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Secret Documents Lay Bare US Drone Assassination Program

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The Drone Papers

(Source: The Intercept; posted Oct 14, 2015)


While the US administration portrays UAVs as effective and efficient weapons, classified Pentagon documents show that the US military has faced “critical shortfalls” in related technology and intelligence. (USAF photo)


The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The documents, provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama’s drone wars.


THE ASSASSINATION COMPLEX
From his first days as commander in chief, the drone has been President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice, used by the military and the CIA to hunt down and kill the people his administration has deemed — through secretive processes, without indictment or trial — worthy of execution. There has been intense focus on the technology of remote killing, but that often serves as a surrogate for what should be a broader examination of the state’s power over life and death.

A VISUAL GLOSSARY
This is a labyrinth with 12 entrances and no exit. It is built on a cache of documents provided to The Intercept by a source within the intelligence community.

THE KILL CHAIN
Secret military documents obtained by The Intercept offer rare documentary evidence of the process by which the Obama administration creates and acts on its kill list of terror suspects in Yemen and Somalia. The documents offer an unusual glimpse into the decision-making process behind the drone strikes and other operations of the largely covert war, outlining the selection and vetting of targets through the ranks of the military and the White House, culminating in the president’s approval of a 60-day window for lethal action.

FIND, FIX, FINISH
Soon after he was elected president, Barack Obama was strongly urged by Michael Hayden, the outgoing CIA director, and his new top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to adopt the way of the scalpel — small footprint counterterrorism operations and drone strikes. In one briefing, Hayden bluntly told Obama that covert action was the only way to confront al Qaeda and other terrorist groups plotting attacks against the U.S.

MANHUNTING IN THE HINDU KUSH
From 2011 to 2013, the most elite forces in the U.S. military, supported by the CIA and other elements of the intelligence community, set out to destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that remained hidden among the soaring peaks and plunging valleys of the Hindu Kush, along Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan. Dubbed Operation Haymaker, the campaign has been described as a potential model for the future of American warfare: special operations units, partnered with embedded intelligence elements running a network of informants, pinpointing members of violent organizations, then drawing up plans to eliminate those targets from the battlefield, either by capturing or killing them.

FIRING BLIND
The Obama administration has portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the ongoing war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the U.S. military has faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF OBJECTIVE PECKHAM
As he walked through the busy streets of London, Bilal el-Berjawi was glancing over his shoulder. Everywhere he went, he suspected he was being followed. Within a few years — 4,000 miles away in remote Somalia — he would be dead, killed by a secret U.S. drone strike.

TARGET AFRICA
“Morning dawns at length in Africa. The night has been long and dark. The opening day has a hopeful outlook and also an aspect of uncertainty. ... For many years little colonies, trading-posts, and slave-marts have fringed its borders; but the vast interior has remained a blank.” — Historical Sketch of the Missions of the American Board in Africa, Samuel Bartlett (1880)


Click here for the Drone Papers home page, on The Intercept website.

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Civil Liberties Groups Call for Congressional Inquiry Into Assassination Program

(Source: The Intercept; posted Oct. 15 2015)

Following The Intercept’s publicaton of a cache of secret documents on the U.S. military’s drone assassination program, civil rights organizations are calling for an immediate congressional inquiry and heightened oversight of the use of armed drones.

A statement issued Thursday by Amnesty International said the documents “raise serious concerns about whether the USA has systematically violated international law, including by classifying unidentified people as ‘combatants’ to justify their killings.” In subsequent comments to The Intercept, Naureen Shah, Director of Amnesty’s Security & Human Rights Program, reiterated that the revelations “warrant congressional inquiry,” stating that “there is potential evidence here of decisions being made to hide the actual impact of drone strikes from the public, and to falsely characterize a rapidly expanding global killing program as something limited and precise.”

Among the revelations included in the documents, provided to The Intercept by an anonymous source, are that U.S. drone strikes routinely kill far more people than their intended targets, that drone operators frequently conduct strikes based on unreliable evidence, and that individuals killed in strikes whose identities are unknown are posthumously counted as “Enemies Killed in Action,” without any evidence that they had actually been combatants.

The disclosures have undermined the Obama administration’s claim that its strikes are being conducted with respect for civilian life. “A review of the lethal force program must be transparent and include disclosure of the United States’ compliance with its legal obligations,” said Hina Shamsi of the ACLU’s National Security Project. Shamsi added that, given the nature of the revelations published today about the nature of the criteria used for drone targeting, the administration must disclose “the criteria it uses to determine civilian or ‘militant’ or ‘combatant’ status, the identities and numbers of civilians killed and injured in its operations, and an assessment of the strategic consequences for national security of this unprecedented lethal force program.”

In a post on the ACLU’s website, Shamsi added, “These eye-opening disclosures make a mockery of U.S. government claims that its lethal force operations are based on reliable intelligence and limited to lawful targets.”

Citing the distance between the administration’s public statements about the drone program and the apparent reality of how it operates, Omar Shakir, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-author of Stanford University’s 2012 study Living Under Drones, said that “these new documents underscore just how much we’ve been intentionally misled about this program.” He added that “the basis for identifying targets, authorizing strikes, and investigating civilian harm all raise serious questions about potential violations of international law… If a subsequent investigation finds credible evidence of unlawful killings, those responsible need to face legal accountability.”

Beyond the fallout from these specific revelations is the broader issue of whether the government is doing enough to monitor its drone assassination programs more generally. Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, called today’s drone stories “a reminder of how dependent we are on whistleblowers — on the men and women who risk their careers and even their liberty in order to give the public the ability to advocate for policy changes and hold political leaders accountable for their decisions.”

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