Tag Archives: Drones

Exposing The Horror and Disgrace Of America’s Drone War

Green for Growth & Peace

After carefully reading the new human rights reports issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on America’s drone war, I can best describe my mood as equal parts nauseous and horrified. The reports are, in a word, gruesome. And while I have problems with various aspects of both – among them the overreach of each in conflating unintended collateral civilian casualties as war crimes – I nonetheless have to consider the fact that a great-many innocent people (up to 900 in Pakistan alone) have been killed, and their deaths seem to have come at the hands of my country’s government.

Like many others Americans my age, my formative years were consumed by a seemingly never-ending conflict between “good and evil” or “us vs. them”, aimed at justifying America’s engagement in I-don’t-know-how-many conflicts and moral crusades in order to “safeguard our freedom and way of life”. I was a kid (13) when the towers fell and we began this continuing trend of extremist-eradication at-all-costs. But then, in 2008, Barack Obama ran for President, and I’d never seen anything like it. I was too young and uninterested to remember the Clinton years, really. Everything I knew about Presidential power, and the exercise of it, I knew from George W. Bush and Dick “Chancellor Palpatine” Cheney. So when, in 2008, Obama ran on principles of transparency, honesty, accountability and justice, I was naturally inspired; hopeful that the world Bush and Cheney created would finally be jettisoned for something good.

As much I would like to follow the lefty herd and blindly claim that somehow, someway, we’ve gotten ourselves out of the same rut that consumed us during the breadth of Bush’s term(s), the truth is that we haven’t. The truth is we’ve replaced open evil with closeted evil.

Obama visits Pentagon

For years now the president and his senior advisers have made public claims about America’s drone program that have been found to be categorically false. We know, for instance, from top-secret intelligence documents, that “contrary to assurances it has deployed US 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.” (Jonathan Landy) These revelations don’t just illustrate that the drone program is out of hand or that the Obama administration has become incapable in accounting for it, but that the Obama administration knowingly misleads the public about the scope of who can be legitimately targeted by unmanned aerial vehicles.

Here’s a crucial point: the Obama administration/US military/intelligence agencies often have no idea who they are killing. Even the CIA – whose intelligence reports are basically the means by which targets are chosen – often has zero idea of the identities of many of the people they target for death. President Obama, much like his predecessor, approves of the use of something called “signature strikes”, where the least important factor in the decision making process to target someone for a drone strike is who they are. More important to the decision making calculus the government employs – and the reason many are targeted for death despite their identity being unknown – is intelligence gathering suggesting that the individual is a ‘militant’ if he engages in a pattern of life more commonly engaged in by ‘militants’. The NY Times reported that “the joke [at the State Department] was that when the CIA sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks’, the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp”.

Chinook flight

I should note that the Obama administration has – prior to the reports – signaled its intention to embrace a policy shift away from drones towards various other counterterrorism measures. But because Americans are largely agnostic towards the use of drones in far-away places like Pakistan, and since that ambivalence means neither Republicans nor Democrats will pressure the President to make good on his campaign promises of accountability and transparency, there’s little chance he will.

Photos: Kashif Mardani; US Army

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Judgement Day

By Cato

Step 1: Turn on speakers
Step 2: Open this video in a different window.
Step 3: Read this news story while the previous link plays in the background.

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Quote Of The Day: Kerry Signals End To Drone Strikes In Pakistan

Senator John Kerry

From the Associated Press:

“In the last few years we’ve experienced a few differences,” Kerry said, politely understating the testy, roller-coaster relationship with Pakistan. “We cannot allow events that might divide us in a small way distract from the common values and the common interests that unite us in big ways.”

Pakistani officials have been angry about U.S. drone strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan, claiming they violate their sovereignty. They used Kerry’s visit to press the U.S. to stop the drone attacks.

“I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it,” Kerry told the Pakistan TV interviewer. “I think the president has a very real timeline and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon. I think it depends really on a number of factors, and we’re working with your government with respect to that.”

