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Five Specific Questions Journalists Should Ask About the Drone Strike Policy

Before Monday night’s presidential debate, many of us urged Bob Schieffer to ask a question about drone strikes.

And, in fact – credit where credit is due – Bob Schieffer did ask a question about drones.

It can’t be said that we learned a great deal directly from the interaction. For reasons that aren’t really clear, Schieffer asked his question only of Mitt Romney. Here was the exchange:

SCHIEFFER: Let — let me ask you, Governor because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?
ROMNEY: Well I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

Schieffer’s choice to exclude President Obama was odd. About any current Administration policy one could say that we know Obama’s policy; after all, he’s in charge. The point is to give him the opportunity to defend his policy and to say what he intends to do going forward. Arguably we know Obama’s policy on health care reform, because he’s in charge of a policy that is being implemented. Would a debate moderator say: “let me ask you, Governor because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on health care reform?”

And so, using language Malcolm X might have appreciated – “we should use any and all means necessary” – Romney endorsed the President’s policy. [For those scoring at home, it’s a basic principle of the law of armed conflict that combatants do not get to use “any and all means necessary.”] So, at this level of abstraction, the candidates agree.

Nonetheless, the exchange was useful, because it put the issue on the table for discussion. Schieffer didn’t take the ball far, but he got it on the field, and that’s more than anyone else of his stature had previously done. As Mark Weisbrot noted at the Guardian, “It was a victory just to have drones mentioned.”

Others picked up the discussion. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough said:

What we are doing with drones is remarkable. The fact that … over George W. Bush’s eight years when a lot of people brought up a bunch of legitimate questions about international law–my God, those lines have been completely eradicated in a drone policy that says that, if you’re between 17 and 30, and you’re within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up. And that’s exactly what’s happening.

Joe Klein responded:

But the bottom line in the end is: whose four year-old gets killed? What we’re doing … is limiting the possibility that four year-olds here are going to get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror

Writing in the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald noted that “Klein’s justification – we have to kill their children in order to protect our children – is the exact mentality of every person deemed in US discourse to be a ‘terrorist'” and that “Slaughtering Muslim children does not protect American children from terrorism.”

But it should also be noted that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan currently are not really about protecting civilians in the United States from terrorist attacks in any event. U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan today are primarily an extension of the war in Afghanistan, targeting suspected militants believed to be planning to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Since the majority of Americans oppose the war the war in Afghanistan and want U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, this is a highly relevant political fact: U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are being carried out in support of a war in Afghanistan that most Americans oppose. Pretending that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are about protecting civilians in the United States when they are primarily about extending the unpopular Afghanistan war across the border with Pakistan is therefore a pretty significant deceit.

The best solution to the problem of people trying to attack our troops in other people’s countries is to get our troops out of other people’s countries where people are likely to attack them.

When U.S. troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, as most Americans want, then there will be no reason to use drone strikes to target militants in Pakistan who are trying to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan, because there will be no militants in Pakistan trying to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan, because there will be no U.S. troops in Afghanistan for them to attack. The situation is analogous to that which we faced in Iraq during the Bush Administration: we were told we had to keep our troops in Iraq to fight the people who were attacking our troops in Iraq, but the people attacking our troops were attacking our troops because they were there. Now that our troops have left Iraq, no-one is attacking our troops in Iraq anymore. The best solution to the problem of people trying to attack our troops in other people’s countries is to get our troops out of other people’s countries where people are likely to attack them.

Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that the mere existence of drone strikes is not the focus of international criticism. It is specific features of the drone strike policy which are overwhelmingly the focus of international criticism. There is relatively little international criticism, for example, about the U.S. use of drone strikes in Afghanistan compared to other use of air power, given that whether one supports or opposes it, the war in Afghanistan is generally considered internationally to be lawful overall [which is different from saying that specific actions within the war are lawful]. But there is a great deal of international criticism about the U.S. use of drone strikes in Pakistan, where considerable international opinion does not accept that the U.S. is conducting a lawful war.

And this is why, although it was a great first step that Bob Schieffer even said the word “drone” and made Mitt Romney say it too, to let politicians merely answer the question at this level of abstraction – “I support drone strikes, too” – is to let them off the hook. It’s crucial to drive down into the details of the policy as it exists today and get politicians on the record saying not just whether they support drone strikes as an abstraction but whether they support the details of the policy as it is being implemented today. And this is even more important now, given recent press reports that the current policy is being made permanent.

