Indiscriminate use of drones in Middle East causes too many civilian casualties, warns former CIA counterterrorism head
A former top terrorism official at the CIA has warned that President Barack Obama’s controversial drone programme is far too indiscriminate in hitting targets and could lead to such political instability that it creates terrorist safe havens.
Obama’s increased use of drones to attack suspected Islamic militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen has become one of the most controversial aspects of his national security policy. He has launched at least 275 strikes in Pakistan alone; a rate of attack that is far higher than his predecessor George W Bush.
Defenders of the policy say it provides a way of hitting high-profile targets, such as al-Qaida number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi. But critics say the definition of militant is used far too broadly and there are too many civilian casualties. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates up to 830 civilians, including many women and children, might have been killed by drone attacks in Pakistan, 138 in Yemen and 57 in Somalia. Hundreds more have been injured.
Now Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA’s counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006 and was previously a CIA station chief in Pakistan, has told the Guardian that the drone programme is targeted too broadly. “It [the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences,” Grenier said in an interview.
Grenier emphasised that the use of drones was a valuable tool in tackling terrorism but only when used against specific identified targets, who have been tracked and monitored to a place where a strike is feasible. However, recent media revelations about Obama’s programme have revealed a more widespread use of the strike capability, including the categorising of all military-age males in a strike zone of a target as militants. That sort of broad definition and the greater use of drones has outraged human rights organisations.
GUARDIAN.CO.UK | JUNE 5, 2012
… the New York Times story suggests the legal foundation of the targeted killing campaign is not simply shaky, but rotten. One problem is that the US government appears to take a very broad view of who can be targeted. At one point, officials at the State Department complained to the White House that the CIA seemed to believe that any group of “three guys doing jumping jacks” was a terrorist training camp.
Another problem, and perhaps an even deeper one, is in the government’s approach towards individuals who are not targeted – not in the conventional sense of the word, anyway. According to the New York Times, the government “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent”.
If this is true, it is astounding. The government has an obligation under international law to distinguish combatants from noncombatants – and, as far as reasonably possible, to avoid causing noncombatants harm. Direct targeting of noncombatants is a war crime; indeed, it is the prototypical one. It surely need not be explained that the government’s obligation is to distinguish combatants from noncombatants while they are still alive, not after they have been killed. A “shoot first, ask questions later” policy is entirely inconsistent with international law, not to mention morally grotesque.
— First the ‘targeted killing’ campaign, then the targeted propaganda campaign | Jameel Jaffer and Nathan Wessler – GUARDIAN.CO.UK | JUNE 6, 2012 http://pulse.me/s/a1QNL
Murder is only a crime if there is someone more powerful who can stop you. Will you have the Republican or the Democrat murderer as your leader for the next four years? Would you like fries with that?