14th alone, U.S. drones killed 78 and injured 64 in one raid and killed 11 civilians and wounded 34 more the same day in another. And from March 3-12, the U.S. killed 64 people in Yemen by drone strikes. The government called them “militants” but local residents countered they were civilians.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon reportedly is building 60 drone bases across the world and its clamor for more planes is so great that contractors cannot keep up with demand. Rather than halt the use of these indiscriminate killing machines, indications are the Pentagon sees them as the future weapon of choice, and by some accounts they have now been used in six countries.
On the website of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the AP reports, organizer Aaron Hughes declared that Afghan war veterans “believe that this incident is not a case of one ‘bad apple’ but the effect of a continued US military policy of drone strikes, night raids, and helicopter attacks where Afghan civilians pay the price.’’
Mr. Obama has continued and expanded the criminal drone policies begun by his predecessor George W. Bush and both warmongers are eminently qualified to stand trial for their crimes.
Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant. Reach him at email@example.com
- On Power and Delusions of Grandeur (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- American Morlocks: Another Civilian Massacre and the Savagery of Our Soldiers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Not even a week after Barack Obama declared that not too many civilians die in the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan, a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds that “at least 50 civilians” have been killed in rescues attempts, 20 in strikes on funerals, with at least 282 total civilians killed since Obama took office.
WASHINGTON — British and Pakistani journalists said Sunday that the CIA’s drone strikes on suspected militants in Pakistan have repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals.
The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals. The findings were published on the Bureau‘s website and in the Sunday Times of London.
For some reason the Times felt it necessary to get an anonymous U.S. official–again–to smear the people trying to count the dead:
A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s’ findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions–there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al-Qaeda succeed.”
For the record, the Times’ policy on the use of anonymous sources:
We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack. If pejorative opinions are worth reporting and cannot be specifically attributed, they may be paraphrased or described after thorough discussion between writer and editor. The vivid language of direct quotation confers an unfair advantage on a speaker or writer who hides behind the newspaper, and turns of phrase are valueless to a reader who cannot assess the source.
- “Drones also targeting mourners and rescuers” (alethonews.wordpress.com)