And this is why it would be tremendously useful if the high-profile TV talk shows would take this on, and devote enough time to it to drive down into details. CBS‘s Bob Schieffer (Face the Nation), NBC‘s David Gregory and Betsy Fischer (Meet the Press), CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour, and MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow should all be pressed to drive down into the detail of the current drone strike policy. It would be tremendously useful, for example, if these shows would invite the authors of the recent Stanford/NYU report on drone strikes on as guests and invite an Administration surrogate to respond in detail.

Here are five specific questions that it would be really helpful if these shows would explore:

1. The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan recently acknowledged that 1) the U.S. government has an official count of the number of civilians the U.S. thinks have been killed in Pakistan as a result of U.S. drone strikes since July 2008 and that 2) this number is classified. What is this number, and why is it classified?

2. Journalists and independent researchers have reported that the U.S. has targeted rescuers with “secondary” or “follow-up” drone strikes. International law experts have said that if this is true, this is clearly a war crime under international law. The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan has denied that the U.S. is targeting rescuers and has denied that the U.S. is conducting secondary strikes. What is the truth here? Is the U.S. targeting rescuers, or not? Is the U.S. conducting “secondary” strikes, or not? If the U.S. is targeting rescuers, is this a war crime?

3. Pakistani officials say they oppose U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. The Pakistani parliament unanimously demanded that they stop. But U.S. officials claim that the Pakistani military has secretly approved the strikes. What is the truth here? If there is secret approval by the Pakistani military, but not by the democratically elected Pakistani government, should we be satisfied by that? Is such a situation politically sustainable in Pakistan? If there is not secret approval, is the U.S. violating international law with its drone strike policy? If the Pakistani military accepts some U.S. drone strikes but not others, does that count as approval of the drone strikes which the Pakistani military opposes, for the purposes of international law? If not, doesn’t that imply that the U.S. is violating international law, even if the Pakistani military approves some drone strikes?

4. U.S. officials have claimed that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are narrowly targeted on top level terrorist suspects. But the U.S. is reported to be conducting “signature strikes” on unknown targets based on signals intelligence indicating “suspicious activity.” How is this consistent with the claim that the strikes are narrowly targeted on top level terrorist suspects?

5. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan has claimed that civilian deaths in U.S. drone strikes have been “exceedingly rare.” The international humanitarian law principle of proportionality in armed conflict requires that civilian harm not be excessive in relation to anticipated military advantage. It has been reported that a mere 2% of the deaths in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 have been high level targets, while at least 15-30% of the deaths have been civilians. Are these numbers basically correct? If so, is it honest to say that civilian deaths have been “exceedingly rare”? If these numbers are basically correct, is the U.S. violating the international law principle of proportionality?

If you’d like the big TV talk shows to take these questions on, you can tell them so here.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/26-0

The SAME Unaccountable Government Agency Which Spies on ALL Americans Also Decides Who Gets ASSASSINATED by Drones

“The [Government Agency] — Now Vested With The Power To Determine The Proper ‘Disposition’ Of Terrorist Suspects — Is The SAME AGENCY That Is At The Center Of The Ubiquitous, Unaccountable Surveillance State Aimed At American Citizens.”

The Washington Post reports that the same agency which spies on all Americans also decides who is assassinated by drone or otherwise.

Over the pas. two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprintfor pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.

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Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.

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White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced.

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The United States now operates multiple drone programs, including acknowledged U.S. military patrols over conflict zones in Afghanistan and Libya, and classified CIA surveillance flights over Iran.

Strikes against al-Qaeda, however, are carried out under secret lethal programs involving the CIA and JSOC. The matrix was developed by the NCTC [the National Counterterrorism Center], under former director Michael Leiter, to augment those organizations’ separate but overlapping kill lists, officials said.

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The result is a single, continually evolving database in which biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations are all catalogued. So are strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols.

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The database is meant to map out contingencies, creating an operational menu that spells out each agency’s role in case a suspect surfaces in an unexpected spot. “If he’s in Saudi Arabia, pick up with the Saudis,” the former official said. “If traveling overseas to al-Shabaab [in Somalia] we can pick him up by ship. If in Yemen, kill or have the Yemenis pick him up.”

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The administration has also elevated the role of the NCTC, which was conceived as a clearinghouse for threat data and has no operational capability. Under Brennan, who served as its founding director, the center has emerged as a targeting hub.

