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Posts Tagged ‘drone’

Pakistani Drone Strikes! Now, with 10% More Enemies!

June 30th, 2012 Comments off

“…Since Obama became President (and since the drone campaign accelerated in Pakistan), the number of Pakistanis who regard us as an enemy has gone up 10%, 5% in just the last year, to 74%.More dangerous still, Pakistanis don’t want our help fighting extremists, nor do they want to use the Pakistani army to fight extremists in their own country.
Additionally, over the last few years, Pakistanis have become less willing to work with the U.S. on efforts to combat extremist groups. While 50% still want the U.S. to provide financial and humanitarian aid to areas where extremists operate, this is down from 72% in 2009. Similarly, fewer Pakistanis now want intelligence and logistical support from the U.S. than they did three years ago. And only 17% back American drone strikes against leaders of extremist groups, even if they are conducted in conjunction with the Pakistani government.
Since 2009, the Pakistani public has also become less willing to use its own military to combat extremist groups. Three years ago, 53% favored using the army to fight extremists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but today just 32% hold this view. …”



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Graphs of Death: US Drone Strkes Visualized (Pegg)

June 28th, 2012 Comments off

David Pegg writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

These graphs accurately reflect the Bureau’s data on CIA drone strikes in Pakistan to the most recent strike.

They are designed to illustrate in the simplest possible way key statistical data from our investigation. Click on a graph to enlarge.

You are free to download and to reproduce them, provided the Bureau is credited.

 

A chart illustrating minimum total casualties, minimum reported civilian casualties and minimum casualties aged under 18.

 

This graph illustrates the minimum reported civilians killed in drone strikes year by year.

 

This graph shows the total number of people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes.

 

This graph shows the tally of total drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 – 2012.

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Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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What is the Government Hiding about its Drone Assassinations? (Currier)

June 26th, 2012 Comments off

Drone Documents: Why The Government Won’t Release Them

by Cora Currier ProPublica.

The covert U.S. effort to strike terrorist leaders using drones has moved further out of the shadows this year — targeted killing has been mentioned by President Obama and defended in speeches by Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. The White House recently declassified the fact that it is conducting military operations in Yemen and Somalia.

But for all the talk, the administration says it hasn’t officially confirmed particular strikes or the CIA’s involvement.

Over the past year, the American Civil Liberties Union and reporters at The New York Times have filed several requests under the Freedom of Information Act seeking information about the CIA’s drone program and the legal justification for attacks that killed terrorists and U.S. citizens. The government answered with a Glomar response — neither verifying nor denying that it has such documents.

So both the Times and the ACLU sued, claiming that there is widespread acknowledgement by government officials of drones and targeted killing, as well as the CIA’s involvement.

Last week, the Justice Department submitted a motion in a federal court in New York seeking to dismiss the lawsuits. The government’s argument, it turns out, mostly reiterates its Glomar response.

Any public statements by the administration, the motion states, were carefully phrased to avoid discussing specific operations and don’t constitute official acknowledgement of targeted killing or the drone program. This includes Obama’s statements on the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al Awlaki — “the President plainly did not acknowledge whether the United States was responsible for his death” — and Holder and Brennan’s speeches this spring, which, according to the motion, address only the “potential targeting” of U.S. citizens, but not specific operations.

However, the motion says the CIA can now acknowledge that it has some documents related to “the use of targeted lethal force” against U.S. citizens — including, namely, the public speeches given by Holder and Brennan this spring:

The motion cites some existing legal analysis related to targeted killing and those public speeches:

But it says the government can’t reveal more about the documents — neither their names nor how many there are:

Because whether or not the U.S. was involved in specific targeted killings, or whether the CIA is involved in targeted killing — at all — remains classified:

Similarly, the motion says that to acknowledge any number of records on drones would reveal whether the CIA possesses drones:

Finally, the government’s brief adds that a few of the documents sought by the FOIA requests could be identified but are protected under executive privilege — because they involve internal deliberations in the Office of Legal Counsel, or are related to preparations for public statements by administration officials or meetings with the president.

