Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Time to discuss U.S. state-sanctioned drone killings?

MQM-107E drone (c) U.S. Air Force Photo by Master Sgt, Michael Ammons
As reported by the BBC, President Obama's Google “hangout” revealed that the U.S.A. conducts drone strikes against suspect al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, mainly in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Drone strikes have increased significantly during Obama's administration, but it is difficult to verify the number of deaths as a result of these attacks. During this “hangout”, he said that the strikes targeted "people who are on a list of active terrorists," and:
"al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan"
"For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we're already engaging in."
CIA officials claim that drone strikes killed 1400 suspected militants and 30 civilians between July 2008 and June 2011, whereas in five years up to June 2011, the Conflict Monitoring Center, based in Islamabad, estimates that 2052 people were killed, “mostly civilians.”

In October, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) collated their figures, which repudiate what the CIA admit to. If nothing else, the drone attack in Waziristan in March 2011 highlights the CIA's inability to produce accurate figures for the numbers of civilians it has killed.

Moreover, this latter attack illustrates Obama's contradictory language. If this was not an “intrusive military action”, then what is? If he means that because there are no armed personnel physically involved, that this action is any less “intrusive”, then what of the battle for the 'hearts and minds' (more later)? Do 'hearts and minds' exist outside of the corporeal body?

Barack Obama hope (c) Andrius Burlega

Amnesty International have registered their concerns with the U.S. government, and asked them to clarify the basis for these killings:
The US authorities must give a detailed explanation of how these strikes are lawful and what is being done to monitor civilian casualties and ensure proper accountability.

"What are the rules of engagement? What proper legal justification exists for these attacks? While the President's confirmation of the use of drones in Pakistan is a welcome first step towards transparency, these and other questions need to be answered.”

Other than Amnesty's opposition to what is going on, there is little else being reported on this issue. Rather than argue over the state-defined 'legality' of these killings, there are a few points that I wish to highlight.

Obama speaks of drone attacks killing “people who are on a list of active terrorists.” Who possesses these lists?

According to an excerpt from Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest and William M Arkin, there are three separate “kill lists.” The National Security Council (NSC) keeps one, the CIA does, and so does the military. Interestingly, the lists are not co-ordinated amongst these agencies, one of the reasons being the 'legal' implications associated with each individual hit.

If there is not consensual agreement across U.S. government departments, how can it 'legal' for the U.S. government as a whole to carry out such attacks?

The FBI have a list of wanted terrorists on their website. On this list, is one Anas Al-Liby. According to his summary, he has political asylum in the UK, and was known to be living here recently. Has anyone seen any drones flying overhead?

Al-Liby may or may not be on any of the “hit lists” discussed above. He may or may not now reside in the UK. But just as the paradox of 'the body' and 'the mind' reveals the non-compatible objectives of the 'war on terror', here we have another anomaly; the local and the transnational.

Anwar al-Awlaki (c) Muhammad ud-Deen
The New York Times partially covered this ambiguity in their report following a drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. The crux of their commentaries centred on al-Awlaki's birth within the borders of the U.S.A., the assumption being that this is somehow more disturbing that it happened to an American-born citizen.

Al-Qaeda suspects that threaten the national interests of the U.S.A. do not just live in the FATA region of Pakistan. They live and walk amongst us all. 

The U.S. government will not be deploying (non-intrusive?) drone strikes that target mosques in the U.S., at which suspected militant, jihadist Imams preach and their followers pray, because it is illegal. Why then act as judge and jury just because al-Qaeda suspects live elsewhere?

On a day when The Guardian reports that the U.S. 'no-fly' list of suspected terrorists has worryingly doubled in a year (including some 500 U.S. nationals), and on a day when a NATO report indicates that the Taliban are winning the battle for the 'hearts and minds' of the Afghan people, is it not time for the U.S. government to explain who they are targeting, and how this might be beneficial to national and global security?

Or are they afraid to do so because they will be acknowledging that they are carrying out state-sponsored assassinations?

1 comment:

  1. The fact that they use non-military (i.e. civilian) personnel to fly the drones is a war crime in itself!