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Obama’s ‘Kill List’ Is Here To Stay

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Obama’s ‘Kill List’ Is Here To Stay

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A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway Nov. 4. The Reaper has flown 49 combat sorties since it first began operating in Afghanistan Sept. 25. It completed its first combat strike Oct. 27, when it fired a Hellfire missile over Deh Rawod, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Drone warfare, once a topic of widespread pubic debate in America, has been placed on the mental backburners of most of the US public. A Pew poll in 2015 found that “Fifty-eight percent of respondents expressed approval of U.S. drone strikes, while only 35 percent disapproved. This included nearly three-fourths of Republicans, slightly more than half of Democrats, and 56 percent of independents.” Perhaps the slow burnout of the public debate around this issue marks a tacit approval.

With the presidential election in full swing and the field narrowed to the final three candidates, it’s worth asking a question that the public isn’t, currently: What will happen to President Obama’s so-called “Kill List,” and to America’s drone warfare policy more generally, once he leaves office?

The short answer is: Well, nothing.

The Intercept, which has reported on Obama’s Kill List extensively, describes Obama’s Kill List thusly:

“U.S. intelligence personnel collect information on potential targets… drawn from government watchlists and the work of intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies… when someone was destined for the kill list, intelligence analysts created a portrait of a suspect and the threat that person posed, pulling it together ‘in a condensed format known as a ‘baseball card.’ That information was then bundled with operational information and packaged in a ‘target information folder’ to be ‘staffed up to higher echelons’ for action. On average, it took 58 days for the president to sign off on a target… At that point, U.S. forces had 60 days to carry out the strike.”

The program has little-to-no transparency in its decision making apparatus, and has even been called an extra-judicial assassination program, given the lack of due process provided to the targets, who in the past have included U.S. citizens.

There are many controversial aspects of American drone policy, but two in particular stand out: first, “signature strikes,” which according to U.S. authorities, target “groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.” The New York Times reported that some in the Obama administration joke that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” they think it is a terrorist training camp.

When the CIA allegedly carried out its first targeted drone killing in February 2002, in Afghanistan, it killed three men near a former mujahedeen base called Zhawar Kili. In the aftermath of the strike, however, authorities appeared not to know who they had killed. A Pentagon spokeswoman stated, “We’re convinced that it was an appropriate target,” but added, “[w]e do not know yet exactly who it was.”

A 2009 study by the Brookings Institute estimates that, along with the 2,000-plus militants killed by drones in Pakistan, perhaps more than 470 non-militants have been killed. More recently, in March of 2016, drones and other warplanes bombed an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia and killed about 150 alleged militants who were gathered at a graduation ceremony. Yet U.S. officials privately acknowledged that they didn’t know the identities of those they killed.

Sense a trend?

It’s made all the more troubling by the administration’s policy of classifying those killed in drone strikes as militants unless there is evidence posthumously produced which proves their innocence. One can only imagine the difficulties of doing so, and how this dramatically decreases the publicly-admitted number of civilian deaths, true or not.

Despite all this, there has been little outcry from the remaining presidential candidates on the matter.

In an April 2016 town hall, Chris Hayes questioned Bernie Sanders about the practice:

“HAYES:  The current authorization which you cite in what Miguel just quoted which is the authorization to use military force after 9/11. That has led to the kill list. This President — literally, there is a kill list. There is a list of people that the U.S. government wants to kill, and it goes about doing it. Would you keep the kill list as President of the United States?

SANDERS:  Look. Terrorism is a very serious issue. There are people out there who want to kill Americans, who want to attack this country, and I think we have a lot of right to defend ourselves. I think as Miguel said, though, it has to be done in a constitutional, legal way.

HAYES:  Do you think what’s being done now is constitutional and legal?

SANDERS:  In general I do, yes.”

The other Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, was involved in these sorts of strikes herself and saw them ramp up during her time as secretary of state. In her book Hard Choices, notes that drone strikes are “one of the most effective and controversial elements of the Obama Administration’s strategy against al Qaeda and like-minded terrorists.” She has also pinned herself to Obama this election cycle, painting her candidacy as a continuation of many of his policies, signaling little incentive for her to change our approach to drone strikes now.

Finally, there’s Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has expressed a desire to expand the military and kill innocent people in order to combat terrorism. As Glenn Greenwald notes, these views are not necessarily extreme relative to current U.S. foreign policy under President Obama: The Intercept reported that nearly 90 percent of people killed in drone strikes in Afghanistan over a five-month period “were not the intended targets”.

In 2014 Pew released a global poll that found that majorities in 39 countries disapproved of American drone attacks. The only three countries that showed more than half of respondents supporting the tactic were Israel, Kenya and the U.S.

Nowhere did any level support match the level of opposition found in countries such as Venezuela and Jordan, where disapproval topped 90 percent. Some of the places polled where the majority disapproved of strikes included our allies such as South Korea, Japan, the UK, and France.

Given the negative view of drone attacks aboard, the large number of innocents killed, and the secretive nature of the program driving them, it’s surprising that candidates come under so little scrutiny for supporting the practice — and, perhaps, that they ever supported it in the first place.