The ACLU’s deputy legal director said that the organization is preparing its opposition brief. A federal appeals court will hear arguments in September in another of the ACLU’s FOIA lawsuits over the CIA’s drone program.

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Mirrored from ProPublica

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Drone Questions for Americans (Jamiol Cartoon)

June 23rd, 2012 Comments off
Categories: Arab Blogs Tags: , , ,

Even Obama’s Own Drone Numbers Don’t Add Up (Elliott)

June 19th, 2012 Comments off

Justin Elliott writes at ProPublica:

Last month, a “senior administration official” said the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under President Obama is in the “single digits.” But last year “U.S. officials” said drones in Pakistan killed about 30 civilians in just a yearlong stretch under Obama.

Both claims can’t be true.

A centerpiece of President Obama’s national security strategy, drones strikes in Pakistan are credited by the administration with crippling Al Qaeda but criticized by human rights groups and others for being conducted in secret and killing civilians. The underlying facts are often in dispute and claims about how many people died and who they were vary widely.

So we decided to narrow it down to just one issue: have the administration’s own claims been consistent?

We collected claims by the administration about deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and compared each one not to local reports but rather to other administration claims. The numbers sometimes do not add up. (Check out our interactive graphic to explore the claims.)

Even setting aside the discrepancy between official and outside estimates of civilian deaths, our analysis shows that the administration’s own figures quoted over the years raise questions about their credibility.

There have been 307 American drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, according to a New America Foundation count. Just 44 occurred during the Bush administration. President Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones to attack suspected members of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and other groups in Pakistan’s remote northwest region.

Obama officials generally do not comment by name on the drone strikes in Pakistan, but they frequently talk about it to reporters (including us) on condition of anonymity. Often those anonymously sourced comments have come in response to outside tallies of civilian deaths from drone attacks, which are generally much higher than the administration’s own figures.

The outright contradiction we noted above comes from two claims made about a year apart:

* April 22, 2011 McClatchy reports that U.S. officials claim “about 30” civilians died in the year between August 2009 and August 2010.

* May 29, 2012 The New York Times reports that, according to a senior Obama administration official, the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under president Obama is in the “single digits.”

As we also show in our interactive graphic, other anonymous administration claims about civilian deaths are possible but imply conclusions that seem improbable.

Consider:

* April 26, 2010 The Washington Post quotes an “internal CIA accounting” saying that “just over 20 civilians” have been killed by drones in Pakistan since January 2009.

* Aug. 11, 2011 The New York Times reports that CIA officers claim zero civilians were killed since May 2010

* Aug. 12, 2011 CNN quoted a U.S. official saying there were 50 civilians killed over the years in drone strikes in Pakistan.

If this set of claims is assumed to be accurate, it suggests that the majority of the 50 total civilian deaths occurred during the Bush administration — when the drone program was still in its infancy. As we’ve noted, in the entire Bush administration, there were 44 strikes. In the Obama administration through Aug. 12, 2011, there were 222. So according to this set of claims more civilians died in just 44 strikes under Bush than did in 222 strikes under Obama. (Again, the graphic is helpful to assess the administration assertions.)

Consider also these three claims, which imply two lengthy periods when zero or almost zero civilians were killed in drone strikes:

* September 10, 2010 Newsweek quotes a government estimate that “about 30” civilians were killed since the beginning of 2008.

* April 22, 2011 McClatchy reports that U.S. officials claim “about 30” civilians died in the year between August 2009 and August 2010.

* July 15, 2011 Reuters quotes a source familiar with the drone program as saying “about 30” civilians were killed since July 2008.

It’s possible that all these claims are true. But if they are, it implies that the government believes there were zero or almost zero civilian deaths between the beginning of 2008 and August 2009, and then again zero deaths between August 2010 and July 2011. Those periods comprise a total of 182 strikes.