As Glenn Greenwald notes:

The central role played by the NCTC in determining who should be killed – “It is the keeper of the criteria,” says one official to the Post – is, by itself, rather odious. As Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusetts noted in response to this story, the ACLU has long warned that the real purpose of the NCTC – despite its nominal focus on terrorism – is the “massive, secretive data collection and mining of trillions of points of data about most people in the United States”.

In particular, the NCTC operates a gigantic data-mining operation, in which all sorts of information about innocent Americans is systematically monitored, stored, and analyzed. This includes “records from law enforcement investigations, health information, employment history, travel and student records” – “literally anything the government collects would be fair game”. In other words, the NCTC – now vested with the power to determine the proper “disposition” of terrorist suspects – is the same agency that is at the center of the ubiquitous, unaccountable surveillance state aimed at American citizens.

Worse still, as the ACLU’s legislative counsel Chris Calabrese documented back in July in a must-read analysis, Obama officials very recently abolished safeguards on how this information can be used. Whereas the agency, during the Bush years, was barred from storing non-terrorist-related information about innocent Americans for more than 180 days – a limit which “meant that NCTC was dissuaded from collecting large databases filled with information on innocent Americans” – it is now free to do so. Obama officials eliminated this constraint by authorizing the NCTC “to collect and ‘continually assess’ information on innocent Americans for up to five years”.

And, as usual, this agency engages in these incredibly powerful and invasive processes with virtually no democratic accountability:

“All of this is happening with very little oversight. Controls over the NCTC are mostly internal to the DNI’s office, and important oversight bodies such as Congress and the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board aren’t notified even of ‘significant’ failures to comply with the GuidelinesFundamental legal protections are being sidestepped. For example, under the new guidelines, Privacy Act notices (legal requirements to describe how databases are used) must be completed by the agency that collected the information. This is in spite of the fact that those agencies have no idea what NCTC is actually doing with the information once it collects it.

“All of this amounts to a reboot of the Total Information Awareness Program that Americans rejected so vigorously right after 9/11.

What has been created here – permanently institutionalized – is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a “matrix” that determines the “disposition” of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be “disposed” of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.

Americans on U.S. Soil May Be Targeted

This might be acceptable if the U.S. government was only targeting really bad guys, and if drones were not being used inside the borders of America itself.

But drones are becoming pervasive within the U.S.  Indeed, some of the numerous drones flying over American soil – projected by the FAA to reach 30,000 drones by 2020 – are starting to carry arms.

When torture memo writer John Yoo was asked last year whether drones could kill people within the United States, he replied yes – if we were in a time of war:

(Of course, since the U.S. has declared a perpetual war – and see this–  drones will always be in fashion.)

Indeed, the military now considers the U.S. homeland to be a battlefield.  The U.S. is already allowing military operations within the United States.    Indeed, the Army is already being deployed on U.S. soil, and the military is conducting numerous training exercises on American streets. And see this.

Government officials have said that Americans can be targets in the war on terror.   Obama has authorized “targeted assassinations” against U.S. citizens.

And it is not very comforting that the U.S. government labels just about every U.S. citizen as a potential terrorists.

The U.S. Activates Skynet

In the Terminator science fiction series, computers and machines – organized by “Skynet” – track people down who threaten the status quo of the machines and then selectively assassinate them.

The powers given to the NCTC remind me of Skynet. Especially given how fast the military is advancing its robotic capabilities:

They remind others of The Matrix.

Greenwald comments on the machine-like aspect the NCTC’s operations:

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, writing today about the Post article, reports:

“Recently, I spoke to a military official with extensive and wide-ranging experience in the special operations world, and who has had direct exposure to the targeted killing program. To emphasize how easy targeted killings by special operations forces or drones has become, this official flicked his hand back over and over, stating: ‘It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?’”

That is disturbingly consistent with prior reports that the military’s term for drone victims is “bug splat”. This – this warped power and the accompanying dehumanizing mindset – is what is being institutionalized as a permanent fixture in American political life by the current president.

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At Wired, Spencer Ackerman reacts to the Post article with an analysis entitled “President Romney Can Thank Obama for His Permanent Robotic Death List”. Here is his concluding paragraph:

“Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy. . . . Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations writes that Obama’s predecessors in the Bush administration ‘were actually much more conscious and thoughtful about the long-term implications of targeted killings’, because they feared the political consequences that might come when the U.S. embraces something at least superficially similar to assassination. Whoever follows Obama in the Oval Office can thank him for proving those consequences don’t meaningfully exist — as he or she reviews the backlog of names on the Disposition Matrix.”

