Dec 29, 2012 blackexaminer
The Obama administration’s ever expanding use of drones in the never ending, unacceptably vague, objective-less war on terror against an unidentifiable enemy that as a consequence has killed thousands of civilians has drawn international condemnation as war crimes. The drone war has proven to be more of a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda than the elimination of terrorist organizations. Thus, the CNN broadcast of President Obama’s video Christmas message from his family’s vacation retreat in Hawaii on Christmas morning which, among other things, proclaimed the White House Christmas theme to be “Joy to the World” rang hypocritical to me considering the human carnage his drone policy has inflicted on civilians in the Middle East and Africa.
Indeed, as the president’s Christmas message was being shown on CNN, his order to launch two drone attacks in Yemen was simultaneously being executed. The five people killed in the strike were described by officials as “suspected al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.” What the hell! The people blown into oblivion were not members of al-Qaeda, but were just suspected of being linked to it somehow. Since when does killing someone merely suspected of having links to an enemy organization, no matter how loosely, constitute a legitimate military target? It doesn’t. Anyway, this highlights the difference between the Bush and Obama administrations’ war on terror; Obama prefers killing “‘enemy combatants’ including one American (Anwar al-Awlaki) rather than capturing them.” Actually two American citizens – that we know of – have been victims because two weeks later a drone strike targeted and killed al-Awlaki’s 16 year-old son who had absolutely no involvement with terror. Incredibly, a former administration official justified the murder of the teenager on the grounds that his father caused his son’s death because he irresponsibly became a terrorist.
A Christmas morning Washington Post front-page story dealt with an American drone strike in Yemen that blew up a truck loaded with 14 passengers near the village of Radda last September, 2012. Thirteen of them were killed, including a mother, her 7-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old boy. The attack had previously not been an issue of national security because the Yemeni government initially took responsibility for it and claimed only al-Qaeda militants were killed. Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Hadi was forced to do an about face on his government’s involvement, however, when tribesmen from the area threatened to bring the victims’ bodies to the presidential gates. This turn of events forced the U.S. to acknowledge that it was an American drone that carried out the attack and that no al-Qaeda militants were aboard the truck. An unnamed administration official defended airstrikes saying: “We don’t go after people in dwellings where we don’t know who everyone is. We work very hard to minimize the collateral damage.”
John Brennan, known as the “priest whose blessings has become indispensable to Obama, is the president’s closest advisor on intelligence and counterterrorist issues and has played an essential role shaping and implementing the expansive, unprecedented targeted killing of suspected terrorists and militants.” There have been 38 drone attacks in Yemen this year and he recently attempted to make the war there official when he declared “we are done in Afghanistan, but Yemen has some thousands of al-Qaeda” that we intend to kill. This is why the U.S. was instrumental in installing the puppet regime of President Hadi after orchestrating the ouster of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. To show his appreciation, Hadi has consistently shielded the U.S. from international condemnation for murdering his own innocent citizens by falsely having his government accept responsibility for the attacks. For instance, Hadi also lied about American involvement in an air-strike in the city of al-Majalah in December, 2009. Described as a “sloppy strike”, an American drone fired a cruise missile armed with cluster bombs that killed 41 civilians, including a dozen women, five of whom were pregnant. In a U.S. Embassy e-mail that was leaked by WikiLeaks, Hadi assured Gen. David Petraeus, who at the time was head of the U.S. Central Command, that the Yemeni government would “continue saying the bombs were ours, not yours.” The quintessential “brown nose”, Hadi commended, repeat, commended the U.S. for the accuracy of its drone strikes: “They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error,” he told an American right-wing think-tank audience. The fact that the U.S. has taken extraordinary measures to conceal its responsibility for civilian drone strike deaths is tacit recognition of culpability. The status Hadi enjoys with the U.S. as a trusted ally in the region does not speak well for the integrity of American foreign policy, at a minimum with regard to Yemen.
President Obama has far and away employed more drones than all other presidents in history. Despite the fact that the American war in Afghanistan is winding down with the withdrawal of its troops from the county by 2014, the administration still ratcheted up it drone activity and set a new record of 447 drown strikes in this impoverished country in 2012. This was more than has been deployed during the combined eight years of the war. No Afghan casualty statistic has been released by the military.
Although the U.S. is not at war with Pakistan, a report released in September, 2012, by the Brave New Foundation on drone warfare in Pakistan found that: “While civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the U.S. Government, there is significant evidence that U.S. drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the U.S. states that there have been ‘no’ or ‘single’ digit civilian casualties [but] because of U.S. efforts to shield the drone project from democratic accountability…the best currently available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562 – 3,325 people in Pakistan, of which 474 – 881 were civilians, including 176 children.”
