It was on President Obama’s third day in office that he approved his first drone strikes in Pakistan. The first one was successful and killed a high value target. The second didn’t go as well, it leveled a house filled with civilians. While the President expressed regret over the loss of life, he has grown accustomed to his targeted kill list that is associated with “Terror Tuesdays” in the White House.
After five years of aggressive CIA drone strikes the President can say he has old al-Qaeda on the run, something his top Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein agrees with. “I think the drone is new technology and in some respects the perfect assassination weapon. It can see from 17,000 to 20,000 feet in the air, it’s very precise, it can knock out a room in a building if it’s armed, and it’s a very dangerous weapon.”
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According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a leading drone tracking center, the past five years has claimed more than 2,400 non-combatant lives and caused countless injuries.
On top of that, The New York Times reported, “Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, ‘When the drones hit, they don’t see children.’”
American terrorists are also on the TKL (Targeted Kill List). Obama approved the drone strike that killed Mr. Awlaki in September 2011, along with a fellow propagandist, Samir Khan, and another American citizen, who was not on the TKL but was traveling with Awlaki.
Moving forward the controversial drone program continues to suffer from mishaps. A December 12 strike in Yemen killed 12 and wounded 14 civilians on their way to a wedding, none of which were terrorists. The Yemen headlines of “U.S. turns a wedding into a funeral” created a major backlash and prompted the government to reassess America’s drone policy inside the turbulent Middle Eastern nation.
We’ve been droned… are kill lists lawful and prudent?
Eleven years, trillions of dollars, 6,527 dead U.S. warriors and the Middle East is still embroiled in an endless war. Americans and its warriors are tired and broke. With all the U.S. blood and treasure expended, one would think the folks in the Middle East would be grateful, thankful; America has dedicated precious resources to “give” the Middle East democracy and freedom. They’re not.
According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 74 percent of Pakistanis think America is the enemy, a sentiment that has increased the last few years from 69 and 64 percent respectively. This shocking poll reverberates throughout the Middle East region.
But why do countries hate America more now than under the Bush Administration? Drones, targeted killings and corruption have garnered ill will with tribal leaders as well as those attending wedding parties.
Leading world news organizations, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have estimated the U.S. drone program has killed more than 4,000 people including a large number of civilian women and children since Obama became president.
Not helping matters is the White House bragging about “Terror Tuesdays” and the delight President Obama takes when he orders the death of an alleged al Qaeda operative, even if it’s an American citizen. The Constitutional scholar and purveyor of “fairness” has become the sole dispenser of justice. No Miranda rights, no judge and no jury --the presumption of innocence has effectively been tossed in the wastebasket of yesteryear under the guise of national security.
“Something that is being debated in UN hallways and committee rooms cannot apparently be talked about in U.S. courtrooms, according to the government,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's national security project. “Whether the CIA is involved in targeted lethal operation is now classified. It's an absurd fiction.”
Once transparent candidate Obama became president, tactics in the “war on terror” shifted. The New York Times described Obama as “the man who placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.”
Christof Heyns, a UN expert in targeted killings and arbitrary executions, said U.S. drone strikes are dangerously close to “war crimes,” something of which former President George W. Bush was accused and something that now hinders his foreign travel.
However, the rookie President not only accepted former-President Bush’s covert war tactics he enhanced them. “The secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia,” the New York Times reports.
This policy doesn’t bode well with Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, Zamir Akram, who called for international legal intervention to cease the U.S.’s “totally counterproductive attacks.”
Heyns addressed the UN conference and added: "(Countries) may find targeted killings immensely attractive. Others may do so in (the) future … Current targeting practices weaken the rule of law. Killings may be lawful in an armed conflict [such as Afghanistan] but many targeted killings take place far from areas where it's recognized as being an armed conflict."
He further derided the use of unmanned vehicle attacks outside the war theater as unacceptable. “It's difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to (9/11 attacks) in 2001. Some states seem to want to invent new laws to justify new practices.”
While the UN throws out phrases like “conspiracy of silence” and “shine the light on independent investigation,” only time will tell if other nation’s risk Mr. Obama’s scorn to end the practice of targeted-killings. So far, the president’s national security advisor, Thomas Donilon, says Obama is determined to move forward with a kill list and act as the executioner. “He’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States,” Donilon quipped.