The administration has rejected in the strongest terms outside claims of a high civilian toll from the drone attacks.

Those outside estimates also vary widely. A count by Bill Roggio, editor of the website the Long War Journal, which bases its estimates on news reports, puts the number of civilian killed in Pakistan at 138. The New America Foundation estimates that, based on press reports, between 293 and 471 civilians have been killed in the attacks. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which draws on a wider array of sources including researchers and lawyers in Pakistan, puts the number of civilians killed at between 482 and 832. The authors of the various estimates all emphasize that their counts are imperfect.

There are likely multiple reasons for the varying counts of civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan. The attacks are executed remotely in often inaccessible regions. And there’s the question of who U.S. officials are counting as civilians. A story last month in the New York Times reported that President Obama adopted a policy that “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

There are also ongoing debates in the humanitarian law community about who the U.S. may legitimately target with drone strikes and how the CIA is applying the principle of proportionality — which holds that attacks that might cause civilian deaths must be proportional to the level of military advantage anticipated.

In a rare public comment on drone strikes, President Obama told an online town hall in January that the drones had not caused “a huge number of civilian casualties.”

When giving their own figures on civilian deaths, administration officials are often countering local reports. In March 2011, for example, Pakistanis including the country’s army chief accused a U.S. drone strike of hitting a peaceful meeting of tribal elders, killing around 40 people. An unnamed U.S. official rejected the accusations, telling the AP: “There’s every indication that this was a group of terrorists, not a charity car wash in the Pakistani hinterlands.”

Unnamed U.S. officials told the Los Angeles Times last year that “they are confident they know who has been killed because they watch each strike on video and gather intelligence in the aftermath, observing funerals for the dead and eavesdropping on conversations about the strikes.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said during a visit to Pakistan this month that there should be investigation of killings of civilians by drones and that victims should be compensated. The U.S. has given compensation to victims of airstrikes in Afghanistan but there are no reports of victims of drone strikes in Pakistan being compensated.

Since the various administration statements over the years were almost all quoted anonymously, it’s impossible to go back to the officials in question to ask them about contradictions.

Asked about the apparent contradictions, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told ProPublica: “[W]e simply do not comment on alleged drone strikes.”

Additional reporting by Cora Currier.

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Mirrored from ProPublica

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What Happens When THEY Get Drones?

June 18th, 2012 Comments off

“… The question that President Obama, who has admitted direct, routenized involvement in creating the drone ‘kill list‘, should ponder is what will happen as the barriers to entry on drone technology fall enough so that an adversary’s drones can be deployed against U.S. and allied forces and interests….”



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CIA ‘revives attacks on rescuers’ in Pakistan (Woods)

June 5th, 2012 Comments off

Chris Woods writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

CIA drones are reportedly reviving the use of highly-controversial tactics that target rescuers and funeral-goers.

On Monday US drones attacked rescuers in Waziristan in western Pakistan minutes after an initial strike, killing 16 people in total according to the BBC. On May 28, drones were also reported to have returned to the attack in Khassokhel near Mir Ali.

And on Sunday, a CIA drone strike targeted people gathered for funeral prayers of militant victims killed in an earlier attack. The intended Taliban targets appear to have survived, although up to ten people died. A mosque was also struck last week – possibly accidentally – killing at least three civilian worshippers.

The tactics may not be confined to Pakistan. In the Yemeni city of Jaar on May 15, a possible return US drone strike killed between 8 and 26 civilians, according to a USA Today report.

The deliberate targeting of rescuers and mourners by CIA drones was first exposed by the Bureau in February 2012, in a major joint investigation with the Sunday Times. On more than a dozen occasions between 2009 and June 2011, the CIA attacked rescuers as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured. Although Taliban members were killed on almost every occasion, so too were civilians – many of whom the Bureau’s field investigators were able to name. The investigation also reported that on at least three occasions the CIA had struck funeral-goers.

The UN Special Rapporteur called for an investigation into the Bureau’s findings at the time, with some international lawyers questioning the legality of the tactics.

