First, White House officials would not admit there even was a drone program.
Then, they would not admit the ways in which it was being used (and abused).
Finally, just a day before President Obama was set to give a major counterterrorism policy speech, he directed Attorney General Eric Holder to send Senator Patrick Leahy a letter admitting that the U.S. has killed four American citizens with its drone strikes overseas — and only one of them, Anwar al-Awlaki, was actually an official target.
In his speech this afternoon, Obama said, “This is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.”
These drone strikes are not a ‘war’ however; Congress has not officially declared war in Yemen, Pakistan or Somalia for example, where drone strikes extrajudicially kill suspected terrorists and whatever civilian collateral damage gets in the way every month.
How preemptively and offensively striking other countries is a “last resort” or “self-defense” is unclear, unless we’ve moved into an age of fighting pre-crime.
Our government has now admitted that four American citizens have been struck down by U.S. drones, assassinated without any due process as afforded to them under the protections of our Bill of Rights in these unconstitutional, covert wars. [pullquote]’Because 9/11′ does not and should not give our government carte blanche to drone strike wherever they feel like it based on classified evidence and prosecution without trial.[/pullquote]
Meanwhile, Obama has deemed every military-age male in a strike zone as a ‘combatant’, and we are creating new enemies every time we strike, taking out civilians along with our ‘targets’.
Obama said, “America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty.” Apparently our nation’s actions are no longer bound by the Constitution.
Obama’s announcement came amid sustained criticism of the drone program and its mounting civilian casualties. Last year, New York University graduate student Nick Begley took to task Tweeting every known U.S. drone strike since 2002, revealing the ease with which our government regularly takes out not only ‘suspected militants’ but innocents including children.
The Obama Administration has abundantly used the word ‘surgical’ in describing the supposed preciseness of these drone strikes. However, moving past the Orwellian propaganda we are continually presented with, in reality studies have shown our government kills 49 civilians for every single drone target hit.
Our drone pilots also practice “double tapping” — dropping a missile on a target, then waiting for the rescue crew to show up before dropping another missile on them as they provide aid to survivors. Weddings and funerals are also frequent drone targets. Former constitutional and civil rights lawyer Glenn Greenwald has also reported on war crime tactics such as drone striking a mid-level terrorist as bait to entice a higher-level terrorist to attend the funeral, then drone striking the funeral:
“Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians. US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders. “
Justifying Drone Strikes
“Moreover, America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11,” Obama declared in today’s speech. While Congress may have authorized use of force after 9/11, it’s a perversion of law at the very least to claim this authorization indefinite for a global war on terror. On that, Obama said:
“Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ — but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”
The difference between the two appears to be little more than semantic window dressing.
Multiple times Obama Administration officials have declared the war on terror to be over when it obviously isn’t. Here’s then-White House Adviser on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan declaring that the U.S. is not engaged in a “war on terrorism” and that we are not fighting a “global war” against “Jihadists” back in 2009:
So we are at war with an ideology and even the president admits, “From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse.” ‘Because 9/11’ does not and should not give our government carte blanche to drone strike wherever they feel like it based on classified evidence and prosecution without trial.
Despite the president’s speech, when asked how long the over-a-decade-old war on terror would continue, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Michael Sheehan answered, ‘At least 10 to 20 years’. Greenwald pointed out that, by its very nature, America’s war on terror is not meant to ever end:
“The ‘war on terror’ cannot and will not end on its own for two reasons: (1) it is designed by its very terms to be permanent, incapable of ending, since the war itself ironically ensures that there will never come a time when people stop wanting to bring violence back to the US (the operational definition of “terrorism”), and (2) the nation’s most powerful political and economic factions reap a bonanza of benefits from its continuation… The genius of America’s endless war machine is that, learning from the unplesantness of the Vietnam war protests, it has rendered the costs of war largely invisible. That is accomplished by heaping all of the fighting burden on a tiny and mostly economically marginalized faction of the population, by using sterile, mechanized instruments to deliver the violence, and by suppressing any real discussion in establishment media circles of America’s innocent victims and the worldwide anti-American rage that generates.”
And while President Obama declared the government will not drone strike Americans on American soil, his track record of saying one thing and doing another does not garner an ounce of trust. Obama claimed he would veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) because it contained indefinite detention powers — provisions that give the State the power to disappear and indefinitely detain Americans without charge or trial if they are suspected of terrorism.
Obama claimed he would veto it. He didn’t. Then he reassured us we should not worry that he has those powers because he will not use them. If that is the case, then why does he need them?
Our President’s defense of the American drone program today is reminiscent of when fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger along with President Nixon commenced a secret bombing campaign on Laos and Cambodia at the expense of half a million civilian lives in the name of cutting off supply routes that were helping the North Vietnamese to shorten the war.
In both cases, the White House went outside the boundaries of official war to target a diffuse threat across a wide region, and innocent civilians were turned into collateral damage, all in the name of the supposed greater good.
Headlines following Obama’s speech today applaud the president for ‘deciding to limit drone strikes’, as if that’s the takeaway here. This supposed ‘limit’ comes because the drone policy has changed from striking ‘significant threats’ to striking ‘continued and imminent’ threats.
The difference is subtle at best and likely just meaningless rhetoric to put a band aid over the human rights abuses surrounding the U.S. drone program. The Appeaser-in-Chief is seemingly pandering toward public concern while stoking his legacy.
Those headlines replaced the deluge of stories flooding the mainstream media yesterday:
“White House Admits to Killing Four Americans with Drones“…
“White House Admits to Strikes on U.S. Citizens“…
“US admits it killed four of its own citizens in drone strikes“…
The significance of this admission is not the news of the actual deaths of Americans (well-known for years) at the hands of our nation’s drone pilots, but the shift from official secrecy to an attempt to desensitize Americans while legitimizing these tactics as necessary to meet our country’s threats in the name of national defense.
How long do you think it will be until those headlines include the phrase “on American soil”?