From the moment Obama took office the new commander in chief evinced a “love” of drones

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From the moment Obama took office, according to Washington insiders, the new commander in chief evinced a “love” of drones.

excerpts from The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret

Today, the Pentagon deploys a fleet of 19,000 drones, relying on them for classified missions that once belonged exclusively to Special Forces units or covert operatives on the ground. American drones have been sent to spy on or kill targets in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya… In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens… they have also claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians… never have so few killed so many by remote control…

Drones have also radically altered the CIA, turning a civilian intelligence-gathering agency into a full-fledged paramilitary operation – one that routinely racks up nearly as many scalps as any branch of the military.

What’s more, the Pentagon and the CIA can now launch military strikes or order assassinations without putting a single boot on the ground – and without worrying about a public backlash over U.S. soldiers coming home in body bags. The immediacy and secrecy of drones make it easier than ever for leaders to unleash America’s military might…

The first use of modern drones came during the Vietnam War… By the war’s end, drones had flown some 3,500 recon missions in Vietnam…

In the years after Vietnam, many of the technological advances on drones were made by Israel, which has used them to monitor the Gaza Strip and carry out targeted assassinations. During the 1980s, the Israeli air force sold several of its models to the Pentagon…

The first major success of killer drones was a Predator strike on a convoy in 2002, which assassinated the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen. By 2006, the Pentagon had upped its goal, aiming to convert 45 percent of its “deep-strike” aircraft into drones. “Before drones, the way you went after terrorists was you sent your troops,” says Goure… “Now you have drones that can be operated by the military or the CIA from thousands of miles away.”

…[G]iven the high profile and future prospects of drones, pilots are lining up to operate them, volunteering for an intensive, one-year training course that includes simulated missions… [S]ays Lt. Gen. David Deptula… “Many pilots are excited about operating these things.”

For a new generation of young guns, the experience of piloting a drone is not unlike the video games they grew up on… drone operators kill at the touch of a button, without ever leaving their base – a remove that only serves to further desensitize the taking of human life. (The military slang for a man [woman, child, or infant] killed by a drone strike is “bug splat,” since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.) As drone pilot Lt. Col. Matt Martin recounts in his book… After one mission, in which he navigated a drone to target a technical college being occupied by insurgents in Iraq, Martin felt “electrified” and “adrenalized,” exulting that “we had shot the technical college full of holes, destroying large portions of it and killing only God knew how many people.”

…[F]or every “high-value” target killed by drones, there’s a civilian or other innocent victim who has paid the price. The first major success of drones – the 2002 strike that took out the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen – also resulted in the death of a U.S. citizen. More recently, a drone strike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2010 targeted the wrong individual – killing a well-known human rights advocate named Zabet Amanullah who actually supported the U.S.-backed government. The U.S. military, it turned out, had tracked the wrong cellphone for months, mistaking Amanullah for a senior Taliban leader. A year earlier, a drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, while he was visiting his father-in-law; his wife was vaporized along with him. But the U.S. had already tried four times to assassinate Mehsud with drones, killing dozens of civilians in the failed attempts. One of the missed strikes, according to a human rights group, killed 35 people, including nine civilians, with reports that flying shrapnel killed an eight-year-old boy while he was sleeping. Another blown strike, in June 2009, took out 45 civilians, according to credible press reports.

Obama actually inherited two separate drone programs when he took office… he has dramatically expanded them both. The first program, under the purview of the Pentagon, is focused primarily on providing reconnaissance and airstrikes to protect U.S. troops on the ground…

The CIA’s drone program, by contrast, has evolved in secrecy. Agency lawyers are required to sign off on drone strikes, but the process remains classified, and oversight is far less restrictive than that provided on the military side. To make matters even murkier, the CIA is conducting its drone strikes in places where the U.S. is not officially at war, including Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan…

According to John Rizzo, who served as chief counsel at the CIA for six years, the process of approving drone strikes effectively required him and 10 other lawyers at the agency to “murder” people from the CIA’s counterterrorism center in Langley, Virginia… When the agency wants to launch a drone strike… it asks a lawyer to provide legal cover for the assassination by signing off on a five-page dossier laying out the justification for the attack. The cable usually contains a list of 30 people targeted for death. Occasionally, the memos are rejected for not containing enough information. More often, Rizzo would approve the kill, writing the word “concurred” following the phrase, “Therefore we request approval for targeting for lethal operation.” In his six years as chief counsel, Rizzo says, he signed off on about one kill list per month.

Drone assaults on high-value targets – known as “personality strikes” – usually require approval from a lawyer like Rizzo, the CIA chief and sometimes the president himself. But the CIA’s more common use of drones – known as “signature strikes” – involves attacks on groups of alleged militants who are behaving in ways that seem suspicious… When it comes to signature strikes, say insiders, the decision to launch a drone assault is essentially an odds game: If the agency thinks it’s likely that the group of individuals are insurgents, it will take the shot. “The CIA is doing a lot more targeting on a percentage basis,” says the former official with knowledge of the agency’s drone program…

From the moment Obama took office… the new commander in chief evinced a “love” of drones… [S]ays Ken Gude, vice president of the Center for American Progress… “These weapons systems have become central to Obama.” In the early days of the administration, then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel would routinely arrive at the White House and demand, “Who did we get today?”

In the end, it appears, the administration has little reason to worry about any backlash from its decision to kill an American citizen – one who had not even been charged with a crime. A recent poll shows that most Democrats overwhelmingly support the drone program, and Congress passed a law in February that calls for the Federal Aviation Administration to “accelerate the integration of unmanned aerial systems” in the skies over America.

Many who oversee the drone program, in fact, seem to have little but contempt for those who worry about the poten­tial dangers presented by drones. At a human rights seminar at Columbia University last summer, John Radsan, a former attorney for the CIA, admitted that the agency has no interest in debating the legal niceties of drone strikes. “The CIA is laughing at you guys,” he told the assembled human rights lawyers. “You’re worried about international law, and the CIA is laughing.”

A White House official I spoke with is even more dismissive. “If Anwar al-Awlaki is your poster boy for why we shouldn’t do drone strikes,” the official tells me, “good fucking luck”.

How about Abdel-Rahman Awlaki, whose face I have on a poster, of such size as I can manage, Mr Barack Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Obama; or those you’ve murdered at the funerals of others you’d previously murdered; or those you’ve murdered going to the aid of members of their family and of their friends you’d just murdered and maimed

20 April

CIA seeks new authority to expand Yemen drone campaign

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.

CIA seeks to widen assassination campaign in Yemen

Petraeus is seeking permission to engage in “signature strikes,” using drone-fired missiles to attack targets identified “solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior,” the Post reported, without knowing exactly who was being targeted for extermination.

For all practical purposes, this means turning large parts of Yemen, a sovereign country whose government has a military alliance with the United States, into a free-fire zone, in which US missiles could be fired at virtually any gathering of men thought to be armed. The country is awash in weapons, particularly in the rural areas where tribal sheiks, rather than the central government, hold sway.

America’s drone sickness

There are many evils in the world, but extinguishing people’s lives with targeted, extra-judicial killings, when you don’t even know their names, based on “patterns” of behavior judged from thousands of miles away, definitely ranks high on the list. Although the Obama White House has not approved of this request from CIA Director David Petraeus, these so-called “signature strikes” that “allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior” are already robustly used in Pakistan — having been started by George Bush in 2008 and aggressively escalated by Barack Obama.

About jfl

A 66 year-old American male living in Chiangrai, Thailand
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