Deteriorating relations
The last reported attack on rescuers in Pakistan was on July 12 2011. Their cessation coincided with the departure of CIA Director Leon Panetta.

The revival of the tactics – at a time of outspoken public attacks on the US drones campaign by the Pakistan government – appears to indicate a further deterioration of relations between the two countries.

The US had recently eased off on its drone strikes in Pakistan, as the two countries negotiated the possible resumption of NATO supply deliveries to Afghanistan via Pakistan territory.

However, the absence of a deal – and public US anger at a Pakistan court’s imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, a doctor who aided the CIA’s killing of Osama bin Laden – has seen a shift in strategy.

The Bureau’s data shows that since May 23 the US has launched eight CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, which have killed at least 48 people. Civilians have been reported killed in a number of those strikes.

The last occasion on which US strikes were at such an intensity was in June 2011, shortly after the death of bin Laden. At that time the CIA strikes were still thought to be with the tacit approval of Islamabad.

The Islamabad-based think tank the Conflict Monitoring Center has accused the United States of ‘a bid to punish Pakistan for its conviction of Dr. Afridi as well as its reluctance to reopen NATO supply routes.’

Follow chrisjwoods on Twitter

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Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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Everything you Always wanted to Know about Drones … (Currier)

June 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Cora Currier writes at ProPublica:

Everyone is talking about drones. Also known as Unmanned Arial Vehicles, or UAVs, remote-piloted aircrafts have become a controversial centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism strategy. Domestically, their surveillance power is being hyped for everything from fighting crime to monitoring hurricanes or spawning salmon. Meanwhile, concerns are cropping up about privacy, ethics and safety. We’ve rounded up some of the best coverage of drones to get you oriented. Did we miss anything? Let us know.


A Little History

The idea of unmanned flight had been around for decades, but it was in the 1990s, thanks to advances in GPS and computing, that the possibilities for drones really took off, as the New Yorker recently recounted. While hobbyists and researchers looked for uses for automated, airborne cameras, the military became the driving force behind drone developments. (This history from the Washington Post has more details) According to the Congressional Research Service, the military’s cache of U.A.V.’s has grown from just a handful in 2001 to more than 7,000 today. This New York Times graphic shows the variety of drones currently employed by the military — from the famous missile-launching Predator to tiny prototypes shaped like hummingbirds.

This February, Congress cleared the way for far more widespread use of drones by businesses, scientists, police and still unknown others. The Federal Aviation Administration will release a comprehensive set of rules on drones by 2015.


The Shadow Drone War: Obama’s Open Secret

As the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the Obama administration has escalated a mostly covert air war through clandestine bases in the U.S. and other countries. Just this week, the administration’s drone-driven national security policy was documented in this book excerpt by Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman and a New York Times article.

Both the CIA and military use drones for “targeted killings” of terrorist leaders. The strikes have been an awkward open secret, remaining officially classified while government officials mention them repeatedly. Obama admitted the program’s existence in an online chat in February, and his counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, gave a speech last month laying out the administration’s legal and ethical case for drone strikes.

The crux of it is that they are a precise and efficient form of warfare. Piloted from thousands of miles away (here’s an account from a base outside Las Vegas), they don’t put U.S. troops at risk, and, by the government’s count, harm few civilians.


How Many Civilians Do Drone Strikes Kill?

Statistics are hard to nail down. The Long War Journal and the New America Foundation track strikes and militant and civilian deaths, drawing mainly on media reports with the caveat that they can’t always be verified. The Long War Journal tallied 30 civilian deaths in Pakistan in 2011. Obama administration officials, the New York Times reported this week, have said that such deaths are few or in the “single digits.”

But the Times, citing “counterterrorism officials,” also reported that the U.S. classifies all military-age men in a drone strike zone to be militants, unless their innocence is proven after the attack. If that’s true, it raises questions about the government statistics on civilian casualties. One State Department official told the Times that the CIA might be overzealous in defining strike targets — he told them that “the joke was that when the C.I.A. sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks,’ the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp.