But one thing is clear.  Warmongering is always good for the super-elite, and bad for everyone else … And itdestroys freedom and prosperity.

Given that the national security apparatus has been hijacked to serve the needs of big business and to crush dissent, it’s not far-fetched to think that information gained from drones will be used for purposes that are not necessarily in the best interests of the American people.

As Greenwald notes:

The core guarantee of western justice since the Magna Carta was codified in the US by the fifth amendment to the constitution: “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” You simply cannot have a free society, a worthwhile political system, without that guarantee, that constraint on the ultimate abusive state power, being honored.

And yet what the Post is describing, what we have had for years, is a system of government that – without hyperbole – is the very antithesis of that liberty. It is literally impossible to imagine a more violent repudiation of the basic blueprint of the republic than the development of a secretive, totally unaccountable executive branch agency that simultaneously collects information about all citizens and then applies a “disposition matrix” to determine what punishment should be meted out. This is classic political dystopia brought to reality (despite how compelled such a conclusion is by these indisputable facts, many Americans will view such a claim as an exaggeration, paranoia, or worse because of this psychological dynamic I described here which leads many good passive westerners to believe that true oppression, by definition, is something that happens only elsewhere).

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As the Founders all recognized, nothing vests elites with power – and profit – more than a state of war. That is why there were supposed to be substantial barriers to having them start and continue – the need for a Congressional declaration, the constitutional bar on funding the military for more than two years at a time, the prohibition on standing armies, etc. Here is how John Jay put it in Federalist No 4:

“It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.”

In sum, there are factions in many governments that crave a state of endless war because that is when power is least constrained and profit most abundant. What the Post is reporting is yet another significant step toward that state, and it is undoubtedly driven, at least on the part of some, by a self-interested desire to ensure the continuation of endless war and the powers and benefits it vests. So to answer Hayes’ question: the endless expansion of a kill list and the unaccountable, always-expanding powers needed to implement it does indeed represent a great success for many. Read what John Jay wrote in the above passage to see why that is, and why few, if any, political developments should be regarded as more pernicious.

Note: While it may be tempting to say that spying and assassination are part of the new “post-9/11 reality”,  widespread spying on Americans, assassination, militarization of the police, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention,  and most of the other abuses were launched or contemplated long before 9/11.

http://fromthetrenchesworldreport.com/the-same-unaccountable-government-agency-which-spies-on-all-americans-also-decides-who-gets-assassinated-by-drones/24393/

America’s Drone Terrorism

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the U.S. safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.

This narrative is false.

Those are the understated opening words of a disturbing, though unsurprising, nine-month study of the Obama administration’s official, yet unacknowledged, remote-controlled bombing campaign in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, near Afghanistan. The report, “Living Under Drones,” is a joint effort by the New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic and Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic.

The NYU/Stanford report goes beyond reporting estimates of the civilian casualties inflicted by the deadly and illegal U.S. campaign. It also documents the hell the Pakistanis endure under President Barack Obama’s policy, which includes a “kill list” from which he personally selects targets. That hell shouldn’t be hard to imagine. Picture yourself living in an area routinely visited from the air by pilotless aircraft carrying Hellfire missiles. This policy is hardly calculated to win friends for the United States.

Defenders of the U.S. campaign say that militants in Pakistan threaten American troops in Afghanistan as well as Pakistani civilians. Of course, there is an easy way to protect American troops: bring them home. The 11-year-long Afghan war holds no benefits whatever for the security of the American people. On the contrary, it endangers Americans by creating hostility and promoting recruitment for anti-American groups.

The official U.S. line is that America’s invasion of Afghanistan was intended to eradicate al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who harbored them. Yet the practical effect of the invasion and related policies, including the invasion of Iraq and the bombing in Yemen and Somalia, has been to facilitate the spread of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups.

U.S. policy is a textbook case of precisely how to magnify the very threat that supposedly motivated the policy. The Obama administration now warns of threats from Libya — where the U.S. consulate was attacked and the ambassador killed — and Syria. Thanks to U.S. policy, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan spawned al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

If that’s success, what would failure look like?

Regarding Pakistani civilians, the report states,

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.… It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of U.S. efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562–3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474–881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228–1,362 individuals.

The Obama administration denies that it has killed civilians, but bear in mind that it considers any male of military age a “militant.” This is not to be taken seriously.

The report goes on,

U.S. drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury.Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.

It’s even worse than it sounds:

The U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups.