Even American citizens are not safe from aggressive shadow war tactics. “The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step (of assassinating U.S. citizens), asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch,” the New York Times reported.
Nevertheless the President took it in stride and told his former chief of staff, William Daley, “This is an easy one.” This action eventually led many in DC to demand the legal opinion memo that Obama used to deny an American citizen justice, however, like former President Bush, he decided to keep his decision secret.
“This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable,” said Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA. “I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret OLC memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a DOJ safe.”
On the other hand the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) warned that “immense damage was being done to the fabric of international law” when it comes to innocuous drone attacks and corruption. Ian Seiderman, ICJ director said Americans were relying on surveillance video rather than actual intelligence to prompt drone attacks on suspected al Qaeda terrorists.
So far more than 1,000 people have been killed in Pakistan by drone attacks, the Pakistani ambassador concluded. “We find the use of drones to be totally counterproductive in terms of succeeding in the war against terror. It leads to greater levels of terror rather than reducing them.”
Where’s the outrage?
The outrage simmers in the European Union. American targeted killing or drone attacks presents an enormous challenge to rule of law philosophies that dominated U.S. policy for years.
After 9/11, the CIA, Special Ops personnel and defense contractors teamed up to fight a shadowy war, outside the lines, and outside the traditional warzones. Countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have been the beneficiaries of targeted killing using undetected, high-tech, armed drones. An FYI to Americans, the U.S. Congress has not declared war with any of those countries.
As commander of the United States Central Command in September 2009, General David Petraeus signed a classified order authorizing “American Special Operations troops to collect intelligence in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and other places outside of traditional war zones. The result is that American military and (civilian) intelligence operatives are at times virtually indistinguishable from each other as they carry out classified operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. Some members of Congress have complained that this new way of war allows for scant debate about the scope and scale of military operations. In fact, the American spy and military agencies operate in such secrecy now that it is often hard to come by specific information about the American role in major missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen,” according to a New York Times story.
During the President’s 2008 bid, Mr. Obama spoke openly about following the letter of the law and promised Americans he would end the wars. "I opposed this war in 2002 precisely because I feared it would lead us to the open-ended occupation in which we find ourselves today. We should not give the president a blank check to continue down this same, disastrous path." It’s been more than three years and the Obama Administration has committed an undisclosed amount of American support and resources to corrupt Afghan leaders through 2024.
Is the wink-and-a-nod policy good for the American taxpayer or is it good for Afghan President Hamid Karzai whose legendary corruption has forwarded U.S. dollars into private accounts outside his tribal nation?
The droning business goes global
Notwithstanding the obvious --what’s preventing U.S.-made drones from ending up in enemy hands? Currently money drives the American defense contractors who continue to lobby the government for the right to export drones to foreign countries like China and Israel.
American companies point to the Congressional Research Service and claimed foreign entities are beating U.S. defense contractors to the punch.
"Export restrictions are hurting this industry in America without making us any safer," said Wesley Bush, Chief Executive of Northrop. "The U.S. is struggling to sell unmanned aircraft to our allies while other nations prepare to jump into the marketplace with both feet."
Democrat Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told the LA Times he is working with the Obama Administration to ease exporting policies. "It's crazy for us to shut off sales in this area while other countries push ahead," Berman said. "A very significant part of this economic recovery depends on exports. We need to take advantage of where our strengths lie."
While opening up the “commercial” drone market may be “good” for business others worry the technology will do more harm than good.
"The proliferation of this technology will mark a major shift in the way wars are waged," said Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association. "We're talking about very sophisticated war machines here. We need to be very careful about who gets this technology. It could come back to hurt us."
Companies like General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. that builds the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drones used by the military, are also looking to break into a growing UAV marketplace by building unarmed Predator drones.
All told the U.S. drone market will make an estimated $11 billion over the next decade.
Looking into the future, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that foreign countries will arm and use drones to benefit their ideologies based on their law and order. Imagine that a target from the Mexican president’s “kill list” was discovered at a wedding in San Diego…
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