What if Drone Hit American Wedding”

e6c59edbbAn excellent piece in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf on a recent drone strike that attacked a wedding party convoy in Yemen killing 17 and critically wounding 9. Friedersdorf explains that if that happened in America all drone strikes in the U.S. would stop. He also goes on to make many other good points regarding the killing of innocents through drone strikes and how the government does not care.

Read Here.

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Blatant Hypocrisy in Manning Sentencing Phase by Prosecution

As the sentencing of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bradley Manning continues, a bit of sad hypocrisy from the military crept out today.  As reported by Reuters:

Testifying for the prosecution, (Navy Commander Youssef) Aboul-Enein said al Qaeda used a video Manning had provided to WikiLeaks of a U.S. helicopter gunship in 2007 firing at suspected insurgents in Baghdad. A dozen people were killed, including two Reuters news staff.

The helicopter also fired at a truck in which a child was seated, seriously wounding him.

Al Qaeda used the video to demonstrate to Muslims that “this could be your child,” Aboul-Enein said.

On the surface, a cynical person might point out the military is not saying the shooting of the child or the civilians was bad, just the releasing of the video showing the act.  And since I’m cynical, I’m pointing that out.

But if a wounded or dead child is a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, then we must ask what has been more useful for the organization.  Is the one video of a child being shot more effective than the children killed by drone strikes?  We recently learned 94 children were confirmed to be killed by drones in Pakistan between 2006 and 2009 and the total number is likely close to 200 at this point.

And this is completely ignoring the larger number of civilians killed during the same time period.

If the military is going to convict and sentence one of its own based on the notion that the revealing of harm done to a child is a good recruiting tool for the enemy, then maybe it’s time the military reexamines how it is fighting the War on Terror.  If that is not done, then this is simply hypocrisy at its worst and a long sentence (or any prison time at all) given to Manning will only exemplify that.

Drone Attacks Receive Analysis Today in NYT

JP-DRONES-articleLargeA good article in the NYT on various things regarding the drone strike policy. Pres. Obama plans to lay out new architecture of usage in speech today, drone strikes have decreased from 2010 on, and quotes from high-ranking critics are also included in the piece. Must read.

Read Here.

How Healthy is Government Secrecy?

One of the most important aspects of government, regardless of whether we are discussing democracy or authoritarianism, is government secrecy.  This can show up in many forms but one of the key reasons for its existence is the illusion of competency at all times by the ruling entity.  The risk the ruling elite face when something damaging reaches the masses is too great no matter how small or big.  If this were ancient times, for example, an Egyptian pharaoh would not want the people realizing he does not actually possess supernatural powers.  In today’s more democratic world, governments do not want people knowing anything that may be used to put their reelection chances in jeopardy.

An article in The Guardian this weekend gives the perspective of what dangers may come from one former U.S. government insider William Leonard, ex-head of the Information Security Oversight Office from 2002 to 2007.  Leonard points out the amount of documents being kept secret has expanded greatly over the past two administrations and wonders how positive this is for the public.  He sums up the most lethal actions in this statement:

Governments have decided under the cloak of secrecy to unleash the brutality of violence in our name and that of our fellow citizens. So extra judicial kidnapping becomes ‘rendition’, torture becomes ‘enhanced interrogation’, detainees are held on information that barely qualifies as hearsay, and assassination becomes ‘targeted killing’.

One always must remember that in a democracy the actions taken by the government are always assumed to be the will of the people no matter how horrible those actions may be.  Take U.S. support in the past for former dictatorial strongmen around the world.  The Shah in Iran.  Mubarak in Egypt.  Hussein in Iraq.  The American people were never asked whether we wanted to support these men and, if aware of their actions and not fed their “shining” personalities through the lens of the government wanting to support them, would not likely have condoned U.S. support.  But, since we democratically elect our leaders, it is assumed our government’s actions are our will.