Some authoritative studies have concluded that 10 civilians are murdered for every “militant” that it targets particularly since the U.S.’s definition of a potential militant includes every male over the age of 12. Moreover, this is more in line with the real world considering the U.S. often uses cluster bombs. This horrific weapon of mass destruction, which has been declared illegal by most countries, is designed to break apart high over a target for maximum coverage. It then dispenses a cloud of thousands of bomblets that explode indiscriminately, saturating an area the size of a football field with a 98% civilian casualty rate.
Imagine this scenario: The Pakistan government determines that enemy combatants are hiding in a safe-house in Anytown, America, and launches a drone attack on the target. The residence is destroyed with surgical precision with no collateral damage whatsoever. Taken a step farther, assume that Pakistan’s drone fired a cluster bomb missile that killed the militants and one American civilian. In either event, the U.S.’s response would be swift and severe; it would bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age. Yet, the U.S. believes that it has the right (read: might) to bomb wherever it pleases with righteous impunity.
“Obama does not kill children deliberately,” George Monibot wrote for the Guardian, “but their deaths are an inevitable outcome of the way his drones are deployed.” Again, cluster bombs are incredibly indiscriminate and virtually impossible to deploy with any degree of precision. The U.S., of course, is justified in using lethal force against its enemies. But the consequences are clearly foreseeable that eliminating an enemy or suspected enemy combatant by blowing up a home where many innocent civilians are also inside is going to result in unnecessary deaths that go well beyond unintentional collateral damage. Incidentally, the term “collateral damage” is a euphemism created “by the U.S. military during the second Persian Gulf War…as a casual description of civilian deaths caused by allied forces bombing. It was widely quoted as doublespeak because of the underlying callous assumption that a killing called by another name is not a killing.” (BusinessDictionary.com).
Let’s say the gunman in the elementary school shooting in New Town, Connecticut fired a bullet through a window and killed someone standing outside – someone he had not intended to shoot. Wouldn’t that person’s death be considered murder? Of course it would because it was clearly foreseeable that discharging a gun in a school building could easily result in an unintended death. The death of that person would still be unjustified if he or she was shot by police officers who tried to stop the rampage by indiscriminately spraying classrooms with gunfire. The same standard applies to military combatants, especially ones that are not posing an imminent threat, which makes a mockery of that U.S. official’s previously mentioned assertion that the military works very hard to minimize collateral damage since it doesn’t “go after people in dwellings where we don’t know who everyone is.” This doublespeak doesn’t prove the military seriously attempts to minimize collateral damage. To the contrary, it confirms that the military actually knows who is in the house when it blows it away – innocent civilians be damned.
The Rand Corporation, a conservative think-tank, in a report entitled How Terrorist Groups End – Lessons for Countering al-Qaeda found that the “‘war on terrorism’ has been a failure and should not be characterized as a ‘war’ at all.” Moreover, “[a]gainst most terrorist groups…military force is too blunt an instrument…The use of substantial U.S. military power against terrorist groups also runs a significant risk of turning the local population against the government by killing civilians.” And that is precisely what’s happening. The mourners of the victims in the Radda attack, for example, chanted “America is a killer.” The two survivors and relatives said that: “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans. If the Americans are responsible, I have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.” It is well within the realm of possibility that every person killed by an American drone spawns 50 al-Qaeda members bent on destroying America.
Despite the obvious failure of the policy, the president has extended the drone war to Libya and Somalia and is certain to spread its use further afield in the future. He has gotten away with it so far because the news media has provided him with cover from American public outrage by limiting its reporting on the escalation of drone use and the huge suffering and massive loss of life it has caused and will cause in the future. It has reported “neither facts nor analysis that would…enable the public to understand the issues or the basis of government policies,” regarding drone warfare which thereby prevents the public from “exert[ing] any meaningful influence on the decisions being made.” With public attention diverted, the government has a free hand to shape and manipulate the news so as to impose its own agenda. The agenda in this case has been to carry out its wrong-headed drone policy away from public scrutiny that if fully disclosed would generate controversy and divisiveness domestically. The media is also coerced into cooperating with sticking to the government’s party-line due to its need for “a steady, reliable flow of the raw material of news” the government provides at no cost—regardless of its accuracy or candor, or lack thereof. The corporate community, which benefits greatly from military spending, also exerts immense pressure on the media to adhere to the government’s propaganda agenda. The end result is that the public has been kept in the dark about the U.S.’s drone warfare policy.
Unchecked, American drone warfare will continue to expand worldwide and escalate in intensity unfettered by informed public opinion unless grassroots movement of people and organizations begin demanding the Obama administration provide more transparency and accountability.
Caveat: The government is broadly expanding its use of surveillance drones in America; home of the free.
Tagged with: Drone al-Oaeda, Drone collateral damage, Drone Yemen and Pakistan, Drown warfare, Obama drone policy