English journalist Geoff Dyer, writing in the Financial Times of London last week, observed that although the "dramatically expanded" use of lethal drones by President Barack Obama is one of his administration's "more remarkable and controversial aspects," it one that is scarcely discussed within the U.S.[1]  --  The silence is remarkable, since, as David Rothkopf, chief executive of Foreign Policy magazine and a former Clinton administration official, put it:  “It is arguable that, through covert wars, this administration has violated the sovereignty of more countries, more times, than any other administration."  --  Georgetown University legal scholar Rosa Brooks said recently that the Obama administration's official doctrine “amounts, in practice, to a claim that the executive branch has the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information discussed in a secret process by largely anonymous individuals.”  --  BACKGROUND:  Two weeks ago UFPPC adopted a statement endorsing the call for a ban on drone warfare, a movement that Geoff Dyer unfortunately omitted to mention in his Op-Ed.  --  UFPPC believes that targeted killing by drones is counterproductive, subversive of the rule of law, dehumanizing, and, inherently, insidiously immoral.  --  While drones "appeal to short-sighted calculators of costs and benefits," their use is "all but certain to produce asymmetrical blowback effects that the drone warriors are unable to anticipate or even imagine," the UFPPC statement said....




By Geoff Dyer

** Whoever wins the White House will face pressure to be transparent about America’s use of secret military tools **

Financial Times (London)
October 21, 2012

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/7a4114be-19ce-11e2-a379-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2AwT5fTFM (subscription required)

. . .

Given President Barack Obama’s political and economic aversion to launching new wars with lots of ground troops, it is perhaps no surprise that he has latched on so powerfully to the use of armed drones to go after suspected terrorists.  U.S. officials claim al-Qaeda’s leadership has been “decimated” over the past few years.

The surprise is that the subject has hardly come up in the course of a long election campaign -- even one dominated by a sluggish economy -- because it ignores one of the more remarkable and controversial aspects of the Obama administration.  The president has made such extensive use of secret military tools that he would have provided himself with years of seminar material were he still a constitutional law professor.

“It is arguable that, through covert wars, this administration has violated the sovereignty of more countries, more times, than any other administration,” says David Rothkopf, chief executive of Foreign Policy magazine and a former Clinton administration official.

Mr Obama, a Nobel Peace laureate, did not invent the new approach but he has dramatically expanded it.  The use of targeted killings was authorized one week after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, and in the next seven years the administration of George W. Bush ordered about 50 operations.  Mr Obama has signed off on more than 350.

. . .

These ventures in modern warfare have been conducted in almost complete secrecy, with little congressional oversight, and almost no discussion with the public.

. . .

A flurry of legal challenges is calling into question the ethics of using unmanned combat aircraft to kill terrorist suspects.  There are also growing questions about their long-term effectiveness in targeting terrorism.  Whatever the outcome of the November 6 vote, the next president is likely to find himself under intense pressure to discuss the subject more openly.

Under Mr. Obama, drones have killed targets in at least six countries:  Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya.  Their use has become so extensive in Somalia that there have been reports of commercial air traffic being disrupted.

In the absence of official disclosure, researchers have used local news to try to put together a picture of the program.  According to the New America Foundation, a Washington think-tank, CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 1,907 to 3,220 people since 2004, of whom between 1,618 and 2,765 were reported to be militants.  It calculates that 15-16 per cent of those killed are “non-militants.”

. . .

Legal critics, including legal campaigners, constitutional law academics and libertarians such as former presidential candidate Ron Paul, argue that the only place where the U.S. is officially at war is Afghanistan -- and that the use of drones in countries such as Yemen or Somalia is therefore illegal under U.S. law.  They also question whether the secret decisions about who to place on the “kill list” prepared by White House lawyers and officials meet the legal standard of due process.

For several years, the American Civil Liberties Union has been trying to use lawsuits to push the administration into greater disclosure.  In its latest action, launched last month, the ACLU is accusing it of abandoning legal due process in the killing last October in Yemen of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of an alleged al-Qaeda leader, and believed to be the third U.S. citizen to have died in targeted killings.

In the face of mounting pressure, John Brennan, Mr. Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, has given two speeches this year on the policy.  His April speech was the administration’s first public acknowledgment of its drone strikes.  He has countered legal criticism by saying the U.S. is in an “armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.”  The White House believes that defining the enemy in such broad terms -- similar to those of the Bush-era “war on terror” -- provides the legal basis for pursuing terrorists in other countries.

. . .

Even if these arguments prevail in court, they have left a lot of observers deeply uncomfortable with the way the “war on terror” can be used to blur the terms of where and when the U.S. is at war.  As Georgetown University legal scholar Rosa Brooks put it recently:  “That amounts, in practice, to a claim that the executive branch has the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information discussed in a secret process by largely anonymous individuals.”

* * *

The legal waves are being felt in the U.K., where a High Court case brought on behalf of the relatives of a Pakistani man killed in a drone strike alleges that British security services provided intelligence information used in U.S. drone strikes, which could be deemed illegal under U.K. law.

Amid the legal questioning, there is also growing unease in Washington foreign policy circles about the long-term effectiveness of drone strikes.  Even some observers who have worked in the counter-terrorism field who support their deployment against terrorist groups believe they are being overused.

. . .

In recent months international opposition has become harder to ignore.  In April the Pakistani parliament unanimously called for an end to drone strikes within its borders.  In Yemen, a series of witness accounts suggests that the increased pace of U.S. drone attacks has contributed to a rise in anti-Americanism and could be encouraging recruitment to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the local affiliate of the terrorist network.  “Drone policy at its current tempo does put the U.S. at the very top of the bad-guys list,” says Will McCants, a former counter-terrorism official at the state department.

. . .

There are growing calls, particularly among Democrat-leaning foreign policy experts, for the next administration to establish clearer rules about exactly how drones can be used.  Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was head of policy planning at the State Department in the first two years of the Obama administration, compares the situation to the early years of nuclear weapons, when the U.S. was first to develop the system but other countries soon caught up.  “We do not want a world where we are saying that we can decide who a drone can take out,” she says.  “We will suffer enormously for setting this precedent.  I do not want to be in a world where China can decide who to target.”

Supporters of drones say that whatever the moral and legal problems of targeted strikes, the alternative policies are much worse.  When Pakistani authorities launched an offensive in 2009 against insurgents in the Swat valley, the U.N. estimated that as many as 1.4m people were displaced in the violence and instability that ensued.

In an era of tighter defense budgets, drones are also cheaper than fighter jets.  A new-generation F35 fighter jet is expected to cost about $130m, for example, whereas a new Reaper armed drone costs about $53m.  Given the large number of highly trained people needed to operate them, however, the cost advantage is less than the price tags suggest.


Those who back drones also say the administration could address many of the criticisms about the identity of targets and the number of casualties if officials provided much more information about their activities.  Only more disclosure, they say, will fend off mounting criticism of targeted strikes.

“Even drone-supporters like me will benefit from [ACLU] lawsuits, because evidence is what we are all looking for,” says Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University.  “Without doing this, the drone program will simply not be sustainable.”