(photo by Cliff)

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Poll: Americans Would Rather Drone Syria Than Arm It

A BQM-74E aerial drone launches from USS Thach

Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Obama administration’s decision to provide arms to Syrian rebels, but according to a new Quinnipiac University national poll, nearly half would be totally fine with using drones and cruise missiles to attack Syrian government targets.

The poll found that 61 percent of Americans say that it is not in the nation’s best interest to be involved in Syria, while only 27 percent say otherwise, and 59 percent think that providing arms to anti-government groups is not such a hot idea.

But 49 percent of respondents, when asked if the U.S. “should or should not use weapons which don’t risk American lives, such as drones and cruise missiles, to attack Syrian government targets”, said it should, while 38 percent stood opposed.

With polling, every single word matters, and the phrasing of the question can go a long way to determining the outcome. It’s true that American lives will be spared if drones are used, but arming Syrian rebels won’t necessarily put American lives in danger either. My guess is that Americans are more worried about rebel groups getting their hands on weapons, than the actual use of them against the Syrian government. Fair enough, I have the same worry. But imagine a scenario where an American drone mishits a target, and kills an exorbitant number of rebel soldiers, or worse, innocent civilians. At that point, we’ll have succeeded in creating another Egypt, where both sides of the coin hate the U.S. and rally behind that sentiment.

(photo courtesy of U.S. Navy

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President Obama and the future of the war on terror.

TIME Magazine; Person of the Year, Greg's Art and My Photo OnlineTIME magazine; person of the year (cc photo by Tony Fischer)

President Obama’s speech today touched upon seemingly every single issue his administration has had to deal with, from justifications for overseas drone strikes to reiterations about the moral and practical necessity to close the Cheney gulag known as the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The president addressed Afghanistan, Benghazi, ongoing concerns regarding the investigations into whistleblowers and journalism tampering, while providing a clear line on what constitutes the American conception of the global war on terror.

You can read the entire (prepared) speech here, but let’s take a look at some of the more impactful and pertinent excerpts.

Continue reading

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Daily roundup – April 26

I began the day here on BaddiesBoogie with some extended thoughts regarding the future legacy of Barack Obama. The basic premise of the article, located here, is that the age old axiom is that power corrupts, and when power is exercised in secret, it corrupts further. President Obama has unfortunately proven that axiom right. People who exercise power inevitably abuse it when they can wield it in secret. They inevitably lie about what they do when they can act in the dark.

Elsewhere, I pondered the charge of using weapons of mass destruction given to the Boston Marathon jihadawannabe bomber and asked whether or not it was proper to label an AR-15 assault rifle as a weapon of mass destruction, since guns do way more damage to our society than pressure cooker bombs. Then, I shared a story – that’s probably true – out of South Carolina where a 4th grade science class has been taken over by creationist loons.

Your photo of the day featured a PSA out of Saudi Arabia that’s actually also the first ever Saudi Arabian female abuse ad to hit the public. Check in tomorrow for more goings on friends!

Publius

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Cloaked in secrecy: lies and the abuse of Executive power

Like many others my age, my formative years have been consumed by this seemingly never ending conflict between “good and evil” or “us vs them”, where we’ve been engaged in I don’t know how many conflicts and moral crusades to safeguard our freedom and way of life. I was a kid when the towers fell, and a kid when we began this continuing trend of extremist eradication and war mongering. When Barack Obama ran for President, I’d never seen anything like it. I was too young to remember Clinton, really. All I knew of Presidential power and the exercise of it, I knew from Bush and Cheney. Obama ran on principles of transparency, honesty, accountability, and the list goes on and on. Yet as much as I would like to follow the liberal herd and blindly claim that somehow, someway, we’ve gotten ourselves out of the same rut that consumed us during the breadth of Bush’s term(s), the truth is that we haven’t. The truth is we’ve replaced open evil with closeted evil.