What About the Political Fallout?

The U.S. has also used airstrikes to side-step legal arguments about the boundaries of the campaign against al Qaeda. Both Bush and Obama administration officials have argued that Congress’ September 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force extends to al Qaeda operatives in any country, with or without the consent of local governments.

Drone strikes are extremely unpopular in the countries where they’re deployed. They’ve led to tense diplomatic maneuvers with Pakistan, and protests and radicalization in Yemen. Iraqis have also protested the State Department’s use of surveillance drones in their country.

Domestic concerns about civil liberties and due process in the secret air war were inflamed last fall, when a drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al Awlaki, an al Qaeda member and a U.S. citizen. Weeks later, Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son was also killed by a drone.


Costs and Crashes

Drones are cheap relative to most military manned planes, and they were a central feature of the Pentagon’s scaled-back budget this year. But drones aren’t immune from cost overruns. The latest version of the Global Hawk surveillance drone was put on the back-burner this January after years of expensive setbacks and questions about whether they were really better than the old U-2 spy planes they were slated to replace.

And while drones may not carry pilots, they can still crash. Wired has also reported on drones’ susceptibility to viruses.

Another problem? The Air Force is playing catch-up trying to train people to fly drones and analyze the mountains of data they produce, forcing them to sometimes rely on civilian contractors for sensitive missions, according to the LA Times. The New York Times reported that in 2011, the Air Force processed 1,500 hours of video and 1,500 still images daily, much of it from surveillance drones. An Air Force commander admitted this spring that it would take “years” to catch up on the data they’ve collected.


Drones, Coming to America…

There are already a number of non-military entities that the FAA has authorized to fly drones, including a handful of local police departments. How drones might change police work is still to be determined (the Seattle police department, for example, showed off a 3.5-pound camera-equipped drone with a battery life of a whopping 10 minutes.)

Police drones may soon be more widespread, as the FAA released temporary rules this month making it easier for police departments to get approval for UAVs weighing up to 25 pounds, and for emergency responders to use smaller drones. The Department of Homeland Security also announced a program to help local agencies integrate the technology — principally as cheaper and safer alternatives to helicopters for reconnaissance. The Border Patrol already has a small fleet of Predators for border surveillance.

Law enforcement officials are staving off a backlash from privacy advocates. The ACLU and other civil rights groups have raised concerns about privacy and Fourth Amendment rights from unprecedented surveillance capability — not to mention the potential of police drones armed with tear gas and rubber bullets, which some departments have proposed. Congressmen Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-chairs of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, have asked the FAA to address privacy concerns in their new guidelines.

One of the first drone-assisted arrests by a local police department took place in North Dakota this year, with the help of a borrowed DHS Predator. It was deployed, as the New Yorker detailed, to catch a group of renegade ranchers in a conflict that originated over a bale of hay.


Scholarly drones

Universities actually have the most permits to fly drones at this point, for research on everything from pesticide distribution to disaster preparation. As Salon points out, the Pentagon and military contractors are also big funders of university drone research.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that has been outspoken about privacy concerns related to drones, put together the map below of entities authorized to fly drones by the FAA.


Get Your Own Drone!

Could you, too, become the proud owner of a drone? At the low-end, a drone can be a glorified model helicopter, and there’s a dedicated community of DIY-drone builders. This fall, a group from Occupy Wall Street tried to use the “Occucopter” do their own surveillance of police movements.

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Mirrored from ProPublica

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Code Pink Takes on Obama’s Drones (Woods)

May 28th, 2012 Comments off

Chris Woods writes at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Walk into any US bookstore and the stacks are crowded with hundreds of books on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet more than a decade in, its hard to find anything on the escalating use of armed drones by the United States.

Now Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the US women-led peace movement Code Pink, is seeking to balance the shelves. Her new book Drone Warfare has just been published. Benjamin, along with Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights, also recently organised the first major international conference on drones in Washington DC.