Photo: A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway Nov. 4. The Reaper has flown 49 combat sorties since it first began operating in Afghanistan Sept. 25. It completed its first combat strike Oct. 27, when it fired a Hellfire missile over Deh Rawod, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

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18 Comments

    1. Independent1 May 14, 2016

      What sane poster on the NM do you think is interested in watching your moronic videos? The need for drone strikes is unfortunate; but thousands of innocent people around the world are alive today because numerous terrorists who may well have killed them were taken out by a drone strike; far more are still alive than have been mistakenly killed by a drone – many possibly here in America.

      1. Dominick Vila May 14, 2016

        I find it amusing when pseudo conservatives criticize military action, after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and propose isolationist policies such as the dismantling of NATO or pulling out from Europe.

        1. Independent1 May 14, 2016

          I think one reason those on the right who oppose the drone strikes, do so, because drone strikes don’t require a significant involvement from our defense industry. These people would rather put our soldiers in harms way, just so they can create profits for defense industry companies.

          To me, it’s absolutely appalling that these sickos are willing to let American soldiers die just so they can increase the money in their pockets – many of them who already have more money than they ever deserved in this life.

          1. Dominick Vila May 14, 2016

            In my opinion, most of his critics hate everything President Obama says or does because of who he is and what he represents to them.

          2. MV May 15, 2016

            Sorry Dopminick, yours is not an opinion, it is indeed Fact!

        2. Independent1 May 14, 2016

          And I’m somewhat perplexed that Trump has the following of so many, given his willingness to weaken America’s overall security by seeming to befriend a Russian (Putin), with questionable benefits, and given how much most Americans have hated Russia in the past.

          And as you pointed out, actually weakening our security even more by suggesting the dismantlement of our military alliances with many countries we’ve previously looked to to help us security wise in the past – as you pointed out, NATO, and I believe he’s even alienated some of our partners in the mid east that we’ve looked to maintain at least some semblance of ‘peace’ in that region.

          1. Dominick Vila May 14, 2016

            What amazes me the most is the number of alleged conservatives that support a man that is neither a conservative nor a liberal. Donald Trump is for himself. Nobody else.

          2. Independent1 May 14, 2016

            One recent article claimed a lot of people were supporting him because he was so rich and didn’t need to take donations and there was ‘supposedly’ his own man and didn’t owe anyone a favor.
            Well I wonder what all those folks are going to say now when The Donald is actively looking for wealthy donors to bankroll his candidacy from here on in??

          3. Independent1 May 14, 2016

            And have you noticed how Donald never takes a position for very long – he flip/flops like the wind. I saw an article yesterday where now he’s claiming that him wanting to build a wall on our southern border to keep the immigrants out was ‘only a suggestion’.
            Can you even begin to imagine what him being president would be like with him taking one position one day and two days later claiming he’s supporting something else?? Right now he claims to want to be friends with Russia (Putin); I wonder when even that will change and he’ll be calling Putin names like he does everyone else he doesn’t like.

          4. Dominick Vila May 14, 2016

            I can’t help wonder what Ronald Reagan would have thought if he had heard a fellow Republican refer to the former head of the KGB as a great guys he could do business with, and President Obama building a missile defense system in Romania! Talking about a reversal of roles…

        1. Independent1 May 14, 2016

          And how many hundreds or maybe thousands or who knows really how many of other innocent casualties were prevented because the target of a drone strike where this little one may have gotten injured was taken out. Generally the terrorists being taken out by drone strikes are terrorist masterminds who have been involved in numerous attacks where lots of innocent people have been injured far worse than this little one.

          You posting these pictures is succeeding in proving nothing because you can’t post hundreds, maybe thousands of far worse pictures of dead innocents who didn’t die because the terrorist who would have masterminded an attack on them was killed when this innocent was injured!!!

          1. Dominick Vila May 14, 2016

            Not surprising from those who had no problem with the slaughter of 600,000 to one million Iraqis, the destruction of the infrastructure of a former ally that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, the destabilization of the Persian Gulf region, the emergence of ISIS and the Daesh concept, the killing of 4,700 American soldiers, and tens of thousands maimed, and loss of international credibility.
            Yes, collateral damage, especially when it involves harming women and innocent children, is horrible. Unfortunate incidents involving loss of innocent life, and maiming innocent people, is the price we have to pay to fight the effects of the monster we created, if the goal is to keep our country safe, and prevent another 9/11.
            Then again, there are some among us who believe that the man who was in the Oval Office when the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history took place kept us safe. I wonder how many of them will post pictures of Americans jumping from the Twin Towers minutes before they collapsed…

  1. CrankyToo May 14, 2016

    “Drone warfare, once a topic of widespread pubic debate in America…”

    Pubic debate?

    The National Memo has been devolving toward mediocrity for some time now. Notwithstanding the fact that its “journalism” has become snarky and heavily biased (ergo, untrustworthy), there doesn’t seem to be an editor on the payroll – certainly not one who knows what a misplaced modifier is. Worse, as you can see from sentence one above, they don’t even have a proofreader on duty.

    Hey National Memo! If you’re shooting for the stupid demographic, you’re trolling the wrong side of the discussion.

    Reply
  2. angryspittle May 14, 2016

    Jesus, what have we become?

    Reply
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  3. Zaheerah Aleem May 16, 2016

    Pros or cons, drone warfare strikes the desired target and the innocent. Our problem is: are we willing to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions? Terrorists use the destruction to rally their “cause” and the innocent blame the “liberators” for the death of their loved one. The cycle breeds more “terrorists” and more drones. Consequences of actions. It becomes a Catch 22 situation. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

    Reply

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