For years now the president and his many senior advisers have made public claims about their drone program that have just been proven to be categorically false. Lying is the more appropriate term. We know, for instance, from top-secret intelligence documents that “contrary to assurances it has deployed US 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.” These findings don’t simply show that the drone program is out of hand or that the Obama administration has become inept in accounting for it, the article indicates a much more callous fact that the Obama administration knowingly lies to the public about the scope of who can be legitimately targeted. Another must read piece comes from Micah Zenko over at Foreign Policy about these findings and the implications.

Here’s a crucial point: the Obama administration often has no idea who they are killing. I feel a pang of anger when I hear ordinary citizens or your run of the mill neocon political commentator foaming at the mouth claiming that drones are good cause we’re killing terrorists and…merica! The fact of the matter is, not even the CIA – whose intelligence reports are basically the means by which targets are chosen – often has any idea of the identity of many of the people they target for death. President Obama, much like his predecessor, approves of the use of something called “signature strikes”, where the least important factor in the decision making process to target someone for a drone strike is who they are. More important, and the reason many are targeted for death despite their identity being unknown, is intelligence gathering suggesting that the individual is a ‘militant’ if he engages in a pattern of life more commonly engaged in by ‘militants’. The NY Times reported that “the joke [at the State Department] was that when the CIA sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks’, the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp”.

This would explain why the Obama administration has made it a priority to root out whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowers are essential for transparency and accountability, especially to combat a government so egregiously cloaked in secrecy. In many ways, government leakers have really have become the only reliable means for learning about the lies and bad acts of political officials. This particular segment on Democracy Now does well to put the war against government leakers in context. New York Times national security reporter Mark Mazzetti speaks to Amy Goodman:

“AMY GOODMAN: And you, as a reporter, Mark – we see the greatest crackdown on whistleblowers that we have ever seen under any president: President Obama’s administration is going after more whistleblowers than all presidential administrations combined in the past. And the role of journalists, how do you feel, as you try to cover these issues? Do you feel the crackdown?

“MARK MAZZETTI: It’s harder. There’s no question. It’s harder and harder. People are – this crackdown has perhaps had its intended effect, which was maybe not to go prosecute the cases that have been brought, but also to scare others into not talking. And so, I find that in the last couple years covering national security issues, you just find people who were perhaps once more eager to talk or willing to talk, for reasons that- not just because they were whistleblowers, but because they thought it was important for reporters to have context and information about some of these operations -those people are increasingly less likely to talk.

“AMY GOODMAN: And you, yourself, being prosecuted or put under a kind of spotlight from the administration?

“MARK MAZZETTI: I mean, it’s certainly worrisome for us and is worrisome that, you know, they go after – they go after sources, and it brings the reporters into it, as well. I think we’re at a critical time here to – you know, hopefully this ends. But, you know, once there is a momentum in some of these cases, the Justice Department works in its own ways, and so people, once they make cases, they tend to try to make other cases. And so, that’s what some -that’s what’s concerning for us.”

So the primary effect of Obama’s attacks on leakers leads to basic impediments for the field of investigative journalism, but the purpose of it all is really to create a climate of fear to deter investigative journalists and leakers who think about exposing the callous lies and bad acts of government.

I don’t really know what to think of the Obama administration. It hasn’t been an overall success, that much I’m sure of, but in some ways it’s been even more depressing that the one we escaped from in 2008. From the continuing disgrace of Gitmo to a drone program that’s both immoral and illegal, I can’t blindly support the President without lamenting his many faults and many bad acts. The age old axiom is that power corrupts, and when power is exercised in secret, it corrupts further. President Obama has unfortunately proven that axiom right. People who exercise power inevitably abuse it when they can wield it in secret. They inevitably lie about what they do when they can act in the dark. President Obama is a charming guy, and I think a good man, and certainly a wonderful family man, but none of that changes the fact that pervasive secrecy and lack of oversight corrupts and changes even the most intellectual, kind-hearted leaders. It’s just basic human nature.