Which brings us to a few more articles that appeared over the weekend.  It was revealed by a UN investigator on Friday the Pakistani government does not officially sanction U.S. drone strikes on its soil.  Although it does appear likely that a secret understanding exists between the U.S. and Pakistani governments over this policy, the strikes are so unpopular in Pakistan the government must maintain a veil of innocence regardless of whether they approve or not.  As stated in the article, “it is estimated that between 2004 and 2013, CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed up to 3,460 people.  About 890 of them were civilians.”  Judging from their cooperation (Pakistan’s government, not its people) and lack of true outrage at the U.S., it seems very likely that secret agreement is very real.

This leads to another article on drones and an issue that has been hotly debated but might be a colossal distraction from a bigger problem (a possibly welcomed distraction by the U.S. government).  Jonathan Hafetz, Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law, points out in an op-ed that debating whether U.S. citizens should or shouldn’t be targeted by drones distracts us away from the use of drones themselves and the thousands that have been killed by them, whether guilty or innocent.  Hafetz states there have only been two cases of American citizens being targeted by drones in comparison to the thousands of foreign nationals who have suffered the same fate.  His most important points:

Despite increases in the accuracy of drone strikes, errors still occur. Those errors have a devastating effect not just on the family members of victims and their communities, but also influence opinions about the US in countries where the strikes occur. One consequence is to increase radicalisation and undermine support for US counterterrorism operations – precisely the result the US wants to avoid.

Another consequence is the precedent the US is setting on the international stage. Over time, more countries will have access to this new technology, which they may use against perceived threats in ways the US does not like and that could unleash destabilising forces. The US will be in a stronger position to exercise leadership in this area in the future if it acts responsibly now and conforms its conduct to broadly accepted legal principles. In the final analysis, the US will be judged by how it uses drones not against its own citizens, but against others.

Every mistake made in drone policy has devastating consequences and all of those mistakes are not viewed by foreign peoples as an error in judgement by a few officials in government.  It is seen as a mistake by the U.S.A. no matter what state you live in or who you voted for.

Which brings us to one last issue in relation to government secrecy that arose this weekend.  In an interview with Israeli TV, President Obama stated, “right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close.”  This somewhat echoes the recent revelation by Israeli intelligence that they believe Iran will not have a nuclear weapon until 2015 or 2016 but does not tell us why Obama believes that or what type of intelligence we have that Iran is even pursuing a nuclear weapon in the first place.  This being the case, are we truly willing to allow Iranian blood (or anyone’s blood for that matter) to be shed with little to no evidence given to the American people as to why the attack on Iran is even needed?

All of this being said, is government secrecy in a democracy healthy?  Let’s take two relatively recent cases where government incompetency was exposed and might have been avoided if the public had increased transparency to what the government was actually doing.  First, a small one, the GSA scandal over the agency’s conference in Las Vegas.  The cost of this was relatively small and the scandal not particularly devastating but it rightly deserved to be shown for what it was, a gross excess by irresponsible government employees.  If those at fault had been aware of possible public scrutiny and were more fearful of exposure of their extravagances, they likely would not have been so careless in the first place and the hundreds of thousands in wasted taxpayer dollars would have not been spent.  Second, a bigger and more devastating instance of government secrecy: the Iraq War.  If the public was aware of how shaky the intelligence was regarding the WMDs, would the war have been allowed to begin in the first place?  Not likely and, again, money and, more importantly, lives would have been saved before the government was allowed to carry out its incompetent action.

Some may make the argument a certain level of government secrecy is needed, for instance how to build a nuclear bomb and where these bombs are being housed.  Fair enough.  But that has seemingly been expanded to new levels and is growing in ways that are certainly unhealthy to the public the government is supposed to be serving and representing.  With the amount of media outlets available today, more government transparency would be healthy regardless of political leanings.  The number of enterprising reporters doing investigative work would ensure that every level of government is kept under the watchful eye of the public and fewer and fewer instances of carelessness would occur.  When you know someone is looking closely over your shoulder, you make sure you are doing the best work possible, which is something we are at liberty to want and should expect out of our government.

