The Truth About Drones

A lot of Americans have an impression that drone strikes are less damaging to civilian populations that conventional airstrikes. This would be false. In fact, earlier this month I highlighted an article from the Guardian that demonstrated how in reality drone strikes are 10x more likely to harm civilians per incident. Now, thanks to a recently leaked document we find that many more civilians including children have been killed in these strikes than many of us would like to admit. In fact, of the 746 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan from 2006-2009, an incredible 20% were civilians and 94 (13% of the total) were children. More from the Huffington Post:

London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a leaked Pakistani report on Monday that details numerous civilian casualties by drone strikes in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The document provides crucial new data on civilians casualties of U.S. and NATO strikes in Pakistan.

The 12-page dossier was compiled for the the authorities in the tribal areas, the Bureau notes, and investigates 75 CIA drone strikes and five attacks by NATO in the region conducted between 2006 and 2009. According to the document, 746 people were killed in the strategic attacks. At least 147 of the victims were civilians, and 94 were children.

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McClatchy Study: Obama Administration Has No Idea Who They are Killing with Drones

McClatchy has released a very important study that demonstrates that not only is the Obama Administration being intentionally secretive about their entire drone program, but in reality they have no idea who they are killing or how many.  In many cases those killed are just classified as an “unknown extremist,” aka civilian.  We already know how insane the drone program is from many sources, including the confessions of drone operator Brandon Bryant, who quit after realizing his superiors told him the child he had incinerated was just a “dog.”  From McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.

The administration has said that strikes by the CIA’s missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones are authorized only against “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who are plotting “imminent” violent attacks on Americans.

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.” 

Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters.”

Micah Zenko, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, a bipartisan foreign policy think tank, who closely follows the target killing program, said McClatchy’s findings indicate that the administration is “misleading the public about the scope of who can legitimately be targeted.”

You don’t say.

The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.”

McClatchy’s review is the first independent evaluation of internal U.S. intelligence accounting of drone attacks since the Bush administration launched America’s secret aerial warfare on Oct. 7, 2001, the day a missile-carrying Predator took off for Afghanistan from an airfield in Pakistan on the first operational flight of an armed U.S. drone.

At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists.  Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

“Unknown extremists,” just another euphemism for civilian.

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The Kid Who Tweets Every Drone Strike

I have been reading about this kid Josh Begley for the past several days, but hadn’t looked more into it until now.  This article is really interesting in that it reveals that the U.S. Military (or CIA, who really knows anymore) is employing terrorist tactics in its drone strikes overseas.  From Business Insider:

NYU student Josh Begley is tweeting every reported U.S. drone strike since 2002, and the feed highlights a disturbing tactic employed by the U.S. that is widely considered a war crime.

Known as the “double tap,” the tactic involves bombing a target multiple times in relatively quick succession, meaning that the second strike often hits first responders.

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The United States of Drones

The following article from the UK’s Telegraph is a perfect follow up to the fantastic piece by Glenn Greenwald about how much pleasure Obama gets from murdering people with a joystick from halfway across the world using drones that I posted on Tuesday.  This expansion of drone usage is extraordinarily disturbing, not only from a moral point of view in that you are desensitizing killing in such a way that it become like a video game, but also from the karmic point of view in that what comes around goes around.  Let’s not forget 30,000 drones are planned to enter U.S. airspace by 2020 (thanks Congress, you can’t pass a budget, but when it comes to spying on and potentially murdering your own people there’s no hold up).  Do you really think these will stay unarmed?

Key quotes:
President Obama has reportedly allowed his CIA chief to deepen the connection between Special Forces and secret intelligence, a potentially unconstitutional move because it can mean that military operations are no longer answerable to Congress. More important still, the CIA also seems to mastermind and direct the drone strikes which have suddenly become the central element of US (and therefore British) military strategy.

Second, US soldiers and airmen are not placed in harm’s way. This is very important in a democracy. In America, the killing of a dozen military personnel is a political event. The death of a dozen Afghan or Pakistani villagers in a remote part of what used to be called the north‑west frontier does not register, unless a US military spokesmen labels them “militants”, in which case it becomes a victory.

We need a serious public debate on drones. They are still in their infancy, but have already changed the nature of warfare. The new technology points the way, within just a few decades, to a battlefield where soldiers never die or even risk their lives, and only alleged enemies of the state, their family members, and civilians die in combat – a world straight out of the mouse’s tale in Alice in Wonderland: “ ’I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury’, said cunning old Fury. ‘I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’ ” Justice as dealt out by drones cannot be reconciled with the rule of law which we say we wish to defend.

The article also points out that more than two thirds of Pakistanis now consider the United States an enemy.  I suppose they must be getting increasingly jealous of our freedoms.  My message…We the People of the United States don’t like our government much either.

Full article here.