How can Americans tolerate this murder and trauma committed in their name? But don’t expect a discussion of this in Monday night’s foreign-policy debate. Mitt Romney endorses America’s drone terrorism.

http://www.fff.org/comment/com1210q.asp

WikiLeaks: Iraqi children in U.S. raid shot in head, U.N. says

This official police document contains allegations that American soldiers killed 11 Iraqi civilians in the village of Ishaqi on Wednesday, March 15, 2006.

This cell phone photo was shot by a resident of Ishaqi on March 15, 2006, of bodies Iraqi police said were of children executed by U.S. troops after a night raid there. Here, the bodies of the five children are wrapped in blankets and laid in a pickup bed to be taken for burial. A State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks quotes the U.N. investigator of extrajudicial killings as saying an autopsy showed the residents of the house had been handcuffed and shot in the head, including children under the age of 5. McClatchy obtained the photo from a resident when the incident occurred.

 

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.

The unclassified cable, which was posted on WikiLeaks’ website last week, contained questions from a United Nations investigator about the incident, which had angered local Iraqi officials, who demanded some kind of action from their government. U.S. officials denied at the time that anything inappropriate had occurred.

But Philip Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a communication to American officials dated 12 days after the March 15, 2006, incident that autopsies performed in the Iraqi city of Tikrit showed that all the dead had been handcuffed and shot in the head. Among the dead were four women and five children. The children were all 5 years old or younger.

Reached by email Wednesday, Alston said that as of 2010 — the most recent data he had — U.S. officials hadn’t responded to his request for information and that Iraq’s government also hadn’t been forthcoming. He said the lack of response from the United States “was the case with most of the letters to the U.S. in the 2006-2007 period,” when fighting in Iraq peaked.

Alston said he could provide no further information on the incident. “The tragedy,” he said, “is that this elaborate system of communications is in place but the (U.N.) Human Rights Council does nothing to follow up when states ignore issues raised with them.”

The Pentagon didn’t respond to a request for comment. At the time, American military officials in Iraq said the accounts of townspeople who witnessed the events were highly unlikely to be true, and they later said the incident didn’t warrant further investigation. Military officials also refused to reveal which units might have been involved in the incident.

Iraq was fast descending into chaos in early 2006. An explosion that ripped through the Golden Dome Mosque that February had set off an orgy of violence between rival Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and Sunni insurgents, many aligned with al Qaida in Iraq, controlled large tracts of the countryside.

Ishaqi, about 80 miles northwest of Baghdad, not far from Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, was considered so dangerous at the time that U.S. military officials had classified all roads in the area as “black,” meaning they were likely to be booby-trapped with roadside bombs.

The Ishaqi incident was unusual because it was brought to the world’s attention by the Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit, a regional security center set up with American military assistance and staffed by U.S.-trained Iraqi police officers.

The original incident report was signed by an Iraqi police colonel and made even more noteworthy because U.S.-trained Iraqi police, including Brig. Gen. Issa al Juboori, who led the coordination center, were willing to speak about the investigation on the record even though it was critical of American forces.

Throughout the early investigation, U.S. military spokesmen said that an al Qaida in Iraq suspect had been seized from a first-floor room after a fierce fight that had left the house he was hiding in a pile of rubble.

But the diplomatic cable provides a different sequence of events and lends credence to townspeople’s claims that American forces destroyed the house after its residents had been shot.

Alston initially posed his questions to the U.S. Embassy in Geneva, which passed them to Washington in the cable.

According to Alston’s version of events, American troops approached a house in Ishaqi, which Alston refers to as “Al-Iss Haqi,” that belonged to Faiz Harrat Al-Majma’ee, whom Alston identified as a farmer. The U.S. troops were met with gunfire, Alston said, that lasted about 25 minutes.

After the firefight ended, Alston wrote, the “troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them. After the initial MNF intervention, a U.S. air raid ensued that destroyed the house.” The initials refer to the official name of the military coalition, the Multi-National Force.

Alston said “Iraqi TV stations broadcast from the scene and showed bodies of the victims (i.e. five children and four women) in the morgue of Tikrit. Autopsies carries (sic) out at the Tikrit Hospital’s morgue revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed.”

The cable makes no mention any of the alleged shooting suspects being found or arrested at or near the house.

The cable closely tracks what neighbors told reporters for Knight Ridder at the time. (McClatchy purchased Knight Ridder in spring 2006.) Those neighbors said the U.S. troops had approached the house at 2:30 a.m. and a firefight ensued. In addition to exchanging gunfire with someone in the house, the American troops were supported by helicopter gunships, which fired on the house.