But this will not happen if government secrecy continues to expand.  The time has come to further question what we need to know about government and what we will allow to occur in our names.  The difficult part is having one of the political parties swallow its pride and say they will allow this while they are in power and are potentially exposed to the effects of more transparency.  It is up to us to demand this change in the relationship of public and government from the political party we support for the greater good of everyone, whether we live on American soil or anywhere else on Earth.

Drone Strikes Okay Only Under Obama

obama_drone-620x412A good piece in Salon, dated Feb. 19th, on the differences between those who are “racially liberal” or “racially conservative” when it comes to supporting Obama on many issues. But at the end, and most importantly, the cited study shows that liberals are giving Obama more leeway on authorizing drone strikes rather than if it was Pres. Bush or some other conservative politician. It’s as if they trust Pres. Obama’s judgement more of who is a terrorist and who is not, who needs to be killed and who does not, than they would if a conservative president were in office.

Read Here.

Obama and Krauthammer: Both Wrong on Drones

After reading some of the debate on drones last week, some points from the very pro-drone side were rather disturbing.  In an online chat, President Obama made a few statements that make little sense when considering the policy he has carried out for so long:

“What I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing…That (drone strikes) is something I take very seriously,” Obama said. “I am not somebody who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants or whatever she wants whenever they want under the guise of terrorism.”

The first hypocritical part of this statement should be obvious.  If the president really didn’t want the public to just take his word for it, why didn’t that change years ago and why wait until now to even mention it?  There is little doubt the use of drones has been and will continue to be a very classified action.  But what is true transparency in this case?  Clearly, the names of the targets can’t be released and judged by the public prior to the strike and there is a possible risk in releasing them after a successful attack because sources could be put in harms way.  So what can we really expect here? 

The answer is likely the same info we are getting now on these attacks and the president is well aware of this.  Little will change in terms of the policy on drones and how much info makes its way to the public simply because of the nature of the operations.

The second hypocritical part about the president’s authority in these matters is similar to the above reasons.  Again, the fact that the policy has been carried out for so many years now under different presidents and in many different countries, including nations we weren’t invading such as Pakistan and Yemen, contradicts Obama’s statement.  If the president doesn’t have such authority, at what point was the American public consulted on the use of this type of force and handed down its approval?

Let’s take an example regarding drones: the designation of all military age males killed by a drone to be labeled enemy combatants regardless of info on them.  This decision was obviously made in the interest of fighting the War on Terror and also as a ruse to hide the true number of civilian casualties and I do not recall the public approving this change.  This was purely a cosmetic adjustment to the policy in order for the United States to save face around the world by decreasing the reported number of civilian casualties.

Not only is this appalling, it also contradicts the idea of transparency the president is allegedly so concerned about.  If the military reports a drone attack kills eight terrorists, the public does not question the policy or look much further at its success.  If the reality was two terrorists were killed along with a group of 15 and 16 year old boys outside the building playing soccer, the public around the world would want more answers.  This policy helps hide the truth of the events and decreases transparency.

But, of course, the victims could be posthumously proven innocent if info is found.  And my guess would be the U.S. military spends approximately less than zero dollars trying to do just that.

The other disturbing piece on drones was the argument put forth by right wing op-ed columnist Charles Krauthammer.  My key concern is with the following snippet from his article:

Okay, you say. But today’s war is entirely different: no front line, no end in sight.

So what? It’s the jihadists who decided to make the world a battlefield and to wage war in perpetuity. Until they abandon the field, what choice do we have but to carry the fight to them?

The main question to ask here is: what does it mean for a terrorist to “abandon the field”?  How do we really know when this happens and, if we don’t, how can we be sure of who is being attacked?  Let’s apply this idea to a hypothetical scenario just to exemplify the difficulty.

