Thursday, October 29, 2009

Obama's Extrajudicial Executions

"Extrajudicial executions". That's a nasty phrase, isn't it? And to attach the much-loved and vaunted President Obama's name to it? Well, that's almost akin to blasphemy. But, if you refuse to call the US military drone attacks on Pakistani civilians exactly what they are no matter which party you support, you're simply a hypocrite with no sense of justice for innocent civilians being killed by a war machine that refuses to recognize another country's sovereignty. It is as simple as that.

Via the BBC:

US warned on deadly drone attacks

The US has been warned that its use of drones to target suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan may violate international law.

UN human rights investigator Philip Alston said the US should explain the legal basis for attacking individuals with the remote-controlled aircraft.

He said the CIA had to show accountability to international laws which ban arbitrary executions.

Drones have killed about 600 people in north-west Pakistan since August 2008.

Mr Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, told the BBC: "My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

"The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons."
The US, of course, can't prove that executions aren't being carried out because that's exactly what's happening. Any time a drone hits a suspected al Qaeda or Taliban member, the US military boasts about it. And whenever there are reports of civilians being killed, the US military offers its immediate standard denials - labeling them as "militants" or "insurgents" as they have done in Iraq and Afghanistan - while promising to "investigate" further. Those investigations too often result in an eventual admission of guilt that amounts to a correction on page B8 of your local newspaper - if they ever admit fault at all.

Take a look at the numbers if you're in the mood to justify the use of these drones:

LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.
And since then? Back to the BBC:

Increased use

Mr Alston raised the issue in a report to the UN General Assembly's human rights committee on Tuesday.

At a news conference afterwards, he said he had become increasingly concerned at the increase in their use since June, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US told the UN in June that it has a legal framework to respond to unlawful killings. It also said the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have no role in relation to killings during an armed conflict.

But Mr Alston described that response as "simply untenable".
No role? I don't recall the US government using that line about the recent Goldstone report about Israel's Operation Cast Lead that was presented to the UN Human Rights Council (although Obama's government is definitely trying to bury it and congress is set to pass legislation rejecting Goldstone's report ASAP).

And what exactly is that "legal framework to respond to unlawful killings"? That sounds like a holdover policy from the Bush/Cheney/Gonzales administration which assured that no one in the CIA would ever be prosecuted for war crimes or human rights abuses. The Obama administration hasn't exactly embraced the ICC.

And just how much have those drone attack numbers increased? Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman, in the preface to her interview with Philip Alston reports:

Investigative reporter Jane Mayer of The New Yorker magazine revealed last week the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has risen dramatically under President Obama. During his first nine-and-a-half months in office, Obama authorized at least forty-one CIA missile strikes in Pakistan, a rate of approximately one bombing a week. That’s as many drone attacks as President Bush sanctioned in his final three years in office. The attacks have killed between 326 and 538 people, that’s according to Jane Mayer. She writes, quote, “there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official US policy.”
More from that interview:

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the legality of the drones. Does it surprise you how many President Obama has used, at least—what is it?—now saying one a week since the beginning of his term?

PHILIP ALSTON: Right. Well, the frequency doesn’t surprise me, because if you’re a Defense Department person, it’s a very attractive proposition. One can use the Predators without putting US servicemen in any harm. They are very effective. They can kill very significant numbers of people. And one reads very clearly that the likelihood of their usage is going to grow, I think, exponentially, in fact. So Jane Mayer’s figure of one a week is probably only just the beginning of a real expansion of the program.

AMY GOODMAN: You feel it’s illegal?

PHILIP ALSTON: There are circumstances under which it could be legal. In other words, if you are definitely in an armed conflict situation, if you ascertain that there is no other way in which you can capture the combatant that you’re trying to target, and you take all of the relevant precautions to make sure that civilians are not killed, in accordance with the relevant international rules, then it may be legitimate.

The problem is that we have no real information on this program. What Jane Mayer exposed in her New Yorker piece is probably the most detailed information we have. She herself said that the CIA provides no information. It’s extraordinary that it’s the Central Intelligence Agency which is actually operating a missile program, which is actually deciding who to kill, when and where. There’s no accountability for it. There’s no indication of the rules that they use. So, I said before, there are rules, that it’s possible to justify a particular killing, but the CIA has never tried to do that. They have simply issued a general assurance: “No, no, everything’s fine. We really follow the rules, and we’re very careful.” Well, if Israel or some other country that we’re scrutinizing says that, we say, “Sorry, guys, it’s not enough. We need to get the details.”

AMY GOODMAN: You’re calling for a special prosecutor to investigate?

PHILIP ALSTON: No, I’m calling for the government to make clear the details of the program; the legal basis, under US law, on which they are relying; the rules that they have put in place which govern the CIA actions, assuming there are rules; and what sort of accountability mechanisms they have. Do they review what they’ve done? They identify an individual. Often these identifications are very vague. But they say, “OK, we’ve got X in our sights.” Did they actually kill X? Did they kill someone else? How many other civilians did they kill? There’s never any accounting of that. And we need that sort of retrospective analysis, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Mayer writes in her New Yorker piece that in exchange for being able to carry out these drone attacks in Pakistan, the CIA has added some of Pakistan’s enemies to the hit list.

PHILIP ALSTON: Right. Well, that’s one of the problems. It’s a slippery slope, of course, because you start off—it’s always the same. You start off saying, “Look, we’ve got to get someone like Osama bin Laden.” You’ve some big guy at the top. Then you get rid of the big guys, and then you start killing lower-level people. Then you get a few additional people put on the list. And who knows? Maybe we’ll be getting opium lords and various others. And then the locals are able to nominate a few of their friends that they’d like to see out of action. Unless the program is very strictly controlled, the opportunities for abuse are immense.
And, no doubt, the fact that congress just tripled its aid to Pakistan adds to this cozy deal.

Can we expect Obama's CIA/Pentagon to come clean about its drone program? Extremely unlikely. They can hide behind the standard "national security concerns" excuse and it was clear when Obama spoke to CIA employees last spring that he plans to protect them every step of the way.

So what's the big deal about a few extrajudicial executions anyway? Those civilians should have stayed out of the way - obviously.


Jane Mayer, The New Yorker - The Predator War

Chris Floyd - Depraved Indifference: Drone Wars, Whack Jobs and Imperial Terror

CBS Pro-Drone Propaganda

Mother Jones - Google Finds Drones in Pakistan

And, finally, the latest from Hillary, speaking in Pakistan on Thursday:

Although Clinton said she was making a priority of engaging frankly and openly on her visit, she declined to talk about a subject that has stirred some of the strongest feelings of anti-Americanism here — U.S. drone aircraft attacks against extremist targets on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border.

The Obama administration routinely refuses to acknowledge publicly that the attacks are taking place.

"There is a war going on," she said, and the U.S. wants to help Pakistan be successful.
Hmm...I didn't know the US was at war with Pakistan.

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