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The NAVY now has a ship mounted laser for shooting drones. Eat your heart out Lucas.

I thought I was reading the Onion when I first saw this story:

Long in testing and even older in ambition, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, triumphantly heralded the dawn age of the shipboard laser gun during the Navy’s annual conference outside Washington. In tests aboard the destroyer USS Dewey last summer off the California coast, the Laser Weapon System successfully shot down surveillance drones and fast boats in its first round of sea trials aboard a surface combatant, according to Rear Adm. Thomas Eccles, one of the Navy’s top engineers. (Three of the shoot-downs were aboard the Dewey, while nine others happened on shore, Eccles clarifies.)

It seems that the weapon system is also cost efficient. The weapon is being billed as a step toward transforming warfare. Since it runs on electricity, it can fire as long as there is power at a cost of less than $1 dollar per shot.

“Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability,” Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, said in a statement.

The laser weapon cost between $31 million and $32 million to make, and will first be installed aboard the USS Ponce, which is being used as a floating base in the Middle East, sometime in 2014. Here’s a video of the weapon in action.

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Strategic Insanity: Who Controls American Foreign Policy in Southeast Asia?

By Cicero,

While analysts and commentators scoffed at the idea of North Korea launching an attack on the United States, many were quick to note the concerned reaction of a larger regional actor, one whose name begins with ‘C’ and ends with ‘-hina’. Nevertheless, the crisis on the North Korean peninsula has been grabbing headlines, and many have noted that given the actions of the United States, perhaps the warlike rhetoric has been justified. First, the North Koreans responded to the beginning of the joint South Korean and United States military exercises, then, to the deployment of B-52 bombers, and finally, to the display of the B-2 on a practice bombing run.

As a Department of Defense official admitted in the first week of April, it was a possibility that military actions undertaken by the United States helped to exacerbated regional tensions. The worry of the American people and of the world media as a whole has led to a rather awkward question: Who made the decision to so blatantly project American military power? Who, ultimately, is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the United States armed forces?

Part of the stated purpose of the constitution of the United States of America is “to provide for the common defense”. Indeed, Article 1, Section 8, clearly and unambiguously gives Congress, not the Executive, the power to control the military. The slow and none-too-subtle shift of American military might from the legislative branch to the executive branch is a point that I will not belabor here, as it is well-known shift and many argue is a change for the better. What is not often elucidated is the vast amount of military options that are now available to the Commander-in-Chief beyond declaring war, managing the armed forces, suppressing insurrections and repelling invasions.

The actions of the United States military in the recent North Korea crisis illustrate one of these new options: the military drill. While the Key Reserve and Foal Eagle exercises are far from direct engagement, they represent a clear projection of military power in the region. As author and Korea scholar Gregory Elich notes, such exercises send an obvious message to North Korea: fear us. However, they also send a less obvious message to China: control your neighbor, or face a greater US presence in the region.

The Christian Science Monitor notes that the administration itself does very little to oversee the much-touted strategic ‘pivot’ to Asia. One such facet of this was a well-publicized deployment of US marines to Darwin, Australia.

Defense analysts have noted that the Australia deployment had been planned for some time, but Mr. Obama used an announcement about it as an opportunity to send China a message. ’It was a DOD [Department of Defense] thing, but the White House grabbed it and announced it,’ says Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Obama’s announcement also had the effect of giving the administration’s Asia-Pacific pivot ‘a military hue,’ he says.

The worrying paradigm of the self-directed military hardly got its start in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. While many American citizens vocally disapproved of Iraq and Afghanistan, the decision to engage these conflicts originated from either the President or the Vice President. Both these individuals, while now unpopular, were directly elected. However, as time went on, the American military seemingly began to develop a mind of its own. This weekend, a column in the New York Times revealed the nature of the first-ever drone strike in Pakistan.

