In the first independent evaluation of top-secret classified internal U.S. intelligence accounting of drone attacks since the Bush administration launched America’s secret aerial drone warfare on Oct. 7, 2001, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy News has brought news that belies the Obomba administration’s claims about the program. That day during the Bush administration, a missile-carrying Predator took off for Afghanistan from an airfield in Pakistan on the first operational flight of an armed U.S. drone, assumedly targeting the Al Qaeda camps that were allegedly harboring and training those who’d been deemed to have operational plans past the Twin Towers attack.
Many of us at this site, but certainly not all, have known from our reading independent and foreign sources that the claims Obomba, John Brennan, et.al. have made as to the rigorous investigations into evidence that their targets were indeed ‘a baseball card deck’ of ‘terrorists intent on harming the Homeland’ was hooey. But now the first mainstream news outlet has proven it, and it’s now part of the public record. Whether or not Americans will be able to reset their comforting ‘We only efficiently assassinate the Worst of the Worst terrorist leaders who mean harm to us’ beliefs isn’t likely; a plurality of us still believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, no matter that it’s been disproven countless times. Propaganda thrives because we want to believe the easy lie rather than the uncomfortable and unvarnished truth. We are exceptional, and exceptionally gullible.
Again, contrary to all evidence, many of us believe that Brennan and Obomba’s lies that few civilians were killed by drone attacks; this report also debunks that bullshit…in spades. Is it possible that more Americans might finally be led to understand that increasing numbers of Muslims are being radicalized not by the torture and treatment of prisoners at Gitmo, but by these inhumane and cavalier murders of civilians and misidentifications of ‘operational bad guys’? It’s highly doubtful, especially given the major distraction of the budget battles going on, not to mention the increase in rhetoric against Iran and North Korea, so I’ll hazard a guess that few media outlets have given the report the attention it deserves.
Obviously McClatchy News isn’t saying how they got hold of the documents they’ve analyzed, nor the extent of them. Landay has reported on two two-year periods, strikes in 2006-2008, and those during 2010-2011, the latter being the most intensive numbers of attacks on Pakistan’s side of the border during Obomba’s COIN ‘surge’ of 33,000 additional troops in Afghanistan (as per General David Petraeus). You’ll no doubt want to read the report, as well as Micah Zenko’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth: Finally, proof that the United States has lied in the drone wars’ at Foreign Policy Magazine.
After laying the foundation for the importance of the report demonstrating that the administration’s claims that only limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland are ‘false’, he writes (my bold):
Senior officials and agencies have emphasized this point over and over because it is essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter’s right to self-defense. A Department of Justice white paper said that the United States can target a “senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force” who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration targets “specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces,” and Harold Koh, the senior State Department legal adviser dubbed them “high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.” Obama said during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012: “These strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and going after al-Qaeda suspects.” Finally, Obama claimed in September: “Our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.”
Not very precise at all, as this McClatchy graphic shows very clearly.
Zenko bravely writes that the true facts may very well make the drone strikes illegal since assertions about who is being targeted were “essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the UN Charter’s right to self-defense. Amen.
All of Landay’s findings were important, and he contrasts them to reports from the military, but this section is the most demonstrative of the falsity (my bold):
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.
Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”
He writes that other people killed by the CIA were only ‘suspected of, or associated with militant groups. It’s confusing to me that the author goes on to say that no administration official has admitted using the loose targeting designation of ‘signature strikes’, but we know that they have, as in the murders of these young boys who were out tending their families’ goat herds. Or as this, from ProPublica shows. Or Obomba’s crazy defining as ‘a militant’ any ‘male of military age; if a family can prove posthumously that a drone-killed man was not a militant, the family may be eligible for US/ISAF blood money.
Landay says that the internal intelligence report speaks of the assassinations of ‘leaders’ of different groups like the Haqqani network, which while it may be associated with area Taliban, has never been linked to any plots against the US. Other groups are named that have been part of insurgencies against Islamabad, but those read more like favors to Pakistan than anything else.
Emptywheel covered some of the report here, and includes some false assertions made by Diane Feinstein and Mike Rogers (Senate and House Intelligence Chairs, respectively) about the dearth of civilian casualties compared to ‘public reports’ of the same. Marcy has her own counts from her investigations. Do click into her link on the awesome NYT reporter Mark Mazzetti’s report on the infamous Raymond Davis affair (the Blackwater, CIA, Dark Army story he broke). He was interviewed on Democracy Now on April 10, and spoke of the chilling effects of Obomba’s insane level of prosecutions against whistle-blowers along with the covert public-private armies being unleashed in the ‘War on Terror’.