Let’s say a country houses 1000 terrorists inside its borders with 250 each in the north, south, east and west.  Let’s assume the U.S. has info on all of the suspects involved and are in the process of planning a strike.  Let’s say from initial info to attack it takes three months for the drone strike to occur (remember in bin Laden’s case, the initial break on the courier came roughly 8-9 months prior to his death even though this wasn’t a drone strike).

Now, let’s assume one month after receiving that info the group in the north decides to “abandon the field” and wants to just continue life without aggression.  How would our intelligence be sure to figure this out before a strike?  Satellite data would show the men would be gathering at the same places around the city, particularly the same places of worship.  They would still be gathering and talking to each other from our perspective.  And we would be assuming they were still planning.  So the strike still takes place.

And what just happened?  The rage of 250 families plus many friends and neighbors is directed at the U.S. people for this attack.  And in all likelihood, more than 250 terrorists were just created by a critical fault in the drone policy.

The idea of everyone with enough rage inside to kill others abandoning the field is a very nice thought.  But in this War on Terror, this war with “no front line, no end in sight”, the definition of how to abandon the field needs to be very specifically stated and this is the downfall of Krauthammer’s argument when applied to the real world.

The key here is there really is no way for a terrorist to show they are giving up the idea of striking at the West.  They can’t exactly knock on the Pentagon’s door from across the ocean or sign a peace treaty.  The onus is then put not the terrorist but on the aggressor, otherwise known as the United States, to decide whether a suspect lives peacefully or tries to live through a drone strike on their home.  This is why transparency is critical and why my earlier article mentioning the little evidence needed to carry out a drone strike is potentially horrific.

Terrorists have no way to show they are surrendering in this type of war if we give them no way out, particularly when we are willing to attack with suspect evidence against certain persons.  And if that is the case, the cycle of violence between the United States and radical Islamists will just continue forever.

What About “Drone-Strike Courtsd”?

Predator-DroneAn excellent article in The Atlantic on the infeasibility of the judiciary to form a “drone court” to be appealed to by the executive branch before a striking an American citizen(s) suspected of terrorism. The article puts major doubts forward including running up against Article III of the Constitution, citing what criteria for the court to apply, and what occurs, since we’re in a time of war, when quick decisions are required?

Read Here.

Kratuhammer: The Right on Drone Strikes

Predator-DroneIt’s interesting to look at the other side of a debate on such serious issues as drone strikes on American citizens even if you don’t agree because it opens your mind. So all you fellow “lefties” need to read this op-ed in The Post by Charles Krauthammer and take a fresh look, even if you disagree as I do, on the use of drone attacks by the president against al-Quaida members to see where our opponents stand.

Read Here.

New Court for Drone Strike Approval Debated

imagesA good article in the NYT on rather the judicial system should create a new branch to approve or disapprove of targeted drone strikes in an effort to provide more oversight. This report lists many of the pros and cons of such a system. Good debate.

Read Here.

Drone Strikes Creating More Terrorists?

imagesA good article in the NYT regarding John Brennan’s upcoming testimony this Thursday on the clandestine drone attack campaigns taking place in countries like Yemen, Pakistan, and Sudan. It explores many individual examples of drone strikes that kill innocents or very low-ranking Al-Quaida members. But what struck me in this article was the points it made that seem similar to the Vietnam War. First, we are attacking countries that we do not understand socially, politically, or ideologically. Secondly, attempts on Quaida leaders that end up killing numbers of civilians could drive the ordinary Yemeni to action. This same thing happened in Vietnam. The American bombings of South Vietnam to force Vietnamese civilians into refugee camps so they could no longer aid the Viet Cong-dynamic is also present here. Like the Viet Cong, many Yemenis may not be for Al-Quaida, but joining “the base” is the only way to strike back at the U.S. which has taken close relatives or neighbor’s lives with drone missiles.

Read Here.