The gathering coincided with the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing by US Special Forces. And just a day later, President Obama’s chief counter terrorism official John Brennan gave the most detailed insight yet into the ‘secret’ US drones programme. Benjamin was the sole protestor to disrupt the speech, as the press corps looked on.

In a candid interview with the Bureau following the conference, Medea Benjamin speaks about why the US peace movement has collapsed under Obama; of the challenges of taking on the drone war in a US election year, and of the message that US campaigners plan to take to Pakistan in a forthcoming trip.

Medea Benjamin disrupts Brennan’s big speech on drones

Q: You’ve been involved in peace activism for a long time, and were heavily involved in the Bush years. In some respects the wars go on but the peace movement doesn’t. How difficult is it to engage on drones with a Democratic administration in the White House, and how is this going to play out in an election year?

Medea Benjamin (MB): It’s terrible. The vast majority of people who were part of the peace movement under Bush have disappeared. Whether they’ve left because they want to leave it to Obama, and that they’re happy that he for the most part withdrew the troops from Iraq and they’re hoping he will do that shortly in Afghanistan, and think that the drones are an alternative to a broader war. Or it’s people who are excited about the Occupy movement and want to put their efforts into the first chance that they feel they’ve had in a long time to make some changes on the domestic front. Or they have been so financially devastated by the economic crisis that they really don’t have time to commit to these issues.

For all sorts of reasons our movement is a tiny portion of what it was under the Bush years. And that makes it very hard. And the fact that during this election campaign you don’t have a voice from the Left, you don’t have a Dennis Kucinich, you don’t have a Ralph Nader, and you don’t even have a Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican who is speaking out against the wars and the empire and the drone strikes.

So there’s going to be little debate on foreign policy during this election, and if anything, it’s going to be Mitt Romney saying ‘Don’t put a date for pulling the troops out of Afghanistan’. And I don’t think he’s going to criticise Obama at all on these drone strikes, if anything he’s totally gung-ho for it. So it’s going to be pretty miserable in terms of trying to insert this message into the elections.

There’s going to be little debate on foreign policy during this election.

We will try as much as we can, going out to events and being there with our model drones, and getting on the inside when we can, saying ‘Stop the killer drones!’ And we’ll be going to the conventions, will have contingents who’ll be marching against drones, against the killing of civilians, against the continued war in Afghanistan. But to be realistic, we are not a very strong force at the moment.

And I think we recognise that and we realise that we are starting from almost nothing at this point. When you see a devastating poll that says that 8 out of 10 Americans think it’s OK to kill terrorist suspects, and that it’s even OK to kill Americans with drones, we’ve got a lot of educating to do. So I think it’s going to take us a couple of years even to turn those polls around and then get onto the job of stopping the use of drones. So it’s not going to be easy.

Q: It seems a particularly testosterone-driven period at the moment, with the recent anniversary of bin Laden’s killing. US TV screens are full of a certain sort of swaggering male perspective. Code Pink is very much a women-driven organisation. How difficult is it to engage with that attitude?

MB: It’s very difficult to engage with that swagger, especially when that’s now coupled with a technology that people seem to just drool over. They love these drones, they love the hi-tech, there’s a fascination with it. It’s boys’ toys that get exhibited everywhere.

As we were meeting in our drone summit, there was a science fair going on in the Convention Center across the street from us, where they were simulating drones overhead in Washington DC for the kids. And the kids just loved it. So yes it’s swagger, it’s testosterone coupled with boys’ toys. Which makes it even more difficult.

So we women are up for the challenge [laughs] and we recognise that this is a moment when, just like after 9-11, women’s voices were needed more than ever. There’s the joking about drone strikes and the lies and the sense of statesmanship given to people who say that we don’t kill civilians with drones, who just out-and-out lie about it.

