Sunday, November 6, 2011

How many people is our government killing with drones, do we know who they are, are they really Terrorists?

You are aware of the "Drone War" going on in Pakistan and other middle east countries, aren't you?  Just in case you don't know, this CIA-led war has been going on since 2004, and involves sending robotic unmanned air vehicles to rain death and destruction upon people.  Glenn Greenwald just posted a touching article about undesirable side effects of the Drone War.  He informed us U.S. rules of engagement in Drone usage means we often do not know for certainty the victims of Drone attacks are actually combatants, and that this understandably results in increasing hatred towards the U.S.  To me the Drone War just makes me think of the Robotic armies shown in Star Wars and also the relative bravery of sending actual people into direct combat, versus sending machines into combat instead.

NewImageThe drone war isn't happening just in Pakistan, it's touching Yemen and other countries.

NewImageDrone attacks have increased substantially since President Obama took office.  Generally the UAVs used are MQ-1 Predator and more recently MQ-9 Reaper firing AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

There is much disagreement over the effects of these drone strikes.  Some say the attacks are only killing al-Qaeda and Taliban, and there are zero non-combatant civilian casualties.  Others say there are a few non-combatant casualties.  And others say there is as much as 80% non-combatant casualties.

The phrase "non-combatant casualty" is nicey-nicey speech for people we might describe as "innocent bystanders".  People who happen to be near a strike, and are accidentally killed in an attack.  But what if our government is sending drones against targets they do not explicitly know are actual combatants?  What if some times drone attack targeting is completely incorrect?

Since 2008 the CIA has relied less on a list of individual people ("high value targets") and has increasingly targeted patterns of suspicious behavior.  This change in tactics resulted in fewer deaths of high-value targets and in more deaths of lower-level fighters, or even innocent bystanders.  A Washington Post article reported that of 581 militants killed in the 118 strikes in 2010, only two were high value targets.  Each strike costs $1 million to launch.

There are theoretical argument you make against these drone strikes.  For example, that it violates the sovereignty of Pakistan, a country that has never attacked the U.S. and is supposedly an ally.  Or that because CIA's drone operators are civilians directly engaged in armed conflict, this makes them "unlawful combatants" and possibly subject to prosecution.

Glenn Greenwald's piece refers to those theoretical arguments, but refers as well to another more personal side to this.  A recent meeting was convened between Pashtun tribal elders from the Pakistan-Afghan border, and some westerners, so the tribal elders could present their side of the story.  The meeting got written up as a NY Times op-ed by one participant, and as a blog post by another.  One of the attendees was an 18 year old son of one of the combatants, by both reports a very nice young man who had bright visions for his future.  But this young son was killed 72 hours later in a Drone strike because they were driving to "pick up their Aunt and bring her home to Norak".

That's a very innocent and very understandable task for a young man to undertake, drive their Aunt from one town to another.  But if the CIA is targeting "suspicious activity" then perhaps they think a car driving at night is suspicious?  Who defines what is suspicious?

Glenn Greenwald goes through a litany of evidence that, in general, "we" have no idea who's being killed in the drone attacks.  More bothersome, the CIA themselves have no idea who's being killed.  You would think that the CIA, the ones targeting the drone attacks, should know who they're attacking and have procedures to ensure they're attacking actual combatants.  Instead, according to a Wall Street Journal article Greenwald links to, says the BULK of the attacks “target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.”  Further he references a Spencer Ackerman article saying “The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups”.

Apparently the general consensus opinion held by We The People is to trust that the Government is "killing Terrorists" with these strikes, and presumably that proper procedures are being followed.  But the truth is different.  The truth is that often innocent bystanders are being killed.

The deaths of innocent bystanders justifiably angers the families and friends of those who were killed.  That understandably could be part of the wave of fighting against American military presence in that area.  They, even the ones who are not Taliban or al Qaeda sympathizers, understandably would see our troops as the enemy and as a result act to drive out Americans from their lands.

These deaths of innocent bystanders are being perpetrated by our government and have as an unintended consequence increased anger towards America.


The drone mentality

Increased U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killing few high-value militants

Inside the Killing Machine


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