But remember: the top-secret internal report mentions exactly one civilian death during that time period. One. In June, John Brennan had claimed ‘Zero’.
On the other hand, the British-based Bureau of Investigative Reporting has been tracking drone assassinations for a long time. Their coverage of the top-secret intelligence gives the number from that time period that they have long been reporting: The Bureau was the first to challenge this assertion. After carrying out a field investigation in Pakistan’s tribal areas, it submitted to the US administration a list of 45 civilians killed in drone strikes in the period Brennan had referred to. A senior US counter terrorism official refuted the findings at the time, insisting: ‘The most accurate information on counter-terror operations resides with the United States.’
Their figures look like this:
All actions 2004 – March 31 2013 in Pakistan:
Total Obama strikes: 314
Total US strikes since 2004: 366
Total reported killed: 2,537-3,581
Civilians reported killed: 411-884
Children reported killed: 168-197
Total reported injured: 1,174-1,465
The linked piece also delves into the complicated history of the CIA and Pakistani ISI. Interestingly enough, Pervez Musharraf is back from his self-imposed exile, and apparently running for office. In an interview with CNN on Thursday, according to the Guardian, he admitted that he’d given permission for the CIA to launch drone attacks inside his country, directly contradicting repeated claims by the Pakistani government that it has never authorized drone strikes. ‘…only a few times’, Musharraf apparently said. Deeper and deeper we go. But the issue of permission from a state apparently has a lot to do with the arcane ‘legality’ of the strikes. For further parsing of international law on that, see coverage of the issue by Mary Ellen O’Connell, a specialist on the international law of armed conflict. The Guardian article on Musharraf’s claims/admissions also discuss how it affects the legal issues, or not.
In what may be the single most damning and hideous part of the facts as presented by the secret inside intel report is more from Zenko via Glenn Greenwald. It completely debunks the moronic, but comfortable belief that “we are killing Terrorists!”:
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.’
Zenko adds: “even the US intelligence community does not necessarily know who it has killed; it is forced to use fuzzy categories like ‘other militants’ and ‘foreign fighters’. [snip] How can any minimally rational person continue to walk around defending Obama’s drone kills on the ground that they are killing The Terrorists or that civilian deaths are rare when even the government, let alone these defenders, often have no clue who is being targeted and then killed?
Greenwald adds two additional key points we’ve now learned from all this.
Whisteblowers are vital for transparency and accountability, which is precisely why the Obama administration is waging a war on them.
Yes; when government officials are allowed to operate with no checks and balances by a complicit Congress, a stenographic media, and enabling courts, the tendency will always be to hide the truth. Who is left to bring us the truth except for whistleblowers, and the brave journalists who publish the material at their extreme peril? He also points us to Mazetti’s interview on Democracy Now for chilling examples.
Greenwald’s third lesson learned is:
Secrecy ensures both government lies and abuses of power.
That the Obama administrations’ claims about its drone program have proven to be false should be viewed as anything but surprising. Aside from the potent impulse for governments to lie to their citizenry about what they do, secrecy in particular renders inevitable – not possible, not probable, but inevitable – both abuses of power and systematic lying. And secrecy has been the hallmark of the Obama administration generally and its drone killings in particular.
From Brave New Foundation, this is ‘Living Under Drones’ (graphic content):
April has been designated as ‘Anti-drone month’ by the Network to Stop Drone Surveillance and Warfare (NSDSW); events in San Diego kicked off protests at General Atomics, the San Diego-based maker of the Predator and Reaper drones. Dozens of actions have been planned nationwide, and new events are being added daily. Events are planned for Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Dayton, Ft. Wayne, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Seattle, Tucson, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Honolulu, as well as in dozens of other locations, including many of the communities that host the estimated 100 drone basing sites in the U.S.
An interactive map of protests is available here.
I really don’t know what else to say except we have to stop this holy war against Muslims and other black and brown people all over the world…somehow. Highest praise goes to Landay, Mazetti, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and others too numerous to name; you will long be remembered as foils to the fascism taking over this nation…and too much of the world. One can’t help thinking of the phrase about chickens coming home to roost, not to mention the many tragedies being perpetrated in our names. But yes; feel free to say, ‘Not in my name!’