We’ve got to use the Code Pink tactics of interrupting these people, of direct action, of civil disobedience, of being out there with our pink handcuffs to try and arrest them and hold them accountable for war crimes. But let me just reiterate: in an election period, when our natural allies would be independents and Democrats, we’ll lose all the Democrats. People on the left, the progressives, will be very reluctant to criticise Obama.

Summit-goers outside the US Supreme Court express their views on drones


Q: How do you think the recent Washington drones summit went? And w
hy has it taken 11 years of bombing to get a conference like this in Washington?

MB: It’s a good question, and I would say a criticism of the entire anti-war movement here in the United States. I looked around and I thought, ‘It’s pathetic, why have we taken so long to get together on this?’ Sure we’ve had a lot of meetings and outside conferences and endless protests about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We’ve got to use the Code Pink tactics of interrupting these people, of direct action, of civil disobedience, of being out there with our pink handcuffs to try and arrest them and hold them accountable for war crimes.’

But we’ve kind of ignored the fact that our government is way ahead of us and while we’re focusing on the covert wars and the boots on the ground, our soldiers dying, they’re transforming the way they’re waging war and taking it out of the public view, spilling over into Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, and building up drone bases in Kuwait and Qatar and Ethiopia and Seychelles and Australia and Turkey, and on and on. So they’re not just one step ahead of us, they’re 1,000 steps ahead of us. And we should have had this conference a long time ago.

The only thing that we’re a bit ahead of the curve on is on the proliferation of drones here at home. That since the regulations haven’t yet been written by the Federal Aviation Administration, we have a chance to influence those. So that’s the one thing I feel somewhat good about.

But it’s terrible that it’s taken us so long to organise this. On the other hand people think of drones as just a piece of technology, so why would you organise around a piece of technology? You want to organise around the wars themselves.

Q: And what’s your answer to that? Isn’t it just another piece of technology? What’s different about drones?

MB: The difference with drones is that drones make these wars possible. From being able to wage them without even having to go to Congress, because according to the Administration’s definition of war, war is when you put your own soldiers’ lives at risk. And since we’re not doing that with drones, it’s not war, it doesn’t have to be agreed in Congress. It doesn’t even have to be open to the American people. It can be carried out in total secrecy.

And as some people said in the conference, drones are the only way to wage some of these battles because of the issue of national sovereignty. You could never get away with the boots on the ground. And because, for example with the terrain in Yemen, you wouldn’t be able to do it any other way than with drones.

So I think that drones are a special piece of technology that make extending these – I wouldn’t call them wars, they’re violent interventions – make them possible to do. So we do have to focus on the technology, but within the context of war.

According to the Administration, war is when you put your own soldiers’ lives at risk. And since we’re not doing that with drones, it’s not war, it doesn’t have to be agreed in Congress. It doesn’t even have to be open to the American people.’

Q: You’re now planning for a group trip to Pakistan. A critic at the recent conference said that people in the room were ‘naïve’, that their understanding of Pakistan was over-simplified and that there were far bigger issues there that were more important.

MB: I think there’s a certain truth to the fact that most of the people in the room were very unaware of the complexity of the situation in Pakistan. And so their own agenda is a pretty simple one. ‘I don’t want my government killing people without due process, whether Americans or people in other parts of the world. And I don’t think that makes me safer at home. I don’t think it makes the world a safer place.’

Pakistanis have their own complex internal situation, but they’re going to have to deal with it and our interference is not helping. So as Americans, to go in there with a simple message and say, ‘We don’t want our government violating your sovereignty, it is up to you to decide how to deal with your issues of Taliban and al Qaeda and terrorism and fundamentalism, and it’s up to us to make our government obey international law.’

So I think we stick to a pretty simple message. And say we don’t want to get involved in your internal affairs, they’re far too complex for us to even think that we can comprehend them… We just want to step aside and let you figure it out.

This is an edited version of a longer interview.

Follow @chrisjwoods and @medeabenjamin on Twitter

 

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Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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Riyadh’s Station Chief, John Brennan, Takes JSOC’s Drone Keys Away

May 22nd, 2012 Comments off