The cable also backs the original report from the Joint Coordination Center, which said U.S. forces entered the house while it was still standing. That first report noted: “The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals.”

The report was signed by Col. Fadhil Muhammed Khalaf, who was described in the document as the assistant chief of the Joint Coordination Center.

The cable also backs up the claims of the doctor who performed the autopsies, who told Knight Ridder “that all the victims had bullet shots in the head and all bodies were handcuffed.”

The cable notes that “at least 10 persons, namely Mr. Faiz Hratt Khalaf, (aged 28), his wife Sumay’ya Abdul Razzaq Khuther (aged 24), their three children Hawra’a (aged 5) Aisha (aged 3) and Husam (5 months old), Faiz’s mother Ms. Turkiya Majeed Ali (aged 74), Faiz’s sister (name unknown), Faiz’s nieces Asma’a Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 5 years old), and Usama Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 3 years), and a visiting relative Ms. Iqtisad Hameed Mehdi (aged 23) were killed during the raid.”

(Schofield, an editorial writer at The Kansas City Star, was Berlin bureau chief and was on temporary assignment in Iraq at the time of the Ishaqi incident.)

READ THE CABLE:

Cable: massacre of Iraqi family by U.S. troops in 2006

‘Peace’ president’s war record: how Obama melted down his Nobel prize to make bullets

Obama continued George W Bush’s “war on terror” under a different name — extending Bush’s wars to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere while greatly expanding the war in Afghanistan.

When Sen. Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 many wishful-thinking Democratic voters viewed him as a peace candidate because he opposed the Iraq war (but voted yes on the war budgets while in the Senate).

Some others assumed his foreign/military policy would be along the lines of Presidents George H. W. Bush (whom Obama admires) or Bill Clinton. Some who identified as progressives actually thought his foreign/military policy might tilt to the left.

Instead, center rightist that he is, Obama’s foreign/military policy amounted to a virtual continuation of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terrorism under a different name.

He extended Bush’s wars to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere while greatly expanding the war in Afghanistan, hiking the military budget, encouraging the growth of militarism in US society by repeatedly heaping excessive praise on the armed forces, and tightening the military encirclement of China.

Summing up some of his military accomplishments a few months ago, Obama declared: “We’ve succeeded in defending our nation, taking the fight to our enemies, reducing the number of Americans in harm’s way, and we’ve restored America’s global leadership. That makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that’s an achievement that every American — especially those Americans who are proud to wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces — should take great pride in.”

Obama actually has little to show for his war policy after nearly four years. Most importantly, Afghanistan — the war he supported with enthusiasm — is predictably blowing up in his face. A symbol of the Bush-Obama 11-year Afghan folly is the recent 2,000th death of an American soldier, not at the hands of the Taliban but a US-trained Afghan police officer, our supposed ally. The truth is that public opinion in Afghanistan has always overwhelmingly opposed the invasion, and rightly so.

Obama hopes to avoid the embarrassment of a takeover by the Taliban or another violent Afghan civil war (as happened in the 1990s) after the bulk of US troops pull out at the end of 2014. He’s made a deal with the Kabul government that allows Washington to keep thousands of American troops — Army, CIA agents with their drones, elite Special Operations forces and pilots — until 2024.

There are two reasons for this. One is to keep a US-controlled government in Kabul as long as possible. The other is to station American combatants near Afghanistan’s borders with Iran to the west and China to the east for another 10 years, a verdict hardly appreciated in Tehran and Beijing.

The Middle East is in turmoil. Israel is still threatening to attack Iran, an act that would transform turmoil into catastrophe. The Syrian regime refuses to fall, much to Washington’s chagrin. Egypt’s new government has just declared partial independence from Washington’s longstanding domination. The plight of the Palestinians has worsened during Obama’s presidency. Relations with China and Russia have declined.

Very few of Obama’s 2008 foreign/military election promises have come to fruition. He said he would initiate a “new beginning” in relations with the international Muslim community which had reached a low point under Bush. America’s popularity jumped after the president’s promising Cairo speech in 2009. But now, after repeatedly attacking Muslim countries with drone assassins, the rating is only 15% positive, lower than when Bush was in command.

Obama had promised to improve relations with Latin America, get diplomatically closer to Iran and Cuba, settle the Israel-Palestine dispute and close Guantanámo prison, among a number of unrealized intentions.