[The first drone strike target] had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a ‘targeted killing.’ The target… was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies. That back-room bargain… is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war… The deal… paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.

Ultimately, we now have military policy-making that is not beholden to the people. Our armed forces are not even beholden to Congress, and most of their day-to-day operations are conducted by appointed DOD officials. The simple reality of the United States’ military is that it is calling its own shots, literally. While, ostensibly, it makes sense for those experienced in military matters to oversee military affairs, recent actions have ventured beyond the realm of management and into the realm of substantive foreign policy-making. The decisions being made by the United States military need to be returned, in some fashion or another, to the citizens of the United States, especially because of the magnanimity of the primary, secondary, and even tertiary effects of these decisions.

With no oversight from the government but the Department of Defense itself, and little input from the Commander-in-Chief or other elected officials, it is little wonder that Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov described the United States’ foreign policy, especially its military policy, as being “gripped by strategic insanity”.

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Daily roundup – March 18, 2013

Today on BaddiesBoogie I considered the unprecedented implications regarding the bank bailouts in Cyprus, and shared a couple of op-Ed pieces attempting to reconcile moral and ethical philosophy with the use of Drones by the US government.

Not much today readers, blame it on spring break and video games (Skyrim!). More tomorrow!

– Publius

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The moral and ethical hazard of drones

John Kaag writes an interesting op-ed piece in the times about trying to reconcile philosophy with drone warfare. Here are some excerpts:

Warfare, unlike philosophy, could never be conducted from an armchair. Until now. For the first time in history, some soldiers have this in common with philosophers: they can do their jobs sitting down. They now have what I’ve always enjoyed, namely “leisure,” in the Hobbesian sense of the word, meaning they are not constantly afraid of being killed. Hobbes thought that there are certain not-so-obvious perks to leisure (not being killed is the obvious one). For one, you get to think. This is what he means when he says that “leisure is the mother of philosophy.” I tend to agree with Hobbes: only those who enjoy a certain amount of leisure can be philosophers.

on ethics:

Working one’s way through the complexities of “just war” and moral theory makes it perfectly clear that ethics is not about arriving easily at a single right answer, but rather coming to understand the profound difficulty of doing so. Experiencing this difficulty is what philosophers call existential responsibility. One of the jobs of philosophy, at least as I understand it, is neither to help people to avoid these difficulties nor to exaggerate them, but rather to face them in resolute and creative ways. In short, the job of philosophy is not to create existential crises, but to handle or work through existential responsibility.

And here is both Kaag and Kreps on the morality of drones – the entire piece is a rather interesting read:

What we find unsettling here is the idea that these facts could be confused for moral justification. Philosophers find this confusion particularly abhorrent and guard against it with the only weapon they have: a distinction. The “fact-value distinction” holds that statements of fact should never be confused with statements of value. More strongly put, this distinction means that statements of fact do not even imply statements of value. “Can” does not imply “ought.” To say that we can target individuals without incurring troop casualties does not imply that, we ought to.

– Publius

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The drone exception

John Sides takes a look at public perception for the use of drones in targeted killings overseas. While approval for the use of drones remains high, Sides asks whether or not public perception could be changed in the future:

Thus, there is little reason to expect public opinion about the drone program to change without concerted and prolonged dissent from political leaders. That does not seem to be forthcoming. Paul’s dissent — which didn’t even emphasize foreign targets of American drones — was met with harsh rebuttals from Lindsay Graham, John McCain and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Democrats were not exactly rushing to stand with Paul either.
Would dissent from Capitol Hill make any difference? Actually, it might. Some evidence suggests public support for drone warfare is soft. The Pew survey provides hints of that. The main concern about drones — one that 53 percent of the public was “very concerned” about — was civilian casualties, which occur with some regularity although drones may present a lower risk of civilian casualties than some other kinds of military action.

– Publius

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