FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Drone War Tolls

by BARRY LANDO

Earlier this week, NBC News revealed a secret Department of Justice memo entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force.”

NBC’s scoop has since fueled mounting outrage over the Obama administration’s drone policy. What is most troubling about the indignation, however, is how much it’s focused on the fact that, my God, President Obama is even using drone’s to knock off his own people.

Or as a shocked Rachel Maddow put it, “Even an American citizen can be killed.”

Senator Ron Wyden proclaimed, “Americans have a right to know when their government thinks it’s allowed to kill them.”

The American the Justice Department memo referred to was Nasser al-Awlak, a radical Islamic cleric and American and Yemeni citizen, suspected of being head of operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusula. He was also implicated in the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood Texas and the attempted 2011 Times Square bombing by Faisal Shahzad.

Two weeks after he was blown apart in Yemen in 2011, his 16 year-old son was obliterated in another drone strike, also directed under the CIA’s secret guidelines.

The son’s death was much more shocking than his father’s.

One other American has also been killed by Drone strikes.

But, much more shocking is the fact that over the past few years, U.S. drones have made mincemeat out of an estimated 3000 to 4000 others—non Americans–in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. At least 200 of them were children.

The figures are very rough because no one–certainly not the U.S. government–is releasing an accurate count. The London based Center for Investigative reporting, which attempts to track the drone strikes, has been able to identify by name only a few hundred of the actual victims. Who knows what their political affiliations really were? Or even less, what considerations—legal and otherwise—went into justifying their demise?

“It’s a terrifying situation.” Jennifer Gibson, an American lawyer in London with Reprieve, an organization taking on the “drone war” issue. “There are villages in Pakistan,” she says “that have drones flying over them 24 hours a day. Sometimes they’ll stay for weeks. But my clients and people there have no way of knowing if they are being targeted. Or what kind of behavior is likely to get them killed. They don’t know if the person riding beside them in a car or walking with them in the marketplace may be a target.It’s terrorizing entire communities. Even after an attack, there is no acknowledging by the U.S. government, no response at all, absolutely no accountability. And the vast majority of casualties don’t even have names attached to them.”

Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva that President Obama’s attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards. He suggested that some strikes may even constitute “war crimes”.
But, few Americans seem to carry about U.N. rapporteurs. It’s only when Americans are potential targets for those drones, that Congress and the media get stirred up.

And they’re probably right. A recent poll taken by Farleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind, found that by a two to one margin (48% to 24%) American voters say they think it’s illegal for the U.S. government to target its own citizens abroad with drone strikes.

But, when it comes to using drones to carry out attacks abroad “on people and other targets deemed a threat to the U.S.” voters were in favor of a margin of six-to-one [75% to 13%].

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Centre for Constitutional Rights (The CCR) have been demanding a court hearing in the United States to determine whether the former head of the CIA Leon Panetta was guilty of having depriving Nasser al-Awlak and his son of their constitutional right to life.

Maria LaHood, an attorney with the CCR frankly admitted to me that they are concentrating on the two American cases, because that’s the really the only way to get Americans to focus on the problem. Also because that’s really the best hope they have of getting an American court to actually agree to hear their case.

‘What we’re also hoping” she says, “is that if we do get anywhere with this case, then we can get a legal interpretation from the court that would apply to everyone–not just Americans. But getting a court to hear this case is going to be a battle in itself.”

Reprieve is also active in the courts—in Pakistan. Though the Pakistani ambassador in Washington has complained about the drone strikes, his government has done little to prevent them. Reprieve now is backing a case in Peshawar to oblige the Pakistani government to take action against the drones–to protect the constitutional right to life of its own citizens.

What particularly concerns Reprieve attorney Jennifer Gibson is the very nature of the convoluted 16-page memo that describes the Justice Department’s rationale for okaying the killing of an American, even outside of a war zone.

“If the U.S. has such vague, ambiguous standards where Americans are concerned, if they they’ve set the bar so low for their own citizens, who knows what the standards are for killing non Americans?”

In other words, if Justice Department lawyers labored so mightily on producing a memo setting the guidelines for killing an American citizen, one can only presume that the guidelines must be much different for those who inhabit the rest of the world.
When do we see that memo?

BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes who now lives in Paris. He can be reached at: Barry.Lando@wanadoo.fr

BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes. He is the author of The Watchman’s File. He can be reached at: barrylando@gmail.com or through his website.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail