Drones Don’t Kill People – Presidents Do

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

There is compelling evidence that last year Nobel Peace Prize winner President Obama murdered an American teenager just two weeks after murdering his father and another American citizen in Yemen.  The same action that resulted in the death of the boy also caused the wanton slaughter of the boy’s Yemeni cousin and an unspecified number of their friends. The boy was just 16 years old when he was killed in Yemen.

He was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was alleged to have joined a foreign military and taken up arms against the United States.  I say alleged because it is our tradition in America not to assign guilt to an individual until they have been proven guilty.  Many things were alleged about Anwar al-Awlaki, but no court or jury – the people who are the “finders of fact” in our system affirmed the President’s allegations as facts before the President executed al-Awlaki.

When [Anwar al-Awlaki] was killed, on September 30, 2011, President Obama made a speech about it; a few months later, when the Obama administraton’s public-relations campaign about its embrace of what has come to be called “targeted killing” reached its climax in a front-page story in the New York Times that presented the President of the United States as the last word in deciding who lives and who dies, he was quoted as saying that the decision to put Anwar al-Awlaki on the kill list – and then to kill him – was “an easy one.”

But Abdulrahman al-Awlaki wasn’t on an American kill list. Nor was he a member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla. Nor was he “an inspiration,” as his father styled himself, for those determined to draw American blood; nor had he gone “operational,” as American authorities said his father had, in drawing up plots against Americans and American interests.

President Obama, while seemingly quite eager to discuss the death of Anwar Al-Awlaki, refuses at the same time to confirm or deny the existence of the CIA drone program which performs extrajudicial executions by hellfire missile at the President’s request and senior administration officials discuss and leak information about when it is politically advantageous.

Last week, a close associate of President Obama’s since he began working for then Senator Obama in 2004, was the communications director for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama’s White House Press Secretary and is now a senior campaign advisor for the Obama 2012 campaign discussed President Obama’s reasons for murdering the 16 year old Al-Awlaki:

Gibbs says, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”

Gibbs is far from the only person to describe the use of the drone program with a crass insensitivity bordering on sociopathy.  Here’s Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, Bruce Riedel:

“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower. You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

Then there’s this anonymous military official that Micah Zenko quotes:

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?”

L’Etat, c’est moi

What Gibbs has articulated is basically the standard of gangsters who threaten (and sometimes make good on the threat) to “rub out” your family if you don’t do what they demand as the standard for President Obama’s “Terror Tuesday” kill list choices.  

Sadly, this is the best explanation that we have to date of former editor of the Harvard Law Review and constitutional scholar President Obama’s criteria for placing Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki on the presidential kill list.  

While Obama himself has made very limited explanations of his criteria, many experts find Obama’s stated criteria to be less than credible.

On Wednesday, however, CNN’s Jessica Yellin managed to get Obama to open up, just a little, about his criteria for approving drone attacks. His comments may have been the president’s most extensive so far on robot warfare. They were also total baloney, outside experts say. …

“What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a ‘threat that is serious and not speculative,’ and engaged in ‘some operational plot against the United States,’ That is simply not true,” emails the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, who has tracked the drone war as closely as any outside analyst. “The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years.”

Probably the most outrageous claim that the President made in the referenced interview with Jessica Yellin is that, “while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots … they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process.”

President Obama is saying here that his limited administrative process satisfies the 5th and 14th Amendment requirement that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

In order to explain how his process satisfies those constitutional  requirements, Attorney General Eric Holder was trotted out to spin a novel theory that due process for an execution does not require the commonly expected court procedures and is satisfied by President Obama’s Terror Tuesdays:

or, if you prefer, I think Stephen Colbert did a great job of explaining it, too:

But seriously, the administration’s claims that due process requirements are met by their procedure fall far short of being convincing.

Judge Henry Friendly articulated a basic and often-cited list of requirements for due process:

An unbiased tribunal.

Notice of the proposed action and the grounds asserted for it.

Opportunity to present reasons why the proposed action should not be taken.

The right to present evidence, including the right to call witnesses.

The right to know opposing evidence.

The right to cross-examine adverse witnesses.

A decision based exclusively on the evidence presented.

Opportunity to be represented by counsel.

Requirement that the tribunal prepare a record of the evidence presented.

Requirement that the tribunal prepare written findings of fact and reasons for its decision.

This is of course not an exhaustive list, and since due process must apply to situations from the mundane to the truly dire, there is some flexibilty required.  However, since the death penalty is applied by the President’s drone program, one would think that the circumstances demand a similar level of process to other situations where such a great penalty is imposed.

The normal process for a capital case is considerably greater than for most other kinds of cases. As the Federal Judical Center’s guide for managing capital cases states:  

Capital cases differ from more routine criminal cases in a number of ways. First, the possibility of a death sentence affects every phase of the litigation proceedings. These cases require early judicial management and substantial pretrial planning because they may involve the most severe form of punishment that society can inflict on its members-death. The process by which the prosecution determines whether it will seek the death penalty is itself time-consuming and demands considerable effort of both the prosecution and the defense.