All the foreign developments the Democrats could really brag about at their convention were ending the war in Iraq “with heads held high” as our legions departed an eight-year stalemated conflict that cost Uncle Sam $4 trillion, and assassinating al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden (which drew the most enthusiastic of those jingoist “USA! USA! USA!” chants from Democratic delegates).

Actually, George W Bush ended the Iraq war by signing an agreement with the Baghdad regime — before the new president took office — to pull out all US troops at the end of 2011. Obama supported the treaty but tried unsuccessfully until the last minute to coerce the Iraqis to keep many thousands of American troops in the country indefinitely. (Antiwar.com reported Oct. 2 that up to 300 US soldiers and security personnel have been training elite Iraqi security forces for months.)

Obama as warrior president discombobulated the Republicans who in past elections always benefited from portraying the Democrats as “weak on defense.” Efforts to do so this year have fallen flat after the president in effect melted down his undeserved Nobel Peace Prize to make more bullets. Obama also obtained a second dividend. He wasn’t besieged by antiwar protests as was his predecessor, because most anti-Bush “peace” Democrats would not publicly oppose Obama’s militarist policies. (This essentially destroyed the mass US antiwar movement, which has been kept going on a much smaller scale by the left and the pacifists.)

Throughout Obama’s election declarations he occasionally speaks of, and exaggerates, increasing threats and hazards confronting the American people that only he can manage. He told the convention that the “new threats and challenges” are facing the country. Romney does the same thing, in spades.

Overstating the threats confronting the US is a perennial practice for Democratic and Republican presidents and candidates. George W. Bush brought this dishonest practice to an apogee, at times sounding as though he was reciting a Halloween ghost story to gullible children — but this year’s candidates are no slackers.

Historian and academic Andrew J. Bacevich, an Army colonel in the Vietnam War and now strongly opposed to America’s wars, mentioned fear-mongering in an article published in the January-February issue of The Atlantic magazine. He writes: “This national-security state derived its raison d’être from — and vigorously promoted a belief in — the existence of looming national peril…. What worked during the Cold War [fear of the ‘Communist menace’ and nuclear war] still works today: to get Americans on board with your military policy, scare the hell out of them.”

The main purpose of this practice today is to frighten the public into uncomplainingly investing its tax money into the largest military/national security budget in the world — about $1.4 trillion this year (up to $700 billion for the Pentagon and an equal amount for national security).

This accomplishes two objectives for that elite ruling class that actually determines the course of empire: First, it sustains the most powerful military apparatus in history, without which the US could hardly function as world leader (yes it has the biggest economy, but look at the shape it’s in).

Second, it constitutes a huge annual infusion of government cash — a stimulus? — into the economy via the military-industrial complex without the “stigma” of being considered a welfare-like plan to create jobs or benefit the people. (This is wrongly called Military Keynesianism, a notion that was repudiated by the great liberal economist John Maynard Keynes, who helped pull the US out of the Great Depression with his plan to increase government spending to end the crisis.)

The White House and Congress talk about reductions in military spending, and there may be some cuts by eliminating obsolete defense systems — but over the decade the budget will continue to expand. Obama said to the convention, and Romney will pledge the same if elected — “As long as I am Commander-in-Chief we will sustain the strongest military in the world.”

This has been a sine qua non for election to the presidency for decades. It is so familiar and so justified by official scare stories that most Americans don’t think twice about paying an annual national fortune to maintain the most powerful military machine in the world to deal with a few thousand opponents with relatively primitive weapons many thousands of miles away.

The US military, of course, has an entirely different purpose: at a time of gradual US decline and the rise several other countries such as Brazil, India and China, among others — Washington’s military power is intended to keep the United States in charge of the world.

http://stopwar.org.uk/index.php/usa-war-on-terror/1954-the-peace-presidents-war-record-how-obama-melted-down-his-nobel-prize-to-make-bullets

CIA claims it needs more drones

The CIA has asked the White House to increase the number of drones it employs to transform it into a paramilitary force, despite recent statistics that show the majority of drone deaths are civilians.

CIA Director David Petraeus submitted a proposal that could add as many as 10 drones to a program that currently ranges between 30 to 35 of the unmanned aerial vehicles. The increase would allow the agency to continue launching lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, as well as target developing terror threats in other regions of the world, according to a report first acquired by the Washington Post.

The White House Counterterrorism Security Group, chaired by John O. Brennan, has not yet made a decision regarding the proposal. But Pentagon officials have previously expressed concern about the CIA’s increasing involvement in targeted killing missions, rather than focusing mainly on gathering information.

If the CIA proposal is accepted, the agency could expand its target areas to include al-Qaeda affiliates in West Africa, particularly in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali, the United Press International reported. The agency would also continue its search in Afghanistan for bin Laden successor Ayman al-Zawahiri.

“With what happened in Libya, we’re realizing that these places are going to hear up,” an anonymous official told The Washington Post. “I think we’re actually looking forward a little bit.”

The CIA and the Pentagon’s elite Joint Special Operations Command have increasingly shared and switched roles in their affairs abroad. While the JSOC more frequently engages in espionage, the CIA has been borrowing military aircraft to carry out even more lethal strikes.

The CIA request for more drones comes as Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik claims that 80 percent of those killed in US drone attacks are civilians. In 336 US-launched drone strikes in Pakistan, about 2,500 to 3,000 people are estimated to have been killed. According to a Stanford  and New York University study, only two percent of causalities are top militants.

“The Americans themselves often don’t know who they’ve hit,” campaigner and film-maker Carol Grayson told RT. “And this huge discrepancy over the figures… we’re finding out that a lot more civilians are being killed. But these are the people that the Americans don’t tell you about. And they actually class these people as ‘other.’”

In early October, Malik asked the US to share its drone technology with Pakistan, claiming his government could do a better job at targeting terrorists without using them irresponsibly. But rather than share drones, the CIA wants more for its agency to use.

If the White House grants Petraeus the requested increase, the agency may be found triggering drone attacks all throughout the Muslim world.

Watch video:

https://rt.com/usa/news/cia-drone-agency-civilians-820/

The Northrop Grumman X-47B, a US demonstration unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) designed for aircraft carrier deployment, is seen on display July 31, 2012 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. (AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards)

FBI Director: I Have to Check to See If Obama Has the Right to Kill Americans On U.S. Soil

FBI Director: I Have to Check to See If Obama Has the Right to Kill Americans On U.S. Soil

FBI — WARNING — Federal law allows citizens to reproduce, distribute or exhibit portions of copyright motion pictures, video tapes, or video disks under certain circumstances without authorization of the copyright holder. This infringement of copyright is called fair use and is allowed for purposes of criticism, news reporting, teaching and parody.

Drone Strikes by US end up Killing More Innocent Civilians than Militants

It is a frightening fact that the majority of Pakistanis killed by American drone strikes are innocent civilians. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik has made the claim as well as noting that 336 UAV strikes have occurred in the most recent years by the United States. According to statistics, most of which are not completely accurate, of the 336 strikes in Pakistan, there have been 2,500 to 3,000 civilian victims with up to 174 of those victims being children.

As SLN reported, New York University and Stanford researchers examined the strikes throughout Pakistan and concluded that 49-50 civilians are killed per drone attack.  “Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological,” University researchers explained.

Interior Minister Malik said in early October, “They had given us F-16’s, we haven’t used them against India, instead they were used in [the] War against Terror. Now [the] United States should provide drones to Pakistan in order to target militants in areas bordering Afghanistan,” hoping to sway US officials into sending the technology and/or devices.

PakNationalists Forum correspondent, Ahmed Quraishi commented to RussiaToday, “The Americans have been trying very, very hard to convince Pakistanis the drone attacks are actually for the betterment of the country…but I think with this kind of statement coming from a senior Pakistani minister [Malik], this just totally destroys the position of the US from inside Pakistan. I’m sure that the American diplomats at the US embassy here in Islamabad are increasingly applying pressure on Washington and their counterparts, especially at the CIA and the Pentagon,” alluding to the division that drone strikes bring to Pakistan.

Months ago, Pakistan’s ambassador, Sherry Rehman met with US officials at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado and told listeners, “I am not saying drones have not assisted in the war against terror, but they have diminishing rate of returns,” hitting on the term of blowback.

A meeting followed the Colorado forum, taking place in Langley, VA between the head of the CIA, David Patraeus and Pakistan’s spy chief, which was highly anticipated by Pakistani officials in hopes that some drone reform would be achieved. However, nothing in relevancy to drones was discussed.

Just last weekend, protestors in Pakistan organized and held a two-day anti-drone rally that brought out tens of thousands of people, giving a clear message to the US. The leader of the protest, Imran Khan explained, “We have succeeded in raising this issue. We came here to raise this issue, we came here to take a stand against drones.”

http://spreadlibertynews.com/drone-strikes-by-us-end-up-killing-more-innocent-civilians-than-militants/

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