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Obama's Criminal Drone War

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Reprinted from Consortium News


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A new whistleblower has joined the ranks of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou and other courageous individuals. The unnamed person, who chose to remain anonymous because of the Obama administration's vigorous prosecution of whistleblowers, is a member of the intelligence community.

In the belief that the American public has the right to know about the "fundamentally" and "morally" flawed U.S. drone program, this source provided The Intercept with a treasure trove of secret military documents and slides that shine a critical light on the country's killer drone program. These files confirm that the Obama administration's policy and practice of assassination using armed drones and other methods violate the law.

The documents reveal the "kill chain" that decides who will be targeted. As the source said, "This outrageous explosion of watchlisting -- of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them 'baseball cards,' assigning them death sentences, without notice, on a worldwide battlefield -- it was, from the very first instance, wrong."

These secret documents demonstrate that the administration kills innumerable civilians due to its reliance on "signals intelligence" in undeclared war zones, following cell phones or computers that may or may not be carried by suspected terrorists. The documents show that more than half the intelligence used to locate potential targets in Somalia and Yemen was based on this method.

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"It isn't a surefire method," the source observed. "You're relying on the fact that you do have all these powerful machines, capable of collecting extraordinary amounts of data and intelligence," which can cause those involved to think they possess "godlike powers."

"It's stunning the number of instances when selectors are misattributed to certain people," the source noted, characterizing a missile fired at a target in a group of people as a "leap of faith."

The Obama administration has never provided accurate civilian casualty counts. In fact, CIA director and former counterterrorism adviser John Brennan falsely claimed in 2011 that no civilians had been killed in drone strikes in nearly a year. In actuality, many people who are not the intended targets of the strikes are killed.

"The Drone Papers" tell us the administration labels unidentified persons who are killed in a drone attack "enemies killed in action," unless there is evidence posthumously proving them innocent. That "is insane," the source said. "But [the intelligence community has] made ourselves comfortable with that." The source added, "They made the numbers themselves so they can get away with writing off most of the kills as legitimate."

The administration's practice of minimizing the civilian casualties is "exaggerating at best, if not outright lies," according to the source.

Since the U.S. is involved in armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, international humanitarian law -- namely, the Geneva Conventions -- must be applied to assess the legality of targeted killing. The Geneva Conventions provide that only combatants may be targeted.

From January 2012 to February 2013, a campaign dubbed Operation Haymaker was carried out in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. According to "The Drone Papers," during a five-month period almost 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. This campaign paralleled an increase in drone attacks and civilian casualties throughout Afghanistan. What's more, the campaign did not significantly degrade al-Qaida's operations there.

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The U.S. is violating the right to life enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Because the U.S. ratified this treaty, it constitutes binding domestic law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which states, "Treaties shall be the supreme law of the land."

Under international humanitarian law, an "armed conflict" requires the existence of organized armed groups engaged in fighting of certain intensity. The groups must have a command structure, be governed by rules, provide military training and have organized acquisition of weapons, as well as communications infrastructure.

Legal scholars, including University of Cambridge professor Christine Gray, have concluded that "the 'war against Al-Qaeda' does not meet the threshold of intensity of a non-international armed conflict, and Al-Qaeda does not meet the threshold of an organized armed group."

The U.S. is not involved in "armed conflict" in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Thus, the law enforcement model must be applied to assess the legality of actions in those countries. This model limits the use of lethal force to situations where there is an imminent threat to life and nonlethal measures would be inadequate.

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http://www.marjoriecohn.com

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and immediate past president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is author of  'The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, and 

Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law (more...)
 

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