One is left to wonder what sort of defense is afforded the unfortunate subjects of the Obama administration’s “due process substitute.”

The guide details a long and complex process which has been developed to meet the constitutional requirements of due process in cases where the death penalty may be imposed.  The president’s and his surrogates’ descriptions of the process that is employed do not describe a similar type or level of process.  The president’s program makes his administration the unaccountable judge, jury and executioner in these actions.  These are rights that were once claimed by kings and despots and are inappropriate for the executive branch of the US government.

The President Is A Lousy Shot

Recently, a joint report on the use of drones in Pakistan was issued by the Stanford Law Clinic and the NYU Global Justice Clinic among whose findings was that 98% of drone strikes fail to hit a high value target.  Unfortunately, what drones do hit in large numbers are civilians.  The report finds that of the approximately 3300 people killed by American drones between 474 and 881 were civilians and 176 were children.

living under drones

While there has been a great deal of effort put forth to brand drones as being surgically precise, the reality is significantly different.

As Conor Freisdorf describes it in the Atlantic:

Calling U.S. Drone Strikes ‘Surgical’ Is Orwellian Propaganda

I’ve been told American drone strikes are “surgical” while attending Aspen Ideas Festival panels, interviewing delegates at the Democratic National Convention, and perusing reader emails after every time I write about the innocents killed and maimed in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

It is a triumph of propaganda. …

[Surgeons] use a scalpel. Their cuts are precise down to the millimeter. Once in a great while there is a slip of the knife, a catastrophic mistake. In those cases, the surgeon is held accountable and the victim lavishly compensated. Oh, and there’s one more thing about surgical procedures: while the person being cut into is occasionally victimized by a mistake, there is never a case where the scalpel is guided so imprecisely that it kills the dozen people standing around the operating table. For that reason, orderlies and family members don’t cower in hospital halls terrified that a surgeon is going to arbitrarily kill them. And if he did, he’d be arrested for murder. …

To conjure a surgeon with a knife is to lead the listener astray. And it is a downright dishonest metaphor when invoked by an administration that could make their strikes more like surgery but doesn’t. For example, the Obama Administration could make certain of the identity of the people it is “operating on.” Instead it sometimes uses “signature strikes,” wherein the CIA doesn’t even know the identity of the people it is killing. It could also attempt autopsies, literal or figurative, when things go wrong. Instead, it presumes sans evidence that all military aged males killed in drone strikes are “militants.”

As the Stanford/NYU report points out, the President’s drone program is turning us into terrorists:

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. These fears have affected behavior. The US 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, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.

If obtaining the cooperation from people of other nations in fighting terrorists is part of our national strategy, the program in Pakistan is a flop and the drone program is a big part of it.  Year after year America becomes increasingly less popular in Pakistan, with 74% of Pakistanis considering America to be an enemy now.

UN investigating President Obama for war crimes, Obama doubles down

The President’s drone program is rapidly turning America into a global pariah state and the UN is launching an investigation in Geneva:

The United Nations is to set up a dedicated investigations unit in Geneva early next year to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed in so-called “targeted” counter-terrorism operations. …

[UN special rapporteur on counter-terror operations Ben Emmerson] announced:    

“Together with my colleague Christof Heyns, [the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings], I will be launching an investigation unit within the special procedures of the [UN] Human Rights Council to inquire into individual drone attacks.”

The investigation unit will also look at “other forms of targeted killing conducted in counter-terrorism operations, in which it is alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted”.

“[It is] alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Christof Heyns … has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.”

Emmerson maintained that the US stance that it can conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaida or other groups anywhere in the world because it is deemed to be an international conflict was indefensible.

Far from being deterred by this or reconsidering his drone program, apparently President Obama is looking to institutionalize his program of assassinations and paramilitary murder, with a tool called the “dispostion matrix”:

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for 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.

Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years. …

That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism. Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus.

In the hands of an executive that is not substantially restrained or held accountable by congress, the people or his allegedly progressive base, the extraordinary actions taken in the heat of response to an attack on America is metastacizing into a permanent program.  Perhaps the UN and global pressure will save America from itself.  The President’s lack of worry, though, may stem from the exceptional soft power that the President wields, which was for example used by President Obama to blackmail Spain into dropping a war crimes investigation into the actions of members of the Bush administration earlier in his Presidency.

It is clear though that this president intends to continue to expand the powers that came to him as the legacy of his predecessor and pass them on to his successor regardless of their lack of constitutionality or even the common sense that they are counterproductive tactics.

Since President Obama seems to be willing to use these powers against American citizens without due process, or in fact any evidence that they are a credible, imminent military threat to the United States, perhaps this would be a good time for Americans to ponder some words written by the guy who mostly wrote the Constitution:

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

 — James Madison


  1. and remember:

  2. JFK’s Phoenix program that assassinated targets in Vietnam was not much different than the Viet Cong’s beheadings of village chiefs who resisted their lovemaking but the Commies were much better at it.

    The results are too well known to comment further on.

    I expect our current Nobel Peace Prize-winner will have similar success.